Monday, August 31, 2015

Weekly Update #203! Kurdistan, Harry Turtledove and a Steampunk Iron Man Hand.

Editor's Note

I don't even know where to begin talking about all the things that happened to me last. They weren't exactly life changing, but they certainly left me drained, but in a good way.

Let's start with my most recent article to Amazing StoriesWhat Happens When People Confuse Alternate History for Real History? It was about that North America without European colonization map that the Internet freaked about a couple weeks ago. It seemed to be doing rather well, but I already started to move on to what I was going to write about next week. Then last Wednesday, I noticed a surge of traffic from Amazing Stories to my blog. Investigating it I discovered that the article had been shared a ridiculous number of times (over 6000 times by the current count) and Steve Davidson, Editor of Amazing Stories, told me the article had been viewed around 50,000 times. Doing a little more digging, I learned that most of the traffic was because The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe had shared a link to the article on their Facebook page, which has over 900,000 likes.

First up, thank you so much to The Skeptics' Guide for sharing my article. I am honored you guys thought what I wrote was worth reading. Second off, I've had articles do well, specially after someone shared it on Reddit, but never something that I would call "viral". I'm not even sure if this would classify as viral, but it certainly came close. I am both humbled and ecstatic by the interest in my article. It has really gotten me to consider doing more commentary on maps from alternate histories and speculative fiction. People seem to like it and I do want to give the audience what they like. We'll see what my future in alternate cartography takes me.

Next up, I finally submitted my abstract for the Sideways in Time essay collection. Not as exciting as above, but the conference was very important to me and I look forward to working again on my history of the online alternate history community. I've still been keeping track of important events of 2015 and hope to write a short recap of the year in December. I will keep you posted if it gets accepted, but in the meantime, if you guys would like a brief taste of my essay, check out my presentation at the Sideways in Time Conference:
Speaking of my channel, I took a comment regarding my next Trope Talk episode and ran with it. I wrote perhaps the longest script yet for my channel...and I'm not sure when I will ever film it. Filming and editing are both time consuming and my next bloc of free time may still be weeks away. I may write another, shorter script just so I have something to film and release for you guys in the near future.

Well those were the big things I wanted to talk about. Before we get to the week's news, I wanted to remind you all that you can support many of my alternate history endeavors by becoming one of my patrons on Patreon. There are a lot of cool rewards and milestone goals for you guys to check out, so please consider signing up. It will help me a great deal in keeping the blog and channel going.

Finally, I am taking Labor Day off next week, so no Weekly Update or Map Monday post. Those will return on September 14th.

And now the news...

Headline: The Future State of Kurdistan

Recent events have made it more and more likely that we may see a Kurdish state in the near future. There has been a lot of buzz on the Internet about it and I have seen several alternate history maps and scenarios featuring the state of Kurdistan. So I decided a brief summary of the potential state is in order.

For those who don't know, the Kurds are a Middle Eastern ethnic group with their own culture and language. With a population between 30 and 37 million people, they are perhaps one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without their own state. The Kurds have taken the center stage recently due to their effectiveness at fighting ISIS. Currently, the Kurds have an autonomous province in Iraq, defacto control of Northern Syria (known for their vaunted all-female fighting units) and large populations in Turkey and Iran.

The idea of an independent Kurdistan is nothing new, but with the chaos currently engulfing Iraq and Syria, an independent Kurdish state seems more likely by each passing day. Most governments, however, are against the idea. Part of it is the desire to maintain the status quo, but they also don't want to jeopardize peace negotiations with Iran or offend Turkey, which has been an ally of the western democracies (although considering the ongoing allegations of Turkish support for ISIS, perhaps the Turks deserve to sweat a little for their actions in prolonging the war). While the diplomatic arguments make a certain amount of sense, the desire to maintain borders as they are seems to cause more problems than they solve, especially in this post-colonial world.

