the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘alternate history

Let me set the scene a little for you:   This past January, at ConFusion, Jerry says he has a novel coming out soon. And of course I say “oh?”

 

He tells me what the book is about.   He tells me the significance of the pre-order announcement and the significance of the book being released on April 19th (hey, that’s today!).  After that conversation, I couldn’t get the idea of this book out of my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about the research that must have gone into this book, what possessed him to write on this particular subject, how he went about writing a cult leader,  the power of faith and religion, and how law enforcement officers attacking civilians is nothing new.

 

I’ve been waiting for the book ever since.

 

Breaking The World is a fast paced alternate history thriller that takes place in Waco, Texas, in the summer of 1993.   Ringing any bells?  Does this photo look familiar?

(I swiped this photo from Jerry’s website)

 

Breaking the World asks the question “What if David Koresh was right, and the world really was ending?”

 

Jerry was kind enough to let me ask him all sorts of questions, most of which are a variation of “wait,  what?  but, how? and dude, why??”.   Because I really did want to know why would someone write a novel about the Branch Davidians.  Is it easier to research something like this now,  because more than 20 years have passed?  Did Jerry’s Google Search history get him on any no-fly lists?   I had a bazillion questions.  Like I said, Jerry is very kind.

 

Just joining us?  Click here to read my review of Breaking the Worldclick here to order the book directly from the publisher.  Click here to visit Jerry’s website.

 

Let’s get to the interview!  I promise, no (ok, only a few teeny) spoilers ahead! Not to mention insider info about the significance of names, social media to the rescue, the process of writing a non-believer who is stuck in a religious cult, how people have been reacting to this book, and that even when history is written by the victors, a darker truth is often hiding right beneath the surface.

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Little Red Reviewer: I was fourteen years old when “Waco” happened. Newsmedia was very different in 1993, and all I remember is seeing Koresh’s photo on TV, and lots of footage of burning buildings in the Texas sun. (CNN existed, we didn’t have cable TV) I may have been too young to understand, but more likely I just wasn’t paying attention and was too busy being a teenager to care. Fast forward 25 years, and we have multiple 24 hour news stations, tons of social media, and the ability to instantly put live videos online. If the Branch Davidian stand off happened in an age of smartphones and social media, would things have gone down differently? How might both sides use social media to their advantage? In any stand-off situation, do you think social media is a help, or a hindrance?


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Breaking the World, by Jerry Gordon

Release date:  April 19th 2018

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Apex*!!)

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In 1993 I was fourteen years old. I was excited about high school, excited about boys, was obsessed with the movie Jurassic Park,  I was finally old enough to listen to Nirvana and Aerosmith. We read The Odyssey in 9th grade, and I fell in love with mythology, epic stories, and oracles.  It was a good year to be fourteen. My parents watched the evening news religiously as I flitted in and out of the living room, disappointed that I couldn’t watch sitcoms or Star Trek because they were watching boring news.  I remember some guy’s photo being on TV a lot, aviator sunglasses, wavy brown hair. He just looked like some guy. I remember seeing footage of a flat landscape and a building that was on fire. I didn’t realize I should be paying attention.

 

The guy with the sunglasses was David Koresh, and the burning building was the Branch Davidian Church in Waco, Texas. What would become known as “Waco”, involved a 51 day standoff between the Branch Davidians and the FBI. Both sides were convinced they were right. Over 70 people were killed in the fire. And all I remember was some guy’s photo on TV.

 

Taking a cue from the alternate history author Tim Powers,  Jerry Gordon has to fit (nearly) everything that happens in Breaking the World  into the historical framework of what we think we know about the siege on the Branch Davidian Church, locked into the timeline of when and how the FBI surrounded and tear gassed the compound, to who escaped and how, to when the fire started, to how many people were inside the compound when it burned.  Coinciding with the 25th anniversary of “Waco”, Breaking the World was officially announced for pre-order on Feb 28th, and will be released on April 19th, lining up exactly with when the siege started and ended.

