Posts Tagged ‘Alternative History’

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

April 25, 2014

The Long Earth by Terry Prachett and Stephen Baxter

Terry Pratchett has a birthday coming up on Monday, April 28, so this is a great time to talk about the first book in one of his newer series.  Why not post this on the 28th?  Well, April 28th is also the birthday of another popular author.  Check back on Monday to find out who!

Sir Terry Pratchett is one of the most prolific and popular authors writing in Science Fiction and Fantasy today. Stephen Baxter is almost as prolific, and due to his education in mathematics and engineering, tends to write “hard SF.” Together they have come up with a very intriguing sci-fi concept: what if people were able to “step” across to innumerable, parallel Earths on which humans never developed? Now we have infinite room for humankind to spread out, to explore, and to begin again. It would seem that this new discovery would be of tremendous benefit to humankind, alleviating our looming over-population problem as well as the drain we’re placing on the Earth’s natural resources. However, this new discovery brings its own set of problems for humanity to deal with.

Iron cannot be stepped, so each new world has pre-industrial technology once settled. A few people can “step” naturally, most can do it with the help of a small machine, and some cannot step at all. Families are stepping out to distant Earths to explore this new frontier, and sometimes one member of the family is unable to step and must be left behind. This, naturally, causes resentment and a fundamental extremist group is started to protest stepping. The governments also become concerned when people start emigrating from “Datum Earth” to these new lands en masse, deserting cities and towns and no longer paying taxes to support their home world. Laws are passed which state that anyone living within the same boundaries of the U.S. on other Earths must pay taxes to – and are subject to the laws of – Datum Earth. Anyone who’s watched old Western movies knows that enforcing laws in a distant and vast frontier is difficult at best. Last, but not least, there’s also an artificially intelligent consciousness named Lobsang, who recruits one of the first steppers, Joshua, for a vast exploration by airship of the seemingly limitless worlds throughout “the long Earth.”

Pratchett and Baxter have written a great story with very real characters and truly infinite possibilities! Be warned, though that it ends on a cliff-hanger and you’ll need to continue with the sequel, The Long War. The third in this series, The Long Mars, is due to be published in June. Get ready to start a great reading adventure, and it all starts with a single step – to the library.

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Best New Books in 2013: Travis H’s Picks

December 10, 2013

I’m the manager of the Zebulon Community Library and have a long tenure with the library system. I majored in English and have had my fill of “good books.” Since then, I have read mostly nonfiction, along with techno thrillers, South Florida based detective novels, and things I find funny.  Here are my selections for Best New Books of 2013:

Who Discovered America? The Untold History of the Peopling of the Americas by Gavin Menzies
True or not, Who Discovered America brings together a boatload of historical anomalies and explains them all with the help of the Chinese. DNA, Marco Polo, Melungeons, pyramids, Mayans, Egyptians, Minoans…it is all here in the book, and were they all here in the past?  I did not know that the Chinese were all over eastern North Carolina at one point.  Menzies thinks so. Alternative histories can be good fiction. Revisionist history can really disrupt things.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach
I made the mistake of trying to read this book during my lunch hour. The book is pretty gross and hard to put down. Starting with the senses of smell and taste, Roach takes us on a journey down the throat and all the way through. Along the way, she illustrates the journey with hilarious digressions about morbid things. Finally, the truth comes out about why, and how, Elvis died in his bathroom.

New Earth by Ben Bova
Ben Bova writes “hard science” fiction, wherein scientific accuracy is more important than character and often even plot. I read this type of science fiction to get a glimpse of the future.  In New Earth, old Earth is dying from climate change. The discovery of an Earthlike planet prompts an expedition. The crew awakes close to their destination after being in suspension for eighty years. They learn that their efforts have been abandoned by those back on Earth.   It is no surprise that New Earth’s inhabitants are Earth-like humanoids. This, along with the fact that New Earth is so much like old Earth, the crew begins to become suspicious of just how this might be, especially when the find the inhabitants of this new world less than forthcoming.

