ALTERNATE NOTIONS (Miscellaneous Thread for ‘Books and Media’

Should there be a ‘Miscellaneous’ thread for this forum?

  • Yes please!

    Votes: 17 89.5%
  • No thank you

    Votes: 2 10.5%

  • Total voters
Dear fellows, while browsing the ‘Miscellaneous’ threads on the pre- and post-1900 sections, it struck me that our own corner of the forums might benefit from a similar place to post ideas & questions concerning published alternate histories that don’t quite have the depth to support a thread all of their own.

Might I please ask if there would be any interest in such a thread?
Not sure where else to post this, but I read A DIFFERENT FLESH for the first time just the other day and wanted to share my opinion on it-

- In brief: This is good Turtledove, with the author feeling much more engaged with the story than is sometimes the case (and the stories told being very engaging in their own right). It's also fair to say that this book has finally introduced me to PoV characters (Particularly Jeremiah) who seriously threaten to topple Master Will (Shakespeare) and Lope de Vega of RULED BRITANNIA from their shared perch on the Top Spot (Though credit to IN HIGH PLACES' Annette Klein & Jacques, who also recently 'shook the podium' but suffered from a tragic lack of Pulp Goodness to really sell their candidacy).

- In addition:

- I'm morally certain that the War of Independence that created the Federated Commonwealths of America (apparently fought in the late 1730s and early 1740s, assuming their Articles of Independence - dated AD 1738 - were ratified a year into the war, per the American War of Independence of our own timeline) was fought against a Jacobite Monarchy (Rather than their Hanoverian cousins), since the narrative speaks of an Absolutist 'Divine Right' monarchy in the French style.

Given that Benjamin Franklin (born 1706) would have been in his youthful prime at the time, I'm betting his local counterpart would have been even more of an Enlightenment rock star than the one with whom we are most familiar (Given his son William Franklin - born 1730 - would be far too young to favour King or Congress, he might even have a far happier family history to boot).

- I also got the rather amusing image of George Washington (born AD 1732) finally getting to pursue that Naval career he'd dreamed of as a lad (albeit with the US Navy, rather than the RN) because being brought up in the Federated States of America gave him much further grounds for rebelling against his mother's wishes than being raised a country squire in His Majesty's Province of Virginia.

Doubtless Mister Midshipman Washington (or his local counterpart) won't sink without a trace, though he's still likely to bump his head on the ceiling a time or three.

- My only major quibble with this particular book is the question of where the name 'sim' for Homo Erectus came from; I've a notion that it might derive from 'simian' but have a little difficulty imagining it being a name applied by Jacobean settlers to their local 'subhumans' (Though I'm admittedly not sure what the most logical period alternative would be).

I'll bet you cash money that if Leif Erikson ever saw a sim, he and his crew would have dubbed them TROLLS on the spot.

- For some reason I really love the little detail that police uniforms in the Commonwealths are green by default; It's one of those small, telling details that help sell a setting as quite different from ours (I'm also fond of 'calc' as name for a personal computer, though for my money 'horseless' as default name for a car doesn't work so well).

- There would undoubtedly be a great deal of entertainment value (and a good deal of difficulty) involved when drawing up a map of the Americas for this setting; the general absence of the First Nations means that modern man would need to come up with names for EVERYTHING (Since there would be no current residents to hand them names like Massachusetts, Mississippi and Manitoba).

You can tell that Professor Turtledove was keenly aware of this, since he very carefully steers clear of place names outside those areas not given European names. (-;

- One interesting thought: While the sims/Homo erectus beat the First Nations of the Americas across the Beringia land bridge (and the story of how that happened might be a tale worth telling in its own right), Hawaii - settled by sailors, rather than pedestrians - would almost certainly have modern humans in residence; I'm not certain, but the Inuit & Aleutian peoples also reached North America over sea, so there might very well have been enclaves of modern humans resident on the Pacific coast and in the Far North even before Jamestown was set up on the Eastern seaboard.

I wonder how they got on with sims ...

- My only serious reservation about the novel is that TRAPPING RUN moves them a little too far away from 'Missing Link' territory and into 'Caveman' terrain; For the rest of the novel to work, sims have to be profoundly NOT US and Mr Quick's time with the 'Martin band' humanises them to the point where they can crossbreed with Homo sapiens; It makes sense to complicate the picture of sims that we've previously received, to help us better understand what makes them tick and what they look like when not under the thumb of 'modern man', but I do think that making sim/human hybrids a very real possibility makes it very difficult to regard them as not human in the way that the rest of the novel (Particularly the very next chapter) requires them to be.