 

The novel is told from the point of view of Cyrus, a teenager who lives at the compound. Cyrus could care less about religion and god and the end of the world, he could freakin’ care less about David Koresh. But, since David is technically sorta Cyrus’s step dad, the two of them develop and civil relationship where they respect one another, to the point where David asks Cyrus’s advice on a number of occasions. David is softspoken, not always confident, uninterested in attention, and he cares deeply for the people who have come to his church. He believes the seals are beginning to break, and that he needs to keep his people safe.

 

Cyrus and his best friends, Marshal and Rachel, dream of running away together. Marshal grew up at the compound,  but Rachel is a recent arrival. Yeah, there’s plenty of novels in which a handful of fifteen year olds run away, but this isn’t that story. These kids have no money, no way to get to a train or bus station, they don’t know how to drive, they barely have access to a telephone. And remember when this takes place – cell phones weren’t a thing, plenty of adults did not have credit cards that their adventurous children could steal, and payphones were only helpful if you could actually get to one. Leaving Waco is going to have a stay a dream for Cyrus and his friends for a little while longer, because the siege begins in the first chapter of the book.   The three best friends are old enough to understand they may not live through this, and too young to be able to do much about it.

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darwiniaDarwinia by Robert Charles Wilson

published 1998

where I got it: purchased used

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In spring of 1912, something so incredible happened, many people believed it to be a  divine miracle. That march, a circle of land enclosing Western Europe, much of the Mediterranean, and some of North Africa disappeared, and was instantaneously replaced with . . .  something new. The land was still there, but all the people, cities, buildings, animals, technology, everything was gone, replaced by strange new plants and animals. It was as if evolution had gone down a slightly different path countless eons ago. Rivers were in slightly different places, mountain ranges not exactly as they had been.  What was once Europe has now become Darwinia.

 

This world would never have a World War, the Titanic would never leave port, The Russian Revolution and Spanish Flu would never happen. Edgar Rice Burroughs publishes a novel called “Lost Kingdom of Darwinia”.  Alternate history indeed.  Scientists, biologists, naturalists and frontiersmen across the planet become nearly obsessed with the new world.  New species to categorize, a whole new frontier to explore and dominate.

 

Guilford Law was twelve years old when the “miracle” occurred. Now in his twenties, he and his family travel to what was once London where he has been hired on as a photographer for a scientific expedition. London is now a frontier town, population a few hundred.  The expedition starts out well enough, with the scientists arguing about the plants and animals they find that have obviously been around longer than the land has been like this. They find trees with decades worth of rings,  animals and insects that have evolved through countless generations, giant midden heaps around insect hives, the evolved skulls of predators.  If this new world has only existed for eight years, where did all the plants and creatures do their evolving?  As this line of inquiry gets more and more fascinating, the expedition hits some bad luck, and Law barely makes it back to London alive.  (I’d thought the expedition was going to be the main plot of the book, I couldn’t have been more wrong!) And don’t even get me started on the strange dreams the expedition members have, and what else they find in the jungle.

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the coldest war tregillis

This is a not review, because I’m not really going to be talking about what happened in the plot of The Coldest War.   To be honest, I was sorta ho-hum about most of the plot. But the characters, oh my god, with just a glance in my direction Marsh and Gretel bored holes right through  me.  And in a way, since this is an alternate history, as in something that could have happened but didn’t, the plot doesn’t actually, in the grand scheme of the universe, matter, does it?

 

The Coldest  War takes place during the early 1960s, so twenty some years after Bitter Seeds.  Klaus and Gretel have spent twenty years as prisoners of war in the USSR; and over in London Raybould Marsh and William Beauclerk have spent twenty some years trying to convince themselves they did the right things, that it was worth it.

 

So let’s talk about the characters, who you’ve already met if you’ve read the first book in the series, Bitter Seeds.