The Last Outlaws: the Lives and Legends of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid by Thom Hatch
Who can’t think of George Roy Hill’s incredible movie pairing Newman and Redford whenever Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are mentioned? When I came across Hatch’s The Last Outlaws I decided to view the movie once more and then read the book, hopefully to put these criminals into perspective. Most interesting to me was reading about how the progression of America’s west into the modern age, along with “coordinated law enforcement efforts,” which motivated the two to leave America for South America. Also interesting was the history of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.

Dark City: A Repairman Jack Novel by F. Paul Wilson
2013’s Repairman Jack novel is the second volume of a trilogy that is a prequel to Wilson’s completed Secret History of the World. Jack gets out of the cigarette smuggling business, and uses his profits to help various characters. He reflects on the murder he committed. He makes secure his residency in the New York City of the early 1990’s.

The Repairman Jack character captivated me as Wilson started to pump out these novels. Down to earth, gritty and likable, Jack is the perfect protagonist. Subtly however, Wilson started to mix in supernatural elements into the tales. Normally this would put me off but Jack pulls it off and once a year, for 16 years or so, he reappeared in yet another book, until Wilson was able to bring the story arc to a close.  Fans were aghast, lost without the prospect of another Repairman Jack novel. After millions of words though, Wilson gives us the Early Years Trilogy, of which Dark City is the second. These books show us how Jack became Jack. Read the novels in order; Cold City is the first in this series.

The Greyfriar: Vampire Empire Book One by Clay & Susan Griffith

September 30, 2013

We’re pleased to re-post this book review from last year in anticipation of the authors visiting our libraries again soon:

The Greayfriar: Vampire Empire Book OneEver since Bram Stoker popularized the vampire novel with Dracula, other authors have added to the myths & lore of the nosferatu. The husband and wife writing team of Clay & Susan Griffith have continued this tradition with the vampires in their novels. These vampires prefer cold, or at least cool, climates, they have clans with “noble” rulers, they do cast a reflection in a mirror, and while they don’t turn into bats, they can fly. They are also not undead humans nor do they turn humans into vampires by biting them, although they do feed on them.

The Greyfriar is also much more than just a vampire novel. As of the year 2020, the war between vampires and humans has been going on for 150 years, since 1870 when the bloodthirsty monsters rose up against mankind and laid waste to the great civilizations of the Northern hemisphere. Descendants of Britain’s leaders have relocated to Alexandria, Egypt, and The United State’s power is now consolidated in Central America. So, because history has taken quite a different path since just after the Civil War, this is also a novel of alternate history. And, because humanity had to spend time re-organizing and relocating the former powers of the north in the equatorial regions, technology has not yet surpassed that of the steam age. The great powers of Equatoria and America both possess flying airships and for weapons cannons, Gatling guns, pistols and swords are all used. Thus, this novel is also in the Steampunk genre.

In the story Princess Adele travels under royal guard (by airship, of course) to the borderlands of the north. The trip is one of goodwill with the borderlands, as it has been arranged that Adele will marry (pompous) war hero Senator Clark of America, a marriage that will tie the two great powers together and make them both stronger than they could ever be alone. This is the first time Adele has been this far north and her airship is attacked by a great number of vampires. Most of the guards and crew are killed as the ship is grounded and Adele is saved by the swashbuckling hero of legend: the Greyfriar. She is now stuck behind enemy lines and only the Greyfriar’s great skill at fighting and his knowledge of the countryside allow them to escape.

Soon, Adele is captured by Cesare, younger son of the vampire king Dmitri. His older brother Gareth – an unusually intelligent, refined and curious vampire – lays claim to the prisoner and treats Adele with a kindness that she initially distrusts. When the clans start clamoring for renewed war, Adele is taken into Scotland, where the benevolent Gareth’s castle lies. Gareth and Adele gradually get to know each other and she reluctantly comes to think of him as more than a monster. In fact, much of the later part of the novel is reminiscent of the story of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. So, in addition to being a steampunk, alternate history, vampire tale, there’s a bit of romance thrown in too. I certainly enjoyed this first book in the Vampire Empire series, and hope you will too.

Clay & Susan Griffith will appear with other Speculative Fiction authors at Southeast Regional Library on October 2 and at Eva Perry Regional Library on October 13; visit our website for more details and to see which other authors will appear.

