Alternate History Book Club: "He Walked Around The Horses"

Alright, it's Friday in Greenwich, so I'll go ahead and post the discussion thread for our first story, "He Walked Around the Horses," by H. Beam Piper. If you have a book or story you'd like the Alternate History Book Club to read, feel free to post it in the main thread.

Given that this is a place for discussion, there may be spoilers. (If you're the sort of person who cares about that.)

And speaking of discussion, here are some questions to start people off. (These are just for convenience--certainly not mandatory or anything. Feel free to answer any or none of them, as it suits you.)

0. Did you like the story? Why or why not?

1. What did you think of the epistolary form of the story, with the events being presented through letters and reports?

2. How plausible did you find the alternate history elements to be, given that the POD?

3. Are there any allohistorical details you found particularly interesting? (Talleyrand as a Cardinal, etc.)

4. The main event of this story is basically an ISOT on a very small scale. What did you think of the various characters' reactions to Bathurst's appearance? How does this compare to similar ISOT-type stories you've read, either on this site or elsewhere?

5. Based on the information in the story, is there anything you can infer or speculate about the timeline Bathurst arrives in?

6. Are there any other elements (AH or otherwise) that you found interesting or noteworthy?
 
0. Did you like the story? Why or why not?

1. What did you think of the epistolary form of the story, with the events being presented through letters and reports?

This was a very effective way to tell the story. The most obvious way to tell it would be to tell it from Bathurst's point of view, which would be a rather repetitive "You what?! They what?! What are you saying?!" The letters could convey a sense of bewilderment without the utter disorientation of a person stuck in a parallel world.

And I have to say, I am impressed that an Anglophone could write sympathetic German military and government characters in 1948. A tip of the hat to Mr. Piper.

The ending did come too quick for my taste. I would have liked to see Bathurst make it to London. We get a glimpse of small-scale chaos caused by his appearance, but the death seemed to stifle things just as they were getting interesting. As it is, very little actually _happened_ in the way of action or plot. I suppose Piper just wanted to present his setting, speculate a bit on the historical consequences of small events, and leave it there, without Bathurst doing much to influence or alter the world he falls into.

Altogether, this was a great format for presenting a very brief sketch of an AH setting but doing it in an entertaining way. It's something to remember for the hundreds of ideas floating around in my head but without any solid form.

2. How plausible did you find the alternate history elements to be, given that the POD?

It's maybe a bit too tidy - things essentially move along as if nothing ever happened. The French Revolution and its spillover in Europe certainly tapped into existing tensions and ideas. On the other hand, this is only a few years out from the PoD, and without that spark from France, it's plausible that the liberal and natioanlist spirit would still be dormant in Europe. Further along in the TL, I'd expect that something's going to happen to shake the system of the anciens regimes.

Same with America: simply returning to British rule with no change in the status quo seems too tidy. The fact that they are now "Crown Colonies" does indicate some change, and after all there is not a lot of detail given on the state of things in America in the alt-1810s.

4. The main event of this story is basically an ISOT on a very small scale. What did you think of the various characters' reactions to Bathurst's appearance? How does this compare to similar ISOT-type stories you've read, either on this site or elsewhere?

This gets wrapped up easily - Bathurst simply doesn't live long enoough to effect much change in the alternate timeline.
 
I read a bit more H. Beam Piper several years ago, so I can point out the tiny bit that he explained Bathurst's ISOT as a side effect of a inter-timeline travel machine from his Crosstime series; a supervisor of the Crosstime bureau comments in "Police Operation" that a man slipped into his machine once and was deposited in another timeline. (Most of the series's also available on Gutenburg.org . I'd recommend it as a fun science-fantasy, but don't read it for any alternate history.)

That trivia dealt with, on to the story...

I also really liked the epistolary style; it gives us a larger flavor of the characters' personalities than almost anything else could in such a short story. Also, it gives us the same sort of enticing side-references that (say) Thande's or Jared's passages from ATL textbooks do.

I'm not sure whether I like or dislike the brevity of the story. It leaves me clamoring for more information about the ATL. However, Piper's succeeded in telling the short story he set out to tell: the immediate consequences of the ISOT are dealt with; the question of how Bathurst will be received (and will tolerate the ATL) is answered; Bathurst is dead. Anything else - even a story of the consequences in London - would be a different story. Readers who lament how the 1632 or Dies the Fire series fell downhill might praise Piper for his brevity.