For my money, it might have helped had the 'History text' at the beginning of the chapter (or the one at the beginning of the next chapter) not left open the possibility - indeed the likelihood - that Mr Quick, while not actively delusional, was perhaps not the most clearheaded witness (Alone in the middle of aliens, he would naturally have looked so desperately for points of similarity that he may have missed some of the differences).


Alright, I should admit that this line of thought is partly prompted by my acute discomfort with 'hot apeman action'. It's a little like being obliged to image a hospital patient making love to a chimpanzee in a nurse's uniform and I don't like it!
Having mentioned it, one would be remiss in not posting my (somewhat more brief) thoughts on IN HIGH PLACES.

In Brief: A fine character study of kids landed in a rather horrible situation at a painfully young age, but using their native intelligence and common sense to find a way out, against horribly long odds. In other words a fairly typical CROSSTIME TRAFFIC novel, which may explain why I like the series so much (It's fair to note that Annette & Jacques are in even deeper than most of their peers and find their way out very much through their own intelligent efforts ... and with a bit of luck).

In Addition:-

- I am rather sorry we only glimpse the World of the Prophet Henri (Being especially disappointed that we never get a good idea of what Englishmen think about a Second Son of God born in France), but agree with Professor Turtledove's decision to put Our Heroes through an almost literally otherworldly abduction; after all, making the World of Henri so intriguing on short acquaintance ensures that we feel the wrench of being dragged to another world quite as much as the characters themselves.

- It's easy to imagine al-Andalus leading the Islamic charge into the Sunset Lands; I wonder which Christian nations are seeking to rival them? I'd put money on the Bretons making a bid (a development which might someday leave the Kingdom of Versailles under Breton management), but am a little embarrassed to scream "ENGLAND ENGLAND ENGLAND!" as a possible candidate (If only because the possibility is so obvious).

Having said that, I'd bet the Low Countries (what we'd call the Netherlands & Belgium) would be keen as mustard to chase markets you don't have to power through multiple layers of Muslims to get at and the Scandinavian nations might also be in contention.

- Even more interesting is the question of what nations greeted these Old World types when they arrived in what we call the Americas; It's quite possible the Aztecs & Incas would be long gone by the time the local Bronze age crashes into the late medieval/early modern period of Eurasia/Africa.

- On a related note, I keep wondering when the Old World discovered the New in this timeline; it seems to be a relatively recent development (as of AD 2096/688 New Revelation) so it amuses me to imagine this discovery happening in AD 2069/688 New Revelation, as a nod to the Moon Landing of our own history.

- I wonder what the condition of Russia is in the timeline of the Prophet Henri? It's easy to imagine the Orthodox World being one of the few places in much-diminished Christendom where the Prophet Henri is not honoured.

- The pivotal role of Plague in shaping this particular novel makes me wonder how Coronavirus 2019 might have affected this preindustrial timeline; A story highlighting how far we've come (and yet how far we still have to go) by showing characters battle the Great Pestilence of our modern age with genuinely medieval thinking & technology strikes me as very Turtledove.

I wonder what the locals would call the Great Pestilence of the Year 638 New Revelation?
For the record I could have given the 'After hijri' date above, in addition to the Gregorian & 'New Reckoning' (and quite possibly should have), but thought that might be rather over-egging things.

Being a stand-up gent, I will therefore not be dragging dear Harry Turtledove into disrepute by pointing out that HE didn't mention the Islamic calendar either.;)
Had a deeply odd thought while contemplating Mr Harry Turtledove's career today - the man has written a LOT of Nazis (Some of them even actual German-speaking, moustache-growing, Hugo Boss-wearing Third Reich types), including in protagonist roles; I wonder if this was an accident of History or if The Prof just enjoys the vicarious thrill of turning those schmucks into his own personal sock-puppets?
It struck me today that, somewhere in the Multiverse, there's a timeline where Major-general George Armstrong Custer was ordered to invade Cuba during the Spanish-American War of AD 1898 and I would dearly love to see shavetail lieutenant Abner Dowling's perspective on this particular war-trail (I don't think it's ever been revealed how Dowling became Custer's liaison to the 20th Century and I can easily imagine this story working as a prequel-at-one-remove to their various Adventures & Misadventures).
WORLDWAR thought: We know that at least one RAF aircrew that crashed down in Nazi territory was repatriated without fuss after the Race began their invasion, but what happened to the rather numerous prisoners barracked in various PoW camps? One assumes that such a large reserve of trained manpower would be extremely useful, but might be rather difficult to send home en mass (Given the disruption to transport networks caused by Race bombing runs & invasion forces).

