Skip to first unread message

R.B. Schmunk

Aug 26, 1993, 5:37:09 PM8/26/93
Edited by Mike Resnick

A book review by R.B. Schmunk
(Copyright 1993)

Another year, another alternate history anthology.

Over the last four years, six previous anthologies have appeared, edited either
by Greg Benford & Martin Greenberg (the "What Might Have Been" series) or by
Mike Resnick. Just published is number seven, ALTERNATE WARRIORS, which is
Resnick's third entry in the apparent competition. The quality of the various
volumes has varied; for example, Resnick's ALTERNATE PRESIDENTS was very good
and his ALTERNATE KENNEDYS was hit-and-miss. It seems to be my sad duty to
report that ALTERNATE WARRIORS is somewhat closer to the latter. While I found
no stories in this new book to be outright turkeys, I also found very few to be
really gripping.

The premise of ALTERNATE WARRIORS is one that seems to have been slowly taking
over the genre in the last year or two. Rather than chart the rise and fall of
alternate empires, to examine how a battle might have gone the other way, the
stories in ALTERNATE WARRIORS examine how some historical person, usually well-
known, might have lived a different life. As the title suggests, the stories in
this particular volume generally focus on that life involving a more war-like
direction. Its cover demonstrates the extreme to which the idea might be
pushed, showing Mohandas Gandhi carrying a rocket-launcher, a scene obviously
derived from one of the RAMBO movie posters.

The alternate-life focus of ALTERNATE WARRIORS unfortunately carries with it a
major burden. By focusing on the life of a single person, the bulk of the
stories also ignore the historical consequences which necessarily flow from
that life. Perhaps writers feel it is sufficient to only show how history might
have changed, but one suspects that many just don't want to think through the
numerous possible results of the change they inflict. In any event, by ignoring
the sweep of history, an alternate history writer *must* make the character(s)
come alive in order for his story to be interesting. (Many alternate histories
partially escape this requirement by presenting an intriguing history, all be
it at the expense of an interesting story.) If the quality of writing is at
best average, then the reader is often left to ask "So what?" After too many of
the stories in ALTERNATE WARRIORS, I found myself asking that question.

A number of the tales in ALTERNATE WARRIORS convert great pacifists into
fighters. Michael P. Kube-McDowell's "Because Thou Lovest the Burning-Ground"
is the cover story, and in it Gandhi becomes a Thuggee cultist. In Brad
Linaweaver's "Unmerited Favor", Jesus preaches a more militant line and hands
out swords to his followers. The life of Martin Luther King, Jr. receives the
attentions of two authors: Jack C. Haldeman in "Death of a Dream" and Lawrence
Schimel in "Taking Action". In the former King is smeared with scandal by J.
Edgar Hoover before he can deliver the "I Have a Dream" speech, thus derailing
the civil rights movement and eventually leading to an oppressive law-and-order
president; in the latter, King is haunted by precognition of such events as the
Rodney King beating and his tactics take a violent bent from the start. The
last such tale is Anthony R. Lewis's "...But the Sword!", in which Francis
Bernardone of Assisi becomes a crusader rather than a priest. This story
perhaps hews closest to the standard alternate history tale, in which describes
a series of historical events over a period of several years, but that seems to
be about all it does. Of these five stories, Haldeman's "Death of a Dream" is
the only one I found of any interest, but it was marred by what I assume to be
an editor or proofreader's error. A close reading reveals that the story could
not occur any earlier than 1977, but the beginning of the story clearly states
that it is St. Patrick's Day 1975.