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The Mirage by Matt Ruff

June 17, 2013

I have always been a big fan of alternate fiction so I was very excited when I came across a review for The Mirage by Matt Ruff.   The Mirage presents a world that is a mirror image of the world we live in now.  On November 11, 2001, twin towers on the Tigress and Euphrates are destroyed by planes flown by Christian fundamentalists.  The United Arab States (UAS) is a world superpower and America is a bunch of disjointed city states, including an independent Texas.  Much of the back story is revealed in excerpts from the Library of Alexandria, this world’s version of Wikipedia invented by Muammar Gaddafi.

Nine years later, Homeland Security agent Mustafa al Baghdadi and his team — Samir, and Amal, capture and interrogate a suicide bomber. The prisoner claims that the world in which they are living is a mirage. In the real world, America is a superpower, and the Arab states are just a collection of backward third-world countries.  A search of the bomber’s apartment turns up a copy of The New York Times, dated September 12, 2001, which recounts the destruction of the twin towers in New York City.   As Mustafa and his team continue to investigate this bizarre claim, they come in contact with the gangster Saddam Hussein and Senator Osama Bin Laden, both of whom know about the mirage claim and provide both help and hindrance as the investigation proceeds. Mustafa and his team also make a visit to America and the independent republic of Texas where they come across a “who’s who” of well known and sometimes notorious American political and religious leaders, including David Koresh, Dick Cheney and Lyndon B. Johnson.

A typical problem with books that start with a great premise is that sometimes the author doesn’t know how to end it without becoming too farfetched or unsatisfying to the reader.  Fortunately, I felt that Matt Ruff did a good job with the ending.  I came away feeling that sometimes no matter how much things have changed, in many ways they still stay the same, and yet there is hope for the future and maybe this time we will get it right.

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11/22/63 by Stephen King

January 11, 2013

11/22/63If you had the chance to go back in time and change history to prevent a national tragedy, would you? That is the chance given to Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Maine. Al Templeton, the owner of a local diner, lets Jake in on a secret: there’s a “rabbit hole” in his storeroom that leads back to 1958. Al has a plan to go back and stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing President Kennedy. But, Al is now dying of lung cancer, so he needs Jake’s help to complete his self-appointed mission to save the country by changing its history.

Jake also teaches adult GED classes and he read a theme written by his school’s janitor on “the day that changed my life.” It seems that there was a very gruesome and horrible event in Harry the janitor’s childhood – something that has scarred him for life, both physically and mentally. Jake’s not quite sure what to make of this time travel stuff, but decides that if it’s for real, he’s also going to try and change the course of events that led to this personal tragedy, in addition to trying to stop Oswald from killing Kennedy.

Of course, no story this good (and yes, it really is a good as everyone has said) would be so simple and straightforward. We learn that the past is obdurate. Don’t worry, I had to look that word up too. It means “unmoved by persuasion, pity, or tender feelings; stubborn; unyielding.” Basically, when you try to change the past, the past tries to stop you. The larger of a change you are making, the more the past will try to stop that change. And stopping Oswald from assassinating Kennedy is a mighty big change.

What makes Stephen King‘s novel so great is not just the premise (a fairly neat twist on the time travel idea), but the story itself and the characters about whom we come to care so much. Since the “rabbit hole” dumps Jake out in Maine in 1958, and Kennedy’s date with destiny is in Dallas in 1963, that leaves Jake with five years of living to do – as well as making sure that Oswald really did do it and acted alone. Along the way he gets a job teaching, meets a librarian named Sadie, and falls in love.

Does Jake stop Oswald? What would happen to our history if Kennedy had lived? What about Jake and Sadie? You don’t really want me to tell you, you really want to pick this book up and discover its wonder yourself. I’ll just end by saying that I’m not what you’d call a crying man, and it’s rare for a book to bring me to tears, but this is one of two books I read in 2011 that did just that.

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How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove

February 23, 2012

All fiction asks “what if?” (What if a boy named Huck Finn ran away with a slave named Jim and sailed the Mississippi?)  Science Fiction and Fantasy do this to an even greater extent (What if a scientist was able to re-animate a human corpse using lightning?) Within Sci-Fi & Fantasy the sub-genre of Alternative History takes actual events from History and asks what if they had happened differently (What if Hitler’s Germany had won World War II?) Harry Turtledove is considered the master of Alternative History and in this novel he asks: “What if The North rises again – in the stunning saga of the Second Civil War?”

