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Alternate Histories

Following my review of David Gillham’s Annelies: A Novel of Anne Frank, in which it is imagined that Anne survived her time in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and returned to Amsterdam, I wanted to make a list of alternate history books.  The first book on the list, Stephen Fry’s Making History, is one of my absolute favourite novels, and the others are ones which I would like to get to sooner rather than later.  I have not purposely chosen alternate histories set around the Second World War, but these seem to be amongst the most prevalent, and all really appeal to me as a reader.

 

3174571. Making History by Stephen Fry
In Making History, Stephen Fry has bitten off a rather meaty chunk by tackling an at first deceptively simple premise: What if Hitler had never been born? An unquestionable improvement, one would reason–and so an earnest history grad student and an aging German physicist idealistically undertake to bring this about by preventing Adolf’s conception. And with their success is launched a brave new world that is in some ways better than ours–but in most ways even worse. Fry’s experiment in history makes for his most ambitious novel yet, and his most affecting. His first book to be set mostly in America, it is a thriller with a funny streak, a futuristic fantasy based on one of mankind’s darkest realities. It is, in every sense, a story of our times.’

 

2. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick 216363
It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco, the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some twenty years earlier the United States lost a war — and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan.  This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to wake.

 

184905333. Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Severin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.  But her latest film, which investigates the disappearance of a diving colony on a watery Venus populated by island-sized alien creatures, will be her last. Though her crew limps home to earth and her story is preserved by the colony’s last survivor, Severin will never return.  Aesthetically recalling A Trip to the Moon and House of Leaves, and told using techniques from reality TV, classic film, gossip magazines, and meta-fictional narrative, Radiance is a solar system-spanning story of love, exploration, family, loss, quantum physics, and silent film.’

 

4. Dominion by C.J. Sansom 15770927
1952. Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers, and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany after Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages on in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent auxiliary police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours too about what is happening in the basement of the German Embassy at Senate House. Defiance, though, is growing.  In Britain, Winston Churchill’s Resistance organisation is increasingly a thorn in the government’s side. And in a Birmingham mental hospital an incarcerated scientist, Frank Muncaster, may hold a secret that could change the balance of the world struggle forever. Civil Servant David Fitzgerald, secretly acting as a spy for the Resistance, is given by them the mission to rescue his old friend Frank and get him out of the country. Before long he, together with a disparate group of Resistance activists, will find themselves fugitives in the midst of London’s Great Smog; as David’s wife Sarah finds herself drawn into a world more terrifying than she ever could have imagined. And hard on their heels is Gestapo Sturmbannfuhrer Gunther Hoth, brilliant, implacable hunter of men…’

 

703._sy475_5. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
In an astonishing feat of narrative invention, our most ambitious novelist imagines an alternate version of American history. In 1940 Charles A. Lindbergh, heroic aviator and rabid isolationist, is elected President. Shortly thereafter, he negotiates a cordial “understanding” with Adolf Hitler, while the new government embarks on a program of folksy anti-Semitism.  For one boy growing up in Newark, Lindbergh’s election is the first in a series of ruptures that threatens to destroy his small, safe corner of America – and with it, his mother, his father, and his older brother.’

 

6. The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville 41017647._sy475_
It’s 1941. In the chaos of wartime Marseille, American engineer – and occult disciple – Jack Parsons stumbles onto a clandestine anti-Nazi group, including surrealist theorist André Breton. In the strange games of the dissident diplomats, exiled revolutionaries, and avant-garde artists, Parsons finds and channels hope. But what he unwittingly unleashes is the power of dreams and nightmares, changing the war and the world forever.  It’s 1950. A lone surrealist fighter, Thibaut, walks a new, hallucinogenic Paris, where Nazis and the Resistance are trapped in unending conflict, and the streets are stalked by living images and texts – and by the forces of hell. To escape the city, he must join forces with Sam, an American photographer intent on recording the ruins, and make common cause with a powerful, enigmatic figure of chance and rebellion: the exquisite corpse.  But Sam is being hunted. And new secrets will emerge that will test all their loyalties – to each other, to Paris old and new, and to reality itself.’