A second group of stories also involve people who achieved success in a non-
violent manner, but who are perhaps not so well-known for their pacifism. Mike
Resnick's "Mwalimu in the Squared Circle" (which previously appeared in the
March 1993 issue of Asimov's) examines what the fight would have been like if
Julius Nyrere accepted Idi Amin's challenge to a boxing match in order to end
the Tanzania-Uganda war of 1980 before it bankrupts his country. In Kristine
Kathryn Rusch's "The Arrival of Truth", Sojourner Truth is marching through the
South telling the slaves to take what is theirs and the slaves at one Virginia
plantation are eagerly await her coming. Michelle Sagara takes a look at the
relationship between Thomas a Beket and Henry II in "For Love of God", and
wonders what if Beket had fled England before Henry could cry out "Who will rid
me of this turbulent priest?". In Nicholas A. DiChario "Extreme Feminism",
Susan B. Anthony's struggle for women's suffrage takes an unfortunate turn.
Tappan King drops an amnesiac Angelo Roncalli, later Pope John XXIII, into the
middle of France's World War II Resistance. And in Bill Fawcett's "Zealot",
Moses has led his people into guerrilla warfare, and they are besieged within
one of pharaoh's palaces. Happily, of these stories, I only found DiChario's to
be less than interesting. Fawcett's story had a stunning conclusion, though in
retrospect, I admit that I should have seen it coming.

And while the he may not have been a real pacifist, one story takes a look at a
man whose name is not fondly remembered for trying to avoid war. In Barbara
Delaplace's "Standing Firm", Neville Chamberlain is debating with himself what
course to take when meeting Hitler at Munich, even going so far as to meet with
that notorious proponent of appeasement, Winston Churchill. From the start,
though, it is obvious what direction Delaplace is leading Chamberlain, and the
story ends much too soon.

In three tales, artists are made warriors. Esther Friesner wonders what if
author Jane Austen had met Davey Crockett in 1811 England, 13 years after that
country had been invaded and conquered by Napoleon, in "Jane's Fighting Ships".
Mark Twain makes an appearance in Mel. White's "Sam Clemens and the Notable
Mare", but it could be said that his horse is more of a warrior than he is. The
third such tale, Barry N. Malzberg's "Fugato", is my choice for the best story
in the book. It is set in a 1944 Ardennes farmhouse, where infantryman Leonard
Bernstein is looking back on the road that led him from the conductor's podium
to confrontation with death. Like a number of Malzberg's previous alternate
histories (e.g., "Heavy Metal" and "In the Stone House"), "Fugato" is told in a
mild stream-of-consciousness manner, which sometimes works and sometimes
doesn't. This time it succeeds, admirably.

Warriors who actually were take on different characteristics in three other
stories. Mercedes Lackey's gives T.E. Lawrence a Saul-like transformation in
"Jihad"; Brian Thomsen has Reilly, ace of spies, plotting in Bolshevik Russia;
and Beth Meacham has Tecumseh saving the British at the Battle of the Thames
(Detroit). This last title is an oddity in this particular anthology, as its
alternate warrior makes no appearance in the story. Its setting, 175 years or
so after the divergence in an "Indiana" torn by political violence, renders it
more akin to the standard alternate history story. In any event, I found the
Meacham to be the only story of interest in this group.

Two tales involve women of ancient times, and if they are not made warriors,
they at least strive for power. Maureen F. McHugh's "Tut's Wife" takes a look
at the young widow of Tutankhamen, who simultaneously is trying to promote the
monotheistic faith of Aten and to maintain her future safety. More interesting,
though, is Judith Tarr's "Queen of Asia", in which Sisygambis is so dismayed by
the cowardice of her son Darius that she has him killed and then assumes the
regency of Persia. "Queen of Asia" might also be considered a double-edged tale
of alternate warriors, since a warrior we all have heard of, Alexander the
Great of Macedon, is cast here in a roll which he never had to assume in our

A few of the stories in ALTERNATE WARRIORS might be thought of as humors for
their varying degrees of levity. Perhaps the least tongue-in-cheek is David
Gerrold's "The Firebringers", which argues the morality of dropping an atomic
bomb on a civilian target by taking men we remember as famous Hollywood stars
and making them members of a bomber crew. Josepha Sherman's "Monsieur Verne and
the Martian Invasion" is set in a steampunkish 19th century, and here the great
inventor Jules Verne discovers and fights a creature from outer space. In "The
Vatican Outfit", Laura Resnick has Pope John Paul I saved from his alleged
assassination by Mafiosi and then gradually converted to their management
techniques. Finally, Lea Hernandez turns Albert Einstein in a Bond-esque secret
agent in "Al Einstein--Nazi Smasher!" The Gerrold tale is the only story in
this bunch which I found of any interest, presumably because the humor in the
others was not of a type that I have ever cared for, but because it treads the
same ground as did Kim Stanley Robinson in his classic "The Lucky Strike", my
interest was not greatly piqued.