It’s been a generation since the South defeated the North in the Civil War, and a disgraced Abraham Lincoln now roams the United States preaching the gospel of socialism. Meanwhile, the Confederate States have purchased territories from the Empire of Mexico. This would extend the CSA’s rule from the Atlantic to the Pacific and the United States decides that they should not be allowed to expand, and thus begins the Second Civil War. Many familiar names appear as the story unfolds: George Armstrong Custer patrols the frontier of Kansas using the new fangled Gatling guns against the Indians; General Stonewall Jackson is the supreme military commander of the Confederate forces and directs the Battle of St. Louis; Frederick Douglas is a journalist from Rochester, New York who travels to the dangerous border covering the war; J.E.B. Stuart leads the CSA forces in the newly annexed south-west territories; and Samuel Langhorne Clemens is the editor of a newspaper in San Francisco with a loving wife and two children. The characters are all as vivid as one could hope for and the action of the war – both on and off the battlefield – moves the story along keeping the reader wondering what “happened” next.

I’m a huge Sci-Fi & Fantasy reader, but have never been much into Alternative History for some reason. Also, I must admit that I have been reluctant to try Mr. Turtledove due to my own preconceived notions. You see, being from the North, I was never very interested in a story in which the South won the Civil War. I now freely admit how wrong I was – this novel was thoroughly enjoyable! If you like Historical Fiction, then chances are good that you’ll enjoy Harry Turtledove’s exploration of “what if” there were a second Civil War in the 1880s. I listened to this book on audio, and while it took me a while to finish it (21 CDs), I enjoyed listening to the talented and prolific George Guidall. (As of this writing, there’s even an excerpt from this audio book on George’s website!)

One of the hallmarks of great fiction (speculative, or otherwise) is that it makes you stop and think – and maybe even reconsider what you thought – about the given subject. How Few Remain certainly made me reconsider my views of the historical figures and events surrounding the Civil War.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

A Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

December 28, 2011

 If you could change the past, would you?  And how would those changes effect the world as we know it?  Felix Palma tackles these questions and more in his genre blending Science Fiction, Fantasy,Time travel, Steampunk, Alternate history page turner.  The father of Science Fiction, H.G. Wells, is embroiled three intertwined mysteries involving Jack the Ripper, love, murder, a rip in the space-time continuum, magic, automatons, the future, the past, and much more.

When a young man loses the love of his life to the murderous fiend Jack the Ripper, he seeks the help of H.G.Wells and his time machine to go back in time and save her.  As the only man in the world that might have a time machine, Wells is the only one who can help change the past and right what is wrong.  But is is all what it seems?  Can we travel to the past or to the future and what are the consequences of such travels?

This book has the delightful quality of being, at the same time, exactly what I thought it would be and exactly opposite what if would be.  It is also one of those books that cannot be described in great detail without giving away too much of the plot.  Therefore, my description is a bit hazy and not quite clear, but I can’t have it any other way.  This book will delightfully surprise you and keep you guessing over reality versus imagination.

Take your own trip through time by finding and requesting this book in our catalog.

The Amazing, the Astounding and the Unknown by Paul Malmont

November 28, 2011

What would have happened if our government thought that the Germans were close to developing a super weapon during World War II?  Author Paul Malmont supposes that the Navy would have recruited a special think tank of pulp magazine Sci-Fi writers to turn the ideas of Science Fiction – such as death rays, weather control, and invisibility – into science fact. Malmont takes this premise and runs with it, bringing the reader along for one heck of a joy ride with such authors as Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov (don’t call him “Ike”), L. Sprague de Camp, L. Ron Hubbard and others. At first I was worried about the book’s length (432 pages) and not being able to finish it before I had to finish my next book club book, but it was such a fun, fast read that by the time I finished, I was wishing that the book didn’t have to end.