 

6506307._sy475_7. Blackout by Connie Willis
Oxford in 2060 is a chaotic place, with scores of time-traveling historians being sent into the past. Michael Davies is prepping to go to Pearl Harbor. Merope Ward is coping with a bunch of bratty 1940 evacuees and trying to talk her thesis adviser into letting her go to VE-Day. Polly Churchill’s next assignment will be as a shopgirl in the middle of London’s Blitz. But now the time-travel lab is suddenly canceling assignments and switching around everyone’s schedules. And when Michael, Merope, and Polly finally get to World War II, things just get worse. For there they face air raids, blackouts, and dive-bombing Stukas–to say nothing of a growing feeling that not only their assignments but the war and history itself are spiraling out of control. Because suddenly the once-reliable mechanisms of time travel are showing significant glitches, and our heroes are beginning to question their most firmly held belief: that no historian can possibly change the past.

 

8. It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis 11371
The only one of Sinclair Lewis’s later novels to match the power of Main Street, Babbitt, and Arrowsmith, It Can’t Happen Here is a cautionary tale about the fragility of democracy, an alarming, eerily timeless look at how fascism could take hold in America. Written during the Great Depression when America was largely oblivious to Hitler’s aggression, it juxtaposes sharp political satire with the chillingly realistic rise of a President who becomes a dictator to save the nation from welfare cheats, rampant promiscuity, crime, and a liberal press. Now finally back in print, It Can’t Happen Here remains uniquely important, a shockingly prescient novel that’s as fresh and contemporary as today’s news.

 

Have you read any of these?  Which are your favourite alternate history books?

2

One From the Archive: ‘The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making’ by Catherynne M. Valente ****

First published in June 2012.

Catherynne M. Valente is rather a prolific author of children’s fantasy and science fiction novels and will be publishing the sequel to this novel – The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There – in 2013. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making was the winner of the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Literature in 2011.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making tells the story of September, a twelve-year-old girl from Omaha, Nebraska. She is rather a lonely child with her father away fighting in an unnamed war, her mother busy at work dealing with ‘stubborn airplane engines’, and no real friends to speak of. September is sent on a quest by a kindly witch in order to rescue a Spoon from the clutches of the Marquess of Fairyland – a character described as ‘very splendid and very frightening’ – who lives in its capital, Pandemonium. Whilst this is rather a strange motive for such an adventure, it is one which September faces gallantly.

Valente has created a cast of her own which is peopled by personified natural phenomenons – the Green Wind, for example, takes September to the Perverse and Perilous Sea which shares a border with Fairyland. The novel also contains such creatures as ‘hamadryads’, ‘spriggans’, witches and wairwulves – creatures who are wolves for the majority of the month and turn into humans upon the full moon. There is also a golem made entirely of soap shavings, Will-o’-the-wisps, hobgoblins and enormous mice who stand taller than fully grown adults.

The magical elements are apparent from the outset and the fairytale-esque phrase ‘Once upon a time’ at the beginning of the novel sets the tone for the entire story. As well as magical, the novel is often quite amusing. The Green Wind tells September that ‘Fairyland is a very Scientifick place. We subscribe to all the best journals’. He also lets the protagonist know that he is taking her away from her home because ‘Omaha is no place for anybody’.

A third person perspective has been used throughout which includes many of September’s thoughts in italics. The narrative often speaks directly to the reader, which really involves us in September’s story. The illustrations throughout are just lovely and, along with the thought which has gone into the elaborate titles and subtitles of each chapter – ‘Exeunt on a Leopard’, ‘The Closet Between Worlds’, ‘The Great Velocipede Migration’ and ‘Autumn is the Kingdom Where Everything Changes’, for example – really add to the magical feel of the story. Each chapter also has rather a long subheading reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, which begins ‘In which…’. Aspects of the storyline also echo those of The Wizard of Oz. Parallels can be drawn between the poppy field in which Dorothy falls asleep and the ‘meadow full of tiny red flowers’ which September wakes up in. There are also similarities with the quest, where the heroine is sent, along with her magical companions, to the capital city of a magical land to meet its feared and revered leader.