One of the theories regarding the never-ending conflicts in the Middle East is that the borders created by the European colonial powers following WWI have instigated the current conflicts. Many of these borders don't actually reflect the reality on the ground, and when you consider the Kurds found themselves divided between 4 separate nations, this starts to make a certain amount of sense. On top of that, the Europeans tended to favor a minority ethnic/religious group in Syria and Iraq, to help them govern the country against the majority ethnic/religious group. These borders and power structures remained in place after decolonization and were propped up during the Cold War. Once ISIS is defeated, returning things to the status quo is frankly stupid, as the same issues that led to ISIS' rise while still exist. It is also a poor way to reward the Kurds for being one of the most reliable opponents of the terrorist state.

I'm not saying the situation isn't complicated, but its about time the western democracies accept the fact that a Kurdish state is likely to happen whether they like it or not. I don't see the Kurds disbanding their armies and immediately following the orders of Damascus and Baghdad, especially when they spent the last years doing fine without them. If the western democracies don't recognize them, then the Kurds will just turn to Russia or China for support and the West will lose more influence in the region.

On top of that, I think its just the right thing to do.

Alternate Historian of the Week: Harry Turtledove

This week's nod for the best alternate historian goes to the master himself: Harry Turtledove. Yeah, I know, it goes against the spirit of this weekly recognition to give it to Harry, but I enjoyed his article on Feed Your Need to Read where he shared his three tips for writing alternate histories while out promoting his new anthology, We Install: And Other Stories.

Additionally, when I reshared by What Happens Next: SM Stirling's Nantucket Trilogy, someone suggested I should do a What Happens Next on Turtledove's Worldwar and Colonization series. At first I wasn't that interested since Turtledove already did that himself with Homeward Bound, but I couldn't help thinking about what intergalactic politics would be like in his universe if you jumped ahead to 2100. I thought about it enough that you should prepare to see another What Happens Next sometime later this week. So with that said, that is why I am giving the nod to Turtledove this week. Both for his excellent article and for inspiring another future article of mine.

Honorable mention this week goes out to Ian Sales. Go check out his recent interview at Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together.

Photo of the Week: Steampunk Iron Man Hand

I know not all of my readers like steampunk, but you got to admit this steampunk Iron Man hand is pretty cool:
I found this photo on Geek Art Gallery, but the original creator is Jacky Wan (Valcrow). The fact that this is also a 3D printed object makes me extremely excited for what other things 3D printers can provide for us in the future.

Honorable mention this week goes out to this Steampunk Sidecar Tricycle photo.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, a blogger on Amazing Stories and a Sidewise Awards for Alternate History judgeWhen not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the day when travel between parallel universes becomes a reality. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and YouTube. Learn how you can support his alternate history projects on Patreon.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Book Review: Time Wars edited by Poul Anderson, Charles Waugh & Martin Greenberg

After being disappointed by the last book I read, I decide to seek out new stories from the past. Thus I picked up a copy of Time Wars, an anthology of time travel stories focusing on conflicts, created by Poul Anderson and edited by Charles Waugh and Martin Greenberg. To be honest I was unsure why Poul Anderson got a "created by" credit on a book that had two additional editors as well. Did he come up with the idea, did he do any editing or did he get paid extra to have his name put on the cover to attract readers? My preliminary research couldn't find any answers, so if anyone knows the answer, please share it in the comments.

As I mentioned earlier, Time Wars is an anthology of short stories dealing with wars and conflicts involving time travel. The stories included in the anthology were originally published between the 1940s and 70s, making them old by today's standards. Since this is primarily a time travel anthology, there are only a few stories dealing with alternate histories (three to be exact) each written by a famous alternate historian. Since this is an alternate history blog, I will focus my review on them and hopefully you will see that, to be frank, they are the exact same story.

The first story is "Gunpowder God" by H. Beam Piper. Also know as Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, this is the only Lord Kalvan tale and full-length novel in the Paratime series written by Piper. For those unfamiliar with the Paratime series, it tells the tale of Verkan Vall of the Paratime Police. His people have learned the secret of travel between the timelines and maintain their technological civilization by secretly exploiting their temporal neighbors. Verkan Vall and other officers of the Paratime Police, protect the secret of the multiverse from other civilizations and take down their own people if they go too far in their dealings with other timelines. The series has some odd elements to it. For one thing human civilization actually began on Mars and the different timelines are categorized by how successful the colonization of Earth went after society collapsed on Mars. Still even with the crazy ideas about ancient history, it still is a good series and I highly recommend it.