 

I feel like comparing characters in this book to gambling addicts.  Addicts because Marsh and Beauclerk keep saying they can stop anytime they want…. but they can’t. They keep thinking the next bargain will even things out, that they’ll “win” next time, for various values of “winning”.   It’s like the guy I saw buying scratch off lottery tickets the other day. He was joking with the clerk that last week he won $3 on a scratch off ticket… but that he’d spent $19 on the tickets.  There was an edge of addiction in his nervous laughter, an underscore of him saying he could stop anytime he wanted.

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the mechanical tregillisThe Mechanical, by Ian Tregillis

Published March 10th, 2015

where I got it: received ARC from the publisher (thanks Orbit!)

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in an alternate history where the Dutch scientist and mathematician  Christiaan Huygens made more than just clocks and lenses, the world was changed forever when his clockwork servitors were perfected. These Clockwork servants, owned by the Crown and leased to the populace on 99 year leases, allowed the Dutch Empire to expand their control over trading posts, exploration, and world politics. Of course you’ll come to rule the world when you have an unlimited workforce that never sleeps, doesn’t have to eat, and never complains, and mechanical soldiers who never die.

 

Hundreds of years have gone by since the Guild of Horologists was created in 1680. America never existed, the Dutch never gave up New Amsterdam (which you know as Manhattan), and France is in shambles after a disastrous war, with much of the French nobility living in Montreal with their exiled King.

 

In an alternate history that never was, physics and chemistry fight horology and alchemy for control of the belief structure of the modern world. I’ll leave the plot chat to other reviewers, because I want to talk about everything that’s happening in The Mechanical underneath the plot, things like Tregillis’s genius treatment of chemistry vs alchemy,  warring philosophies over free will and identity, and the intersection of faith and compulsion.

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wild cards fourWild Cards IV: Aces Abroad, edited by George R. R. Martin

published in 1988, with new material added and republished by Tor Books in January 2015

Where I got it: received review copy from Tor (thanks!)

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Wild Cards: Aces Abroad is the fourth book in a shared universe anthology series. The good news is that you can easily read this as a stand alone, and the better news is that it’ll all make way more sense if I give you just a little bit of background about the series.

 

Started in the late 1980s, the Wild Cards shared universe  envisions an alternative history where our first contact with an alien species causes the Wild Card virus to be released into Earth’s atmosphere. The virus killed much of the population, and physically affected nearly all who survived, granting them superpowers or horrid mutations. Some people grew wings and could fly, others turned into grotesque parodies of human beings. If your gift was a boon, you became known as an Ace, and if your gift came with physical deformaties, you became known as a Joker. Many Aces became successful business owners and celebrities, whereas society had no idea what to do with the Jokers, these hideous creatures who used to be our parents, friends and neighbors. As the decades passed, Jokers became more accepted in society, but many still reside in ghettos and fear for their own safety. Many of the characters in Wild Cards reminded me more of X-Men characters rather than traditional “good guy” superheroes. Most of these people want to live their life in peace, and help their friends and families. None of these people are traditional comic book superheroes.

 

 

I’ve certainly read themed anthologies before, but I’ve never read a shared universe. Each author was credited in the table of contents, and again the first time their writing appears in the volume. But after that, it’s just chapter after chapter, and if you aren’t paying attention it’s easy to forget which author’s work you are reading.  The fact that eleven authors (Stephen Leigh, George R.R. Martin, John J. Miller, Leanne C. Harper, Gail Gerstner-Miller, Walton Simmons, Edward Bryant, Lewis Shiner, Victor W. Milan, Melinda M. Snodgrass and Michael Cassutt) could seamlessly put  novel together, and then 25 years later two more authors (Kevin Andrew Murphy and Carrie Vaughn) could slip their new stories in unnoticed is pretty damn incredible.

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Like this stuff?

  • Civil War era alternate history
  • zombies
  • giant lizards
  • pop culture references
  • huge explosions
  • airships
  • airships with zombies on them
  • carnies

what if all that awesome stuff was jammed into one book?  well good news, IT IS! And I reviewed it, just for you!  head over to SFSignal to read my review of Odd Men Out by Matt Betts.

odd men out


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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