Valente’s descriptions are sublime and fit incredibly well with the story. Her writing is rather original and this can be seen particularly in the way in which she writes about her heroine – ‘Because she had been born in May, and because she had a mole on her left cheek, and because her feet were very large and ungainly’ – and other characters such as the Green Wind, who is dressed throughout ‘in a green smoking jacket’ and jodhpurs. The prose throughout is charming and Valente is clearly very skilled in her writing. A good example of her constant inventiveness can be seen when she states the following: ‘All children are heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one.’

Whilst The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is essentially aimed at the young adult market, it is one, like the tradition of novels such as Harry Potter, which appeals to adults just as much. The speech of the majority of the characters is grown-up in its style and the vocabulary which Valente has woven in throughout the novel allows it to appeal to a more advanced audience.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a wonderfully inventive tale and such an adventure. It is apparent from the outset that Valente has such love for her characters and the world which she has created, and the story is a perfect read for lovers of nostalgia and fans of fantasy novels of all ages.

Purchase from the Book Depository

2

One From the Archive: ‘The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making’ by Catherynne M. Valente ****

First published in June 2012.

Catherynne M. Valente is rather a prolific author of children’s fantasy and science fiction novels and will be publishing the sequel to this novel – The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There – in 2013. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making was the winner of the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Literature in 2011.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making tells the story of September, a twelve-year-old girl from Omaha, Nebraska. She is rather a lonely child with her father away fighting in an unnamed war, her mother busy at work dealing with ‘stubborn airplane engines’, and no real friends to speak of. September is sent on a quest by a kindly witch in order to rescue a Spoon from the clutches of the Marquess of Fairyland – a character described as ‘very splendid and very frightening’ – who lives in its capital, Pandemonium. Whilst this is rather a strange motive for such an adventure, it is one which September faces gallantly.

Valente has created a cast of her own which is peopled by personified natural phenomenons – the Green Wind, for example, takes September to the Perverse and Perilous Sea which shares a border with Fairyland. The novel also contains such creatures as ‘hamadryads’, ‘spriggans’, witches and wairwulves – creatures who are wolves for the majority of the month and turn into humans upon the full moon. There is also a golem made entirely of soap shavings, Will-o’-the-wisps, hobgoblins and enormous mice who stand taller than fully grown adults.

The magical elements are apparent from the outset and the fairytale-esque phrase ‘Once upon a time’ at the beginning of the novel sets the tone for the entire story. As well as magical, the novel is often quite amusing. The Green wind tells September that ‘Fairyland is a very Scientifick place. We subscribe to all the best journals’. He also lets the protagonist know that he is taking her away from her home because ‘Omaha is no place for anybody’.

A third person perspective has been used throughout which includes many of September’s thoughts in italics. The narrative often speaks directly to the reader, which really involves us in September’s story. The illustrations throughout are just lovely and, along with the thought which has gone into the elaborate titles and subtitles of each chapter – ‘Exeunt on a Leopard’, ‘The Closet Between Worlds’, ‘The Great Velocipede Migration’ and ‘Autumn is the Kingdom Where Everything Changes’, for example – really add to the magical feel of the story. Each chapter also has rather a long subheading reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, which begins ‘In which…’. Aspects of the storyline also echo those of The Wizard of Oz. Parallels can be drawn between the poppy field in which Dorothy falls asleep and the ‘meadow full of tiny red flowers’ which September wakes up in. There are also similarities with the quest, where the heroine is sent, along with her magical companions, to the capital city of a magical land to meet its feared and revered leader.

Valente’s descriptions are sublime and fit incredibly well with the story. Her writing is rather original and this can be seen particularly in the way in which she writes about her heroine – ‘Because she had been born in May, and because she had a mole on her left cheek, and because her feet were very large and ungainly’ – and other characters such as the Green Wind, who is dressed throughout ‘in a green smoking jacket’ and jodhpurs. The prose throughout is charming and Valente is clearly very skilled in her writing. A good example of her constant inventiveness can be seen when she states the following: ‘All children are heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one.’