But what about "Gunpowder God" by H. Beam Piper? Well its a little short to be a novel, which makes me think it may have been an excerpt edited to fit into the anthology. It takes place after the events of the last Paratime story and features Verkan Vall in a few scenes. A Pennsylvania state trooper, by the name of Calvin Morrison, is accidentally transported into an alternate timeline where the Aryans crossed the Pacific Ocean and settled on the West Coast of North America, eventually expanding to the East Coast and by the time of the story have a Late Middle Ages/Early Renaissance level of technology. At first Calvin (or "Kalvan" as its pronounced by the natives) thinks he has traveled into some post-apocalyptic future, but begins to realize he may be living in a completely different history altogether. He ingratiates himself with the locals by helping them fight their enemies, teaching them how to make gunpowder and showing them some other tricks, like rifling. Meanwhile, Verkan Vall tracks him down and waits to see whether he will have to kill Calvin to protect the secret of the multiverse.

"Gunpowder God" has an old style of writing, but the pace is good and the worldbuilding is excellent. I like how Piper didn't hold the reader's hand while introducing his world. Also this may be one of the earliest appearances of the "strong, independent woman" character. All in all an enjoyable story that I can recommend that puts me in the mid of Lest Darkness Falls and other tales when some find themselves in a different time and decides to make the best of it.

Next up we have Poul Anderson's contribution to Time Wars: "Delenda Est". This universe also involves a temporal police force called the Time Patrol. They were formed by an advanced race of humans from the far future who recruited people from across history to protect history from the meddling of rogue time travellers. Because the Time Patrol is meant to keep history on the same track, alternate historical content is minimal in the series, but "Delenda Est" is one of the few exceptions. Take a look at the world map that goes with it:
Our hero, Manse Everard, is vacationing in prehistoric times at a ski lodge in the  Pyrenees when he decides he is bored and leaves with his half-Dutch, half-Indonesian Venusian friend Piet van Sarawak from the 24th century to look for some good times in Everard's 20th century New York. Things go awry when they arrive in a Manhattan full of Celts and Indians who use steam technology and still believe in magic. Manse and Piet are arrested and separated from their time machine, while the locals believe they are sorcerers and want to use their magic to fight in an upcoming war. Now they need to escape and find out what happened to their timeline. When Manse learns that the Roman Empire never existed in this history, he begins to suspect someone prevented the rise of Rome, but he still needs to find the right point of divergence so he can set things back the way they were.

The writing style is a lot better than Piper's "Gunpowder God" and I would argue the characters were more fleshed out as well. I don't want to spend this entire review comparing one story to the others, but I will say the people and nations in the Celtic-wank that Anderson created will be a lot more recognizable to the average alternate historian, but that won't necessarily make them good. Piper's cultures were much more original, while Anderson depended too heavily on space-filling empires. Still on its own, "Delenda Est" is a good story and another solid recommendation from yours truly.

The final story we are going to cover from Time Wars is "Run from the Fire" by Harry Harrison. In this story, an attorney by the name of Mark Greenberg is hired by two mysterious men to come with them to their warehouse and then leave and spend some time in New York City before returning. He goes with them, but when he leaves the building he discovers he has been transported to a New York City that is occupied by South Africa in a world where the polar ice caps is melting. After almost being killed by South African soldiers, Mark learns that the men (well one is actually a robot) are from a different timeline where the sun is going nova and they are hoping to resettle their people on a different timeline. The problem is that on most timelines the sun is or will be going nova, thus they are in a race against the hated sun to save as many people as they can by finding enough timelines where the sun is stable. Mark's actual job is to investigate a timeline where Europe is still under feudalism and the Iroquois dominate North America and find out what happened to one of their agents whose job it was to convince the Iroquois to leave their timeline (which will soon be destroyed by the sun) for another timeline where human life never arose.

