In Alt.History 101, Samuel Peralta adds to his Future Chronicles canon with an alternative history anthology. He and his merry band of authors take on the biggest of questions:
What if? is the fiction writer’s best friend. In my own Weapons of Mass Deception, I posed the alternative history question: what if Saddam Hussein really did have nuclear weapons and they ended up in the hands of Iranian hardliners? (There’s even a shred of historical precedence to add gravity to that possibility.)
For the most part, the stories in Alt.History 101 take a pivotal moment in history and go in a different direction. Despite the 101 tag, this isn’t a history book about dates and places; we’re not concerned with the macro here. Short fiction captures the micro, the personal, and the intimate all set in a world that we no longer recognize.
Take Les Meduses, by Stacy Ericson, which tells the story of Pierette, a French girl and the daughter of the town executioner. Although she and her family want for nothing, as the “Daughter of Death,” Pierette is shunned by society and she fears for a normal future. She decides to take matters into her own hands when her father is called to England on special assignment to remove the head of Anne Boleyn. I’m a big fan of 1421 by Gavin Menzies, a book about the Chinese Armada of the Ming dynasty, so the ending was just perfect for me.
As the headliner of the anthology, Ken Liu delivers with his story, A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel. During the Great Depression, Emperor Hirohito of Japan and President Herbert Hoover agree to build a tunnel underneath the Pacific Ocean to connect their two countries, thereby shortening the Depression and averting WWII. This larger historical setting is laid out in italicized interludes between the real story of Charlie and Betty. Charlie was a Digger on the Tunnel and Betty is a waitress who is traveling the world to find herself. Charlie has a secret; Betty has a way of easing the pain. All in all, a beautifully told tale.
In 108 Stitches, Tony Bertauski takes us to a world where Steve Wozniak of Apple fame chose bio-engineering over personal computers. The result is a synthetic stem cell that results in printed limbs, brain sculpting and all kinds of medical shenanigans. With that lead-in, you might expect the story to be about a doctor, but it’s not. Instead, Bertauski offers up a touching story about a baseball player who’s been so jacked up on artificial medical technology all his life that when he reaches the World Series, this is what he thinks:
I was on the mound and the crowd was coming unglued…It was the last inning of game seven. The last out. The last pitch. There were tectonic plates under less pressure, but I was made for this moment.
For a thoughtful piece of alternative history, look for Peter Cawdron’s story, Natural. He asks a simple question: what would our world look like if Edward Jenner, the father of immunology and the pioneer behind the smallpox vaccine, died prematurely? Or in Cawdron’s words:
The lifestyle we enjoy today is the result of scientific advances made possible because diseases like smallpox were not able to cull upwards of 30-40% of our population.
In this age where some well-meaning people turn away from vaccinations in favor of nature, this story is a reminder that real nature can be brutal and unforgiving.
This is just a sampling of the thirteen stories in Alt.History 101. While there were several pieces that didn’t seem to have any historical anchoring, the anthology as a whole is well worth your time. Available now in print and e-book.
David Bruns is the creator of the sci-fi series The Dream Guild Chronicles, one half of the Two Navy Guys and a Novel blog series about co-writing a military thriller, and co-author of Weapons of Mass Deception, a story of modern-day nuclear terrorism.