Whilst The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is essentially aimed at the young adult market, it is one, like the tradition of novels such as Harry Potter, which appeals to adults just as much. The speech of the majority of the characters is grown-up in its style and the vocabulary which Valente has woven in throughout the novel allows it to appeal to a more advanced audience.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a wonderfully inventive tale and such an adventure. It is apparent from the outset that Valente has such love for her characters and the world which she has created, and the story is a perfect read for lovers of nostalgia and fans of fantasy novels of all ages.

Purchase from The Book Depository

0

One From the Archive: ‘The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making’ by Catherynne M. Valente ****

First published in June 2012.

Catherynne M. Valente is rather a prolific author of children’s fantasy and science fiction novels and will be publishing the sequel to this novel – The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There – in 2013. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making was the winner of the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Literature in 2011.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making tells the story of September, a twelve-year-old girl from Omaha, Nebraska. She is rather a lonely child with her father away fighting in an unnamed war, her mother busy at work dealing with ‘stubborn airplane engines’, and no real friends to speak of. September is sent on a quest by a kindly witch in order to rescue a Spoon from the clutches of the Marquess of Fairyland – a character described as ‘very splendid and very frightening’ – who lives in its capital, Pandemonium. Whilst this is rather a strange motive for such an adventure, it is one which September faces gallantly.

Valente has created a cast of her own which is peopled by personified natural phenomenons – the Green Wind, for example, takes September to the Perverse and Perilous Sea which shares a border with Fairyland. The novel also contains such creatures as ‘hamadryads’, ‘spriggans’, witches and wairwulves – creatures who are wolves for the majority of the month and turn into humans upon the full moon. There is also a golem made entirely of soap shavings, Will-o’-the-wisps, hobgoblins and enormous mice who stand taller than fully grown adults.

The magical elements are apparent from the outset and the fairytale-esque phrase ‘Once upon a time’ at the beginning of the novel sets the tone for the entire story. As well as magical, the novel is often quite amusing. The Green Wind tells September that ‘Fairyland is a very Scientifick place. We subscribe to all the best journals’. He also lets the protagonist know that he is taking her away from her home because ‘Omaha is no place for anybody’.

A third person perspective has been used throughout which includes many of September’s thoughts in italics. The narrative often speaks directly to the reader, which really involves us in September’s story. The illustrations throughout are just lovely and, along with the thought which has gone into the elaborate titles and subtitles of each chapter – ‘Exeunt on a Leopard’, ‘The Closet Between Worlds’, ‘The Great Velocipede Migration’ and ‘Autumn is the Kingdom Where Everything Changes’, for example – really add to the magical feel of the story. Each chapter also has rather a long subheading reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, which begins ‘In which…’. Aspects of the storyline also echo those of The Wizard of Oz. Parallels can be drawn between the poppy field in which Dorothy falls asleep and the ‘meadow full of tiny red flowers’ which September wakes up in. There are also similarities with the quest, where the heroine is sent, along with her magical companions, to the capital city of a magical land to meet its feared and revered leader.

Valente’s descriptions are sublime and fit incredibly well with the story. Her writing is rather original and this can be seen particularly in the way in which she writes about her heroine – ‘Because she had been born in May, and because she had a mole on her left cheek, and because her feet were very large and ungainly’ – and other characters such as the Green Wind, who is dressed throughout ‘in a green smoking jacket’ and jodhpurs. The prose throughout is charming and Valente is clearly very skilled in her writing. A good example of her constant inventiveness can be seen when she states the following: ‘All children are heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one.’

Whilst The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is essentially aimed at the young adult market, it is one, like the tradition of novels such as Harry Potter, which appeals to adults just as much. The speech of the majority of the characters is grown-up in its style and the vocabulary which Valente has woven in throughout the novel allows it to appeal to a more advanced audience.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a wonderfully inventive tale and such an adventure. It is apparent from the outset that Valente has such love for her characters and the world which she has created, and the story is a perfect read for lovers of nostalgia and fans of fantasy novels of all ages.

Purchase from the Book Depository