That said, I would like to see more stories in this ATL. I would love to see "how he held the dying Washington in his arms, and listened to his noble last words, at the Battle of Doylestown." I wonder how Madison in Switzerland will react to word of the United States' triumph in another timeline (if he ever hears about it... but a good author could easily get news to him.) And, as the False Dmitri said, it would be interesting to consider how the British will deal with America.
 
3. Are there any allohistorical details you found particularly interesting? (Talleyrand as a Cardinal, etc.)

One thing I noticed on this re-reading that I'm not sure I'd paid much attention to before was the mention that a "Jacobin plot" had been recently unmasked in Köln. Perhaps the Republican spirit isn't quite dead...

This was a very effective way to tell the story. The most obvious way to tell it would be to tell it from Bathurst's point of view, which would be a rather repetitive "You what?! They what?! What are you saying?!" The letters could convey a sense of bewilderment without the utter disorientation of a person stuck in a parallel world.

It's also a bit of a police-procedural type of story, something I personally have not encountered much outside of catching a few old radio episodes of Dragnet and the like.

It's maybe a bit too tidy - things essentially move along as if nothing ever happened. The French Revolution and its spillover in Europe certainly tapped into existing tensions and ideas. On the other hand, this is only a few years out from the PoD, and without that spark from France, it's plausible that the liberal and natioanlist spirit would still be dormant in Europe. Further along in the TL, I'd expect that something's going to happen to shake the system of the anciens regimes.

Same with America: simply returning to British rule with no change in the status quo seems too tidy. The fact that they are now "Crown Colonies" does indicate some change, and after all there is not a lot of detail given on the state of things in America in the alt-1810s.

Yeah, what with that Jacobin plot, I wonder if this timeline might not be heading for something like an earlier 1848, or even the Popular Wars from Thande's Look To The West

I read a bit more H. Beam Piper several years ago, so I can point out the tiny bit that he explained Bathurst's ISOT as a side effect of a inter-timeline travel machine from his Crosstime series; a supervisor of the Crosstime bureau comments in "Police Operation" that a man slipped into his machine once and was deposited in another timeline. (Most of the series's also available on Gutenburg.org . I'd recommend it as a fun science-fantasy, but don't read it for any alternate history.)

That trivia dealt with, on to the story...

I also really liked the epistolary style; it gives us a larger flavor of the characters' personalities than almost anything else could in such a short story. Also, it gives us the same sort of enticing side-references that (say) Thande's or Jared's passages from ATL textbooks do.

Though Bathurst blacks out and doesn't see the inside of the conveyer... or at least he says nothing about it in his statement. :p

I suspect Thande and Jared may have been more influenced by For Want Of A Nail, but I do wonder whether Sobel might have happened upon this story at some point. At any rate, it is an interesting sort of parallel evolution to a popular timeline format on here.

I'm not sure whether I like or dislike the brevity of the story. It leaves me clamoring for more information about the ATL. However, Piper's succeeded in telling the short story he set out to tell: the immediate consequences of the ISOT are dealt with; the question of how Bathurst will be received (and will tolerate the ATL) is answered; Bathurst is dead. Anything else - even a story of the consequences in London - would be a different story. Readers who lament how the 1632 or Dies the Fire series fell downhill might praise Piper for his brevity.

That said, I would like to see more stories in this ATL. I would love to see "how he held the dying Washington in his arms, and listened to his noble last words, at the Battle of Doylestown." I wonder how Madison in Switzerland will react to word of the United States' triumph in another timeline (if he ever hears about it... but a good author could easily get news to him.) And, as the False Dmitri said, it would be interesting to consider how the British will deal with America.

The idea of Madison in Switzerland somehow seeing these papers is a cool one. In a way, though, the story provides an interesting contrast to other "Connecticut Yankee" stories--he doesn't make a big splash; he gets shot while attempting to escape, and the authorities basically accept it as some sort of elaborate hoax and brush it under the rug.
 
I liked it, there were some amusing little allohistorical references- the twist of Sir Arthur Wellesley sitting there in bafflement at who Wellington is for example (which in turn makes me wonder about what India might be like if we presume that Sir Arthur went into politics rather than the military)- and the epistolary form allowed the plot to move forward at a decent pace without a lot of repetitive dialogue. I'd certainly liked to have seen more of the world of the ATL- there's easily scope to give some PoV stuff from Vienna which IIRC wasn't present- but equally that could have just got bogged down in exposition.
 
Piper did a very good job of using letters and documents to infer what is going on, rather than have "speaking roles" for the characters. Dialog is tough to make believable in many cases. That method allowed compression of the story, and still lets the reader's imagination run free about the type of Europe that poor Mr. Bathhurst has landed in. ( I very much like stories in which one small POD cascades into huge changes down the road.)