As always seem to happen in any alternate history anthology, ALTERNATE WARRIORS
includes a few stories which are not really alternate history. George Alec
Effinger's "Albert Schweitzer and the Treasures of Atlantis" is a bit of a
tribute to a certain tree-swinging hero, and Jack C. Haldeman, II's tale of
Marilyn Monroe, "The Cold Warrior", is actually a secret history about the
Cuban missile crisis. Jack Nimersheim's two stories, "The Battle of All
Mothers" and "Mind over Matter", about Mother Theresa and Stephen Hawking
respectively, are set in near futures. Finally, there is Kathy Koja's "Ballad
of the Spanish Civil Guard", an interesting mood piece about the arrest of
Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca by the Fascists. (There is a possibility
that "Ballad" really is an alternate history, but my extremely limited
knowledge about Garcia says that is not.) Of these four stories, "Mind over
Matter" is perhaps the most interesting, but its theme of scientific
responsibility is one I have encountered in many, many stories before (e.g.,
Michael Crichton's SPHERE and JURASSIC PARK).

Thus, among ALTERNATE WARRIORS' 29 stories, the Malzberg is the only one I
greatly recommend. Others that are highly readable are the Fawcett, Meacham,
Mike Resnick, Rusch, Sagara, and Tarr and Haldeman's "Death of a Dream".
Alternate history fans will, of course, want a copy of the book fore
completeness if nothing else. I cannot recommend it to other readers unless
they feel that the . cover price is reasonable for nine decent stories.

%A Mike Resnick (ed)
%I Tor
%C New York City
%D 1993
%G ISBN 0-812-52346-6
%O paperback, US$4.99
%T "A Sense of Loyalty, a Sense of Betrayal" (Thomsen, Brian)
%T "Al Einstein--Nazi Smasher!" (Hernandez, Lea)
%T "Albert Schweitzer and the Treasures of Atlantis" (Effinger, George Alec)
%T "The Arrival of Truth" (Rusch, Kristine Kathryn)
%T "Ballad of the Spanish Civil Guard" (Koja, Kathy)
%T "The Battle of All Mothers" (Nimersheim, Jack)
%T "Because Thou Lovest the Burning-Ground" (Kube-McDowell, Michael P.)
%T "...But the Sword!" (Lewis, Anthony R.)
%T "The Cold Warrior" (Haldeman, Jack C., II)
%T "Death of a Dream" (Haldeman, Jack C., II)
%T "Extreme Feminism" (DiChario, Nicholas A.)
%T "The Firebringers" (Gerrold, David)
%T "For Love of God" (Sagara, Michelle)
%T "Fugato" (Malzberg, Barry N.)
%T "Jane's Fighting Ships" (Friesner, Esther M.)
%T "Jihad" (Lackey, Mercedes)
%T "The Mark of the Angel" (King, Tappan)
%T "Mind over Matter" (Nimersheim, Jack)
%T "Monsieur Verne and the Martian Invasion" (Sherman, Josepha)
%T "Mwalimu in the Squared Circle" (Resnick, Mike)
%T "One by One" (Meacham, Beth)
%T "Queen of Asia" (Tarr, Judith)
%T "Sam Clemens and the Notable Mare" (White, Mel.)
%T "Standing Firm" (Delaplace, Barbara)
%T "Taking Action" (Schimel, Lawrence)
%T "Tut's Wife" (McHugh, Maureen F.)
%T "Unmerited Favor" (Linaweaver, Brad)
%T "The Vatican Outfit" (Resnick, Laura)
%T "Zealot" (Fawcett, Bill)

R.B. Schmunk <>
NASA/Goddard Institute, 2880 Broadway, New York, NY 10025 USA

Reply all
Reply to author
0 new messages