Although there is no police force, "Run from the Fire" still features an organization that uses and protects travel between alternate timelines. The writing style is more similar to Piper (there I go again, I just can't help myself from comparing these stories), but the worldbuilding is also more like Piper's as well. Oddly enough, the South Africans of "Run from the Fire" reminded me of SM Stirling's Draka. Considering that "Run from the Fire" predates Marching Through Georgia, I wonder if Stirling got the idea for the Draka by reading this story. I couldn't find anything connecting the two stories, but I wouldn't be surprised if the story didn't have some influence on Stirling, if he actually read it. Anyway, "Run from the Fire" isn't a bad story, but it is the weakest of the three I read here. I think it still deserves a read, but you are going to have to be someone who really enjoys Harrison's writing (like myself) to enjoy this one.

As for the rest of the anthology, well I can honestly say I enjoyed it. All the stories were fun to read and only once was I actually confused and had to double back in an effort to understand the time travel logic. Time Wars was a fun, but quick, read and if you get a chance, I recommend you pick up a copy.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, a blogger on Amazing Stories and a Sidewise Awards for Alternate History judgeWhen not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the day when travel between parallel universes becomes a reality. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and YouTube. Learn how you can support his alternate history projects on Patreon.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

7 What Ifs About An Earlier WWI

Last week, George Dvorsky shared seven possible points of divergence for an earlier WWI. After reading an article I couldn't help but imagine what would happen if war actually did break out because of one of the many incidents shared by George. So I wrote them down and I am now sharing them with you.

Quick disclaimer: these aren't meant to be the absolute most plausible scenario that could have happened. These are just possible scenarios created over a weekend by someone with a lot of imagination and very little research. If you have your own ideas, please share them in the comments.

Lets begin...

#1: The War-in-Sight Crisis (1875)

Cooler heads do not prevail during the War-in-Sight Crisis and Britain, France and Russia decide they can't have peace with a united Germany. They are joined by Austria-Hungary, who want to get back at Germany for their defeat in the Austro-Prussian War. The Germans hold their own for several years, but eventually surrender against the combined forces of Europe. Germany is dismembered, although Prussia still maintains large parts of northern Germany. Prussia will try a couple more times in the future to unite Germany, but will always fail and always lose more territory in the process.

Today German nationalism is only really popular in the rump Prussia, with the other German states preferring their local identity over Pan-Germanism. This is important to their survival since the monarchist-clerical alliance led by the Kingdom France and the Imperial Federation of Austria don't want any trouble from that corner of the globe. They have enough trouble opposing the Anglo-American-Russian republican coalition, especially after their last attempt to reinstall the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to throne of Britain failed miserably.

#2: The Fashoda Incident (1898)

An argument between the British and French commanders at Fashoda leads to the British commander being taken prisoner and shots being fired after British forces came to his rescue. Coupled with the heated rhetoric from both sides, war erupts between the two traditional rivals. Russia comes to the side of France, who signed a secret alliance with them earlier, as does Italy, who found this a good of chance as any to grab as much colonial territory as they could from Britain. Surprisingly, Germany and Austria-Hungary join on the side of Britain, who see France and Russia as greater threats to their sovereignty. Japan also joins the Anglo-German side, but just so they can swallow up as much French and Russian territory as they can. After years of war, the Anglo-Germans and their allies defeat the Franco-Russians and their allies. France and Italy lose much of their colonial empires, while Russia is forced to cede territory to its neighbors as well.

Decades later, right-wing governments come to power in France, Russia and Italy and try again for revenge in a Second World War. They actually managed to overrun Germany and Austria-Hungary, before a combined force of Britain, Japan and the United States breaks their hold over Europe, but not without copious amounts of nuclear weapons. Today Europe is still recovering from the nuclear onslaught it faced while the Anglo-American alliance fights for influence with the Empire of Japan. Thankfully, both sides in the struggle have seen the dangers of nuclear warfare and have agreed to limit their atomic arsenals...but not get rid of them entirely.

#3: The Russo-Japanese War (1904-05)

More British fisherman die during the Dogger Bank incident and it incites the British public to war. After the Royal Navy drives the Russian fleet back to the Baltic. France sides with Russia, but Germany and Austria-Hungary join on the side of Britain (Japan, meanwhile, couldn't be happier that Russia now has a war back east to deal with). The Anglo-Germans are eventually victorious, but leftist revolutions in Russia and France lead to the creation of Marxist governments in both countries. As soon as they secured their rule, both government began working together to undermine the power of imperialists who defeated them.