The amusing little mention about Talleyrand rings true. That highly adaptable man would land on his feet if the whole world was turned upside down. The future of this TL's Europe is interesting to speculate on. There was no Congress of Vienna, and the old empires remain unscathed so far, but there is just the hint of revolutionary ideas under the surface. Perhaps Madison, like Lenin, bides his time in Switzerland, writing pro-republican pamphlets and hoping for the right confluence of events to bring democratic revolution to pass.

How long this might take, and what form the rebellion might take is hard to say. Britain was triumphant against Napoleon IOTL, yet still had to reform its polity by the 1830's. Certainly Industrialization will have its effects and democracy will likely bubble up again.
 
Perhaps Madison, like Lenin, bides his time in Switzerland, writing pro-republican pamphlets and hoping for the right confluence of events to bring democratic revolution to pass.

Another neat image, and that could play into Evan's suggestion above...

By the way, might I suggest Fatherland and/or SS GB for future consideration?

You may, but that sort of thing would more properly go in the main thread. ;)
 
I like this one, the reactions seem believable, the story wraps up neatly, and the little sting at the end is amusing. As an AH "short", it's definitely a keeper.

I wonder about the seeming "quietness" of the TL: wars back and forth across Europe were common enough in the 18th century, so Rudolph Von Talberg's reaction to Bathurst's reports of the Napoleonic wars seems a bit overdone. In the quarter century since the failure of the American revolution, have there been no major European wars? (and as for the Pope, it's not like the Papacy hasn't been in French captivity before. :D )

In most ISOT's there are major consequences, but this is after all a PISOT story, a Person in the sea of time, so the impact will be much less than a whole community, and the tech level is identical, so no influence there. (Indeed, might I suggest the previously used, I think, term "Mysteriumed", in reference to this novel, http://www.amazon.com/Mysterium-Robert-Charles-Wilson/dp/B0071UJMCE for transfers across TLs with the date remaining the same?) There are other stories in which a one-person transfer does approximately zip; for instance, the Poul Anderson story "The man who came early", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Came_Early in which our 20th century arrival in Viking times proves unable to achieve squat before he is killed.

The whole business with the crushing of the stormers of the Versailles and the aborted French revolution is, I think, is related to Piper's doubts re the effectiveness of democracy vs authoritarianism: if the authorities are bold in using "the whiff of grapeshot" or massacre the mob in the stadium, order will be restored.

I'd definitely agree that in any sort of realistic continuation of this TL democratic forces aren't going to die off (heck, I find it rather unlikely that the UK will reverse the continued expansion of parliamentary vs royal power), and will emerge again, but may take some rather different forms, possibly nasty ones by our standards: the US revolution that is triggered by British efforts to legislate against slavery is unlikely to result in a US-equivalent we'd particularly like.

Bruce
 
I wonder about the seeming "quietness" of the TL: wars back and forth across Europe were common enough in the 18th century, so Rudolph Von Talberg's reaction to Bathurst's reports of the Napoleonic wars seems a bit overdone. In the quarter century since the failure of the American revolution, have there been no major European wars? (and as for the Pope, it's not like the Papacy hasn't been in French captivity before. :D )

If not, that would make it almost fifty years since the last major war, which is a good chunk of time. Then again, how unstable was the settlement at the end of the Seven Years' War?

In most ISOT's there are major consequences, but this is after all a PISOT story, a Person in the sea of time, so the impact will be much less than a whole community, and the tech level is identical, so no influence there. (Indeed, might I suggest the previously used, I think, term "Mysteriumed", in reference to this novel, http://www.amazon.com/Mysterium-Robert-Charles-Wilson/dp/B0071UJMCE for transfers across TLs with the date remaining the same?) There are other stories in which a one-person transfer does approximately zip; for instance, the Poul Anderson story "The man who came early", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Came_Early in which our 20th century arrival in Viking times proves unable to achieve squat before he is killed.

I haven't run across Mysterium before; I'll have to check that out. "The Man Who Came Early" is another good example, yes--as I recall, Anderson also used the opportunity to subvert some of the stereotypical notions about "Vikings"...
 
Last edited:
"The Man Who Came Early" is another good example, yes--though as I recall, Anderson also used the opportunity to subvert some of the stereotypical notions about "Vikings"...

Did I say he stereotypes Vikings? :confused:

Poul was always "people in olden times were pretty darn cool", IIRC.