This makes me wonder if, at least in the case of the Third Reich and the Western Allies*, 'Co-belligerent Forces' (or at least Co-belligerent units) might have been recruited from PoWs and deployed against The Race alongside their former captors (Though presumably after some intensely ferocious negotiations over their status and quite probably with mixed results depending on the PoWs in question).

Assuming they could be trusted with combat duties, one can only wonder how these formations might have been equipped ...

*That the Soviets held in German hands, Germans held in Soviet camps and just about EVERYONE in Japanese captivity would be much less willing to fight alongside their captors against a third party goes without saying.
Have suddenly been struck by the realisation that, from a SOUTHERN VICTORY (post-Featherston) perspective, THE DISUNITED STATES OF AMERICA looks almost nice by comparison; I can easily imagine some Timeline-191 author cooking up as setting very like the DISUNITED STATES as a gentler, happier timeline.

I find it absurdly easy to imagine DISUNITED STATES OF AMERICA natives taking one look at Timeline-191 and screaming "Can't a continent catch a break? What the **** Dixie, what the ****!" (Well, after reaching the SETTLING ACCOUNTS novels; they might march through HOW FEW REMAIN, THE GREAT WAR and AMERICAN EMPIRE thinking "Business as usual").
Looking at my last post gives me a mental image of THE TWO GEORGES' North American Union looking at those two distant cousins, shaking it's head more in sorrow than in anger and whispering "God save the King" (Credit to THE DEVIL'S BRIGADE for inspiring that last little flourish).

Meanwhile the two delinquents give back stare for stare and mutter "Mama's boy".
31 chapters deep into IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE and I have a suspicion that one likes this novel rather better than it’s protagonist (and quite possibly the author, who insisted that his adulterous lead reflect on how much he’d prefer his wife to be a cross between Mata Hari & Molly Pitcher rather than the woman he married - albeit not in quite those terms).

I am, in fact, quite certain this is a setting that would reward any FILLING THE GAPS colleagues looking for a dose of strange after a long course of Timeline-191.
ALSO: For some reason I keep coming back to the thought that - during the Race Invasion of WORLDWAR (by Harry Turtledove) - Great Britain would almost certainly recruit a German Co-Belligerent Squadron from Luftwaffe prisoners of war on British soil (Given the hideous loss ratios of WWII air forces Vs Gulf War era Alien jet fighters).

Given Mr Churchill’s celebrated remark about Hitler Vs The Devil in the House of Commons, I can’t help but think of this as ‘Squadron 666’ (Though I’m not sure it’s a joke the 1940s would have made and I suspect this would not be the actual number of any such formation).

It also amuses me to imagine a serious disagreement over this formation’s nationality patch reading ‘Germany’ rather than ‘Deutschland’.
Having completed IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE one can safely say that I really, really like it and am eager to give some thought to filling in all those delightfully open spaces where the story gives us just enough to start wondering, but not so much as to smother our creativity.

Also, I still rather dislike Doremus Jessup, even when inclined to admire him.
Of all the questions posed by that novel “Whatever happened to FDR?” might have the juiciest potential for a short story …
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It has just occurred to me that, were one in search of hook for some sequel to Mr Robert Harris' FATHERLAND, you could do worse than to play a little with the idea of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second leading a Government in Exile from Canada while the former Duke of Windsor is being propped as head of state in Great Britain; if nothing else it's interesting to wonder which nations of the British Empire & Commonwealth acknowledged the accession of the former after her father's death in the 1950s Vs those which were either prepared to make their peace with the Third Reich (by acknowledging King Edward VIII, in return for certain 'considerations') or simply went their own sweet way (I'm looking at YOU South Africa ... ).

I'd bet there was enough knavery, skulduggery & poltroonery for a whole Rogues Gallery as Queen Elizabeth, King Edward, the United States of America and the Third Reich (amongst others) manoeuvred for position, power & security after the loss of King George VI left the British Empire with a clear line of succession, but two possible claimants to the throne (Each backed by one of the contending superpowers).