I got just a bit confused at first because there is a story within a story, but once I picked up on that, I got so engrossed in Malmont’s plot and the semi-fictionalized versions of these writers from Science Fiction’s Golden Age, that I just kept turning pages as quickly as my eyes would let me. If you’re a fan of the classic Sci-Fi authors of the first half of the last century, as well as the men who inspired them, such as Jack Campbell, Walter Gibson & Lester Dent, you’ll want to see what would have happened if they had all worked together to help beat the Nazis. Fans of World War II era Historical Fiction will also enjoy the author’s blend of fact and fiction as this adventurous novel is based on a true story. Robert Heinlein and L. Ron Hubbard were both in the Navy and Heinlein did work at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, while Hubbard was in the South Pacific during WWII. Other historical figures are involved as one of the answers to Germany’s “Wunderwaffe” may lie in a secret project that Nikola Tesla had worked on years before, and was revisiting before he died mysteriously. Of course, Asimov, de Camp and others had an education in actual science, which helps them track down what Tesla was working on after he lost the electrical wars with Edison and Marconi stole credit for inventing the radio.

The book reminded me a bit of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, mostly due to the similar time period (1940’s) and subject matter (comic books versus pulp science fiction). Both books are based on historical events and facts, but fictionalized just enough to be entertaining and tell a great story. The other thing that Malmont’s book did was make me want to learn more about the real lives of these early Sci-Fi writers.  For example, was Heinlein’s first wife really mentally unbalanced?  Did Asimov and his wife really have intimacy issues? And, was Hubbard, well, were many of the rumors about him true? Oh, and the title?  It comes from three of the famous science fiction pulp magazines of the day.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Assassin’s Gallery by David L. Robbins

February 28, 2011

No moon shines over the dark waters of the Newburyport coast as a Persian assassin slithers ashore. Her mission: to kill Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States. Only Professor Mikhal Lammeck, expert in assassin psychology, has a chance of tracking the elusive Judith and eliminating her before she reaches her target.

Lammeck has spent years teaching the theory of assassin psychology. Now, called back into the field against his will, he finds that he is in way over his head. As the distance between him and his quarry narrows, Lammeck finds himself entering the assassin’s mind and is awed at her ability. No longer motivated by the desire to help his country, the professor finds himself drawn forward by the allure and enigma of his brilliant adversary.

Robbins’ novel is not simply an action-packed thriller. His revisionist history is filled to bursting with historical detail, set against the complex backdrop of the 1940s social climate. Industry, war, racism, and sexism writhe in the background, complicating an already intriguing plot. Robbins also devotes considerable energy to developing the character of his assassin, lest she be seen as a “faceless” enemy. Along with Lammeck, the reader comes to understand the motivations and history of the assassin, the challenges she faces, the depth of her resolve, and the reason that she is determined to succeed in her objective, against all odds.

More literary than most thrillers, The Assassin’s Gallery is a great read for anyone who enjoys a good historical fiction novel and a story of action-packed suspense.

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His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

December 30, 2010

The New Year is right around the corner, and I for one am resolving to have more dragons in my life. If you’re like me and think that historical fiction is good, but historical fiction paired somehow with dragons is great, look no further than His Majesty’s Dragon, the first in the Temeraire series.

The story follows Will Lawrence, a hotshot naval captain close to marrying the woman of his dreams. He enjoys the finer things in life: good conversation, the opera house, and a fine wine. His life is radically changed when his ship captures a French vessel carrying a precious dragon egg as cargo. What struck me here is that the end result of this is not what you might expect. Having a dragon in your life has serious social implications in Novik’s version of early 19th century England, and Lawrence will definitely not be attending an opera any time soon.

Naomi Novik will make you believe that dragons aided England during the Napoleonic Wars. The tiny details she includes, from Aerial Corp military tactics to the paintings of Hell in the Vatican (dragons breathe fire onto the damned), really pulled me into the story. Novik does not just insert dragons into 19th century England; she deftly weaves them into its cultural and historical fabric.

Given that I flew through this book in about six hours one lazy Saturday afternoon, I would say that it is an easy, engrossing, thoroughly enjoyable read. I absolutely love the relationship that is developing between Lawrence and his dragon Teremaire and will continue on to the next book in the series.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

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