Eventually the Anglo-German alliance become fed up with all of the social unrest in their nations and colonies caused by the Franco-Russians and decide another war is in order to end their threat. Neither is prepared, however, for the amount of preparation France and Russia made for this moment and that, coupled with rebellions and general strikes behind Anglo-German lines, leads to a victory for the Reds. Marxism spreads across Eurasia and Africa, only contained by the American-Japanese alliance. That alliance is starting to fray at the edges, especially as the Reds use Japan's harsh treatment of its subject peoples as propaganda. Some American politicians and generals are beginning to think that it would be in their nation's best interest to incite a war between Japan and the Reds, but one where they sit out and rebuild the world afterwards.

#4: The First Moroccan Crisis (1905-1906)

In a surprising turn of events at the Algerciras Conference, German diplomats actually manage to come to an understanding with France and Russia, keeping Morocco independent, but open to all nations, while forming a new military alliance: the Quadruple Entente (Austria-Hungary was allowed in as well). Britain, finding itself suddenly isolated, rejects the decision at the Conference and, after a period of increased tensions, finds itself at war with all of Europe. With the Royal Navy bottled up at the Home Islands by Entente forces, the British watch in horror as their Empire is overrun. At the end of the war, all of British territory is divided among the Entente powers and their allies, except for Ireland, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand  The United States also invoked the Monroe Doctrine and occupied British territory in the New World to keep it from falling into Entente hands.

The defeat in the Great War led to a total collapse of British society. A long civil war ended in the rise of a totalitarian government that sought to isolate Britain even further from the world and control every aspect of its citizens lives. A cult of personality formed around the position of Grand Minister that was passed from father to son, while the British poured vast amounts of money into weapons programs, even if it meant their people starved. At first the rest of the world tried to ignore what was happening on Britain, but after evidence was uncovered that the British were selling weapons of mass destruction to other rogue nations, the world decided they couldn't ignore them any longer. In 1984, the Entente, along with America and Japan, invaded Britain and overthrew the government. The leaders were tried for humans rights abuses and international aid poured in to alleviate the suffering of the British people, but the indoctrination program of the government was so prevalent that many British citizens still backed their former rulers, leading to a long occupation by the international force that is still ongoing.

#5: The Casablanca Incident (1908)

Three German deserters from the French Foreign Legion are arrested by the French, but in the process one of them dies. The event leads to war between Germany and France, with Austrian-Hungary and Russia, joining their respective allies. Britain, however, decides to sit this one out and the war drags to a status-quo peace. Both Russia and Austria-Hungary collapse and shaky democracies arise in their successor states. Germany also becomes a constitutional monarchy, while France came under the control of a socialist government that seeks to disentangle themselves from world affairs. Deciding they couldn't handle the strain of maintaining their colonial empires, the exhausted powers give their colonies independence. The British aren't happy with decolonization, but nevertheless decide they don't want to fight long-drawn out colonial wars and free their colonies as well. Europe turns into a sleepy backwater where not much happens and, to be honest, the people like it that way.

The same can't be said about the rest of the world, Other powers tried to fill the power vacuum left by the Europeans and the increasingly isolationist Americans. Japan and India, which was never partitioned, fought several bloody wars over China, dividing that region between several tiny states. Africa also had several regional conflicts as the Brazilians and the united Arab state battled for influence. There is a growing fear that an Indian/Arabic alliance and a Japanese/Brazilian alliance could lead to another global war if something is not done soon.

#6: The Bosnian Crisis (1909)

Russia refuses to back down over the Bosnian annexation leading to war breaking out between the Entente and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy). In a surprising turn of events, the Ottomans find themselves on the Entente side, although they don't profit much in the short-term from the victory over the Central Powers, but it begins a new era of peace and understanding between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. Meanwhile, both nations reform themselves from the inside. Russia becomes a constitutional monarchy and works to unify the Slavic people into a union that becomes Pan-Slavia. The Ottomans do the same, except they seek peace and unity among all sects of Islam. After making a deal with the secular Arabs, the Ottoman Empire is transformed into the Islamic Federation.