There's also the interesting question of what happens when Edward VIII dies circa AD 1972 - whom would he nominate as heir, whom would Parliament be prepared to recognise as his heir and just how much respect for their choices would the Third Reich show? Is this a golden opportunity to weaken the Nazi's prestige by finally restoring Elizabeth the Second to her ancestral homeland or would that provoke the final crisis of a Cold War as the Reich refuses to accept the installation of an undoubtedly hostile head of state in their own backyard? (Even when she definitely would not be Head of Government).
It amuses me to imagine that, even in the cheerfully stuffy world of THE TWO GEORGES (possibly the most mild-mannered of all Harry Turtledove's timelines, with nary a World War in sight - and 'The Dean of Alternate History' really does love a Global Cataclysm, so he must have felt the lack something fierce), the generally Neo-Edwardian* aesthetic is enlivened by certain adventurous youths borrowing from the Cavalier Days and the Restoration era as a tribute to the reign of His Britannic Majesty King Charles III (Feathered hats, Van Dyke beards and high heels ahoy!**).

*I'm reasonably confident Mr Dreyfuss & Mr Turtledove were imagining straight Edwardian, but one would like to imagine that even on Earth-George fashion doesn't stay entirely still for the better part of a century ...

**I'm not sufficiently well-acquainted with ladies fashions of the 1600s to make an intelligent observation on what they get out of the deal, but one suspects sausage curls will be involved somehow!
ALSO - I recently started reading THE LAST MAN by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, having been fascinated to discover that the authoress of FRANKENSTEIN had also written a work of speculative fiction set in the distant future days of the 2060s (AD); Given that the blurb describes it as the story of a future world rocked by a horrific plague, it seems that we can credit Mrs Shelley as Queen of the Goths AND the inventor of dystopian Science Fiction!

... also, for some reason she made the Britain of this dystopian future a Republic and insists on making that rather prodigious change in the Constitutional order of things a mere background detail! (At least so).
I spent a good part of today researching the British Army under King James II & VII and was quite surprised to learn that he & his late brother King Charles II had a regiment of Irish Guards to call their own even before Ireland became a hotbed of Jacobite loyalists; one can only wonder what their history might have been like in a timeline where they were not obliged to follow their King into exile as part of the Irish Brigade in the French service.

Also, apparently the distant ancestors of the Royal Artillery used to wear red coats (Which, if you're a student of British military history, is deeply weird to imagine).
Also, I would dearly love to see a crossover between FATHERLAND and the Bernie Gunther novels of the late Philip Kerr (Bernie being a deeply Noir anti-hero condemned to bear the mark of Nazi Germany in the same way slaves carried their master's brand, a consummate survivor and a dude who hates Nazis in a way only someone forced to deal with them for years at a time from a position of weakness can, it's intriguing to wonder how he'd keep his skin intact in a world where Those Guys won BIG*).

*Also, of course, how he'd get on with poor old Xavier March.
Of all the variants on the SOUTHERN VICTORY timeline I’ve seen one where the CSA turns Communist has to be one of the most interesting - especially with that mention of ‘Joe Steel’ (Presumably of one Georgia or the other).

So it’s fair to say that I really like the set-up for this timeline … but then the Entente somehow defeats the United States of America and casually splits it up.

Honestly, it might be more interesting to see a Communist CSA co-exist with the United States (Perhaps with Europe in the hands of the Entente?), if only because it’s harder to guess which way a Communist Confederate States of America would jump in the event of a Second World War (Would the Socialists be able to keep the peace or would Communists despise them quite as much as Featherston?).
A little further into THE LAST MAN by Mrs Mary Shelley and we find that the British Republic of the 21st Century (complete with travel balloons, for those who need to travel a bit faster than post-chaise ... no, really, this Britain of the future still employs horse-drawn transports as it's default) has technically gotten rid of the House of Lords ... though only because the two Houses of Parliament have been condensed into a unicameral assembly, so their Lordships have to rough it with the Commons.

Whether or not the Lords have to endure appointment, are elected or inherit their seats in this chamber has yet to be mentioned; the Aristocracy seems to be alive, well and rather more than merely influential, Republic or no (Though oddly enough the head of the former Royal Family is said to be the highest ranking peer in the Kingdom, despite being a mere Earl; Either the rank & title of Duke has been abolished or Mrs Shelley paid no more attention to the nuances of aristocratic titles than she was obliged to).