Bruce
 
Did I say he stereotypes Vikings? :confused:

Poul was always "people in olden times were pretty darn cool", IIRC.

Bruce

No, I was saying Anderson always went for a realistic depictions, as opposed to the "bloodthirsty guys in horned helmets" approach...
 

Stolengood

Banned
One little irk: Piper gets Bathurst's age wrong. Piper describes him as being "a rather stout gentleman, of past middle age, with a ruddy complexion and an intelligent face"; in actuality, Bathurst was only 25 when he disappeared, and looked like this:

 
I definitely got the sense in this story that republicanism was down, but not out. Madison is still alive and in exile in Switzerland, the young Prussian lieutenant who travelled with Bathurst speaks of the failed American Revolution in very romantic, exalted terms, and there is brief mention of a Jacobin plot recently being foiled in Koln. Clearly, Europe is relatively at peace and in balance, and for now, France and most of Europe are still autocratic monarchies, but revolution still seems to be simmering under the surface nonetheless.

I thought this story did a good job of detailing realistic reactions on both Bathurst's part and those of the people who find him. I thought the ending was disappointing, in the sense that it should've explained more WHY Bathurst reacted to learning about the ATL world by frantically trying to escape. Had he given up hope and basically wanted to commit suicide-by-cop? Was he trying to get back to England? Which part of this alternate world was it which most shocked him?

As an insignificant detail, I noticed that the lieutenant commented on Bathurst's hat, calling it a strange contraption that looked like a pot. Interesting that top hats didn't catch on without the revolutions. I assume that everyone's sticking to tricornes.
 
No, I was saying Anderson always went for a realistic depictions, as opposed to the "bloodthirsty guys in horned helmets" approach...

I just don't understand why you needed a "though" in that sentence.

"The Man Who Came Early" is another good example, yes--though as I recall, Anderson also used the opportunity to subvert some of the stereotypical notions about "Vikings"...

Though:

Conjunction

Despite the fact that; although: "though they were whispering, Philip could hear them".

Adverb
However (indicating that a factor qualifies or imposes restrictions on what was said previously).


Bruce
 
One little irk: Piper gets Bathurst's age wrong. Piper describes him as being "a rather stout gentleman, of past middle age, with a ruddy complexion and an intelligent face"; in actuality, Bathurst was only 25 when he disappeared, and looked like this:

Interesting. I wonder if we could somehow explain that through some combination of circumstances? Perhaps the crosstime machine changed him to look like... an uncle?
 
Interesting. I wonder if we could somehow explain that through some combination of circumstances? Perhaps the crosstime machine changed him to look like... an uncle?

Indeed. This was something I wondered about as well. I wonder how much Piper actually knew about the historical Benjamin Bathurst. Did he know that Bathurst was a young man at the time of disappearance, and choose to age him for dramatic effect?

Or did he just describe him with what popped into his mind as a fitting description for "19th Century British diplomat?" The story also mentions that, in ATL, Bathurst became the Governor General of the colony of Georgia. Is it likely that a 25-year-old would reach such a prominent position?
 
One little irk: Piper gets Bathurst's age wrong. Piper describes him as being "a rather stout gentleman, of past middle age, with a ruddy complexion and an intelligent face"; in actuality, Bathurst was only 25 when he disappeared, and looked like this:

Just based on Wikipedia's description of the incident, there are a number of details that are not correct, such as Bathurst's traveling companions. The age is just the most glaring one. I would imagine that these kinds of details were less widely available in the 40s, but I would expect an author of alternate history to do his research.

Indeed. This was something I wondered about as well. I wonder how much Piper actually knew about the historical Benjamin Bathurst. Did he know that Bathurst was a young man at the time of disappearance, and choose to age him for dramatic effect?

Or did he just describe him with what popped into his mind as a fitting description for "19th Century British diplomat?"

I suspect that this last one was the case. Like I said, it can be hard to think back to just how tough it was to get basic information in the days before the Internet. If the topic was relatively obscure, like the personal details of a minor British diplomat, a lot could depend on what was in libraries near wherever it was you happened to live.

The story also mentions that, in ATL, Bathurst became the Governor General of the colony of Georgia. Is it likely that a 25-year-old would reach such a prominent position?

There were some surprisingly young men who reached quite lofty positions in those days. Pitt the Younger comes to mind.

For Georgia, I'd imagine a military governor for the first several years after the rebellion, but by Bathurst's day a return to civil rule is plausible. Probably all the Colonies have governmental reforms in place to placate all but the more militant Patriots.
 
Top