Although there was a few close war scares, the Russo-Islamic bloc has managed to stay at peace with the Western powers, even after decolonization set in and many Muslim majority nations joined the Islamic Federation. Even without major ideological differences, things aren't always peachy between the great powers, but they are more friendly rivals than outright enemies. A new age of imperialism, however, is beginning now that the crescent moon has been raised over the actual Moon.

#7: The Agadir Crisis (1911)

When the German warship Panther mysteriously blows up off the coast of Morocco, the French are blamed and war begins between the Triple Entente and Triple Alliance. The war in the west breaks down into bloody trench warfare, but on Christmas, a truce happens on one stretch of the front that soon spreads from the English Channel to Switzerland. The high commands are puzzled and then horrified as the truce continues to last in the days to come. Attempts to get the troops fighting again, ranging from officers shouting at subordinates to firing on their own men, incites all the soldiers to turn on their generals and politicians. A unified, international army spreads across the continent. Forces on the Eastern Front join in and even Britain falls when the Royal Navy mutinies in support of the rebels. A new democratic European Federation is established to ensure universal liberty, rights, and equality, and to share knowledge and resources in peaceful cooperation.

Although not all of the Federation's Utopian ideas stood the test of time, it still managed to prove their detractors wrong by surviving and thriving in the years to come. The question of what to do with their colonial empire led to the next evolution of the Federation. At first the colonies were administered as whole to benefit all Europeans, but when that seemed to go against the guiding principals of the Federation, the colonies were given the option to become full members in the Federation, transforming it into the United Federation of Earth. Although some former colonies did choose independence, many other joined and even some nations that were independent at the time requested membership.

Today the UFE is the world's largest, most populous and richest nation on the planet. They have led the world in space exploration as well, establishing bases as far out as the Asteroid Belt and nuclear powered ships are already venturing into the Outer System. There are few states that remain outside of the Federation, the largest being the paranoid and xenophobic United States, which has been the UFE's largest rival. Although increasingly isolated, they refuse to surrender to foreign scum and tell their people to trust the leadership and to ignore rumors that there 105 year old President actually died ten years ago. That is only just another lie from the evil one world government.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, a blogger on Amazing Stories and a Sidewise Awards for Alternate History judgeWhen not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the day when travel between parallel universes becomes a reality. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and YouTube. Learn how you can support his alternate history projects on Patreon.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

New Releases 8/25/15


You can support The Update by clicking the banner to your right or the links below if you are purchasing through Amazon!

Hardcovers

Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

A story of history, time travel, love, friendship and tea. Meet the disaster-magnets at the St Mary's Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around history, observing, documenting, drinking tea and, if possible, not dying. Follow the catastrophe-curve from eleventh-century London to World War I, and from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. Discover History – The New Sex

Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell

Nicolette’s awful stepsisters call her “Mechanica” to demean her, but the nickname fits: she learned to be an inventor at her mother’s knee. Her mom is gone now, though, and the Steps have pushed her into a life of dreary servitude. When she discovers a secret workshop in the cellar on her sixteenth birthday—and befriends Jules, a tiny magical metal horse—Nicolette starts to imagine a new life for herself. And the timing may be perfect: There’s a technological exposition and a royal ball on the horizon. Determined to invent her own happily-ever-after, Mechanica seeks to wow the prince and eager entrepreneurs alike.

A Second Chance by Jodi Taylor

St Mary's is back and nothing is going right for Max. Once again, it's just one damned thing after another. The action jumps from an encounter with a mirror-stealing Isaac Newton to the bloody battlefield at Agincourt. Discover how a simple fact-finding assignment to witness the ancient and murderous cheese- rolling ceremony in Gloucester can result in CBC - concussion by cheese. The long awaited jump to Bronze Age Troy ends in personal catastrophe for Max and just when it seems things couldn't get any worse - it's back to the Cretaceous Period again to confront an old enemy who has nothing to lose. So, make the tea, grab the chocolate biscuits, settle back and discover exactly why the entire history department has painted itself blue ...

A Symphony of Echoes by Jodi Taylor

Book Two in the madcap time-travel series based at the St Mary's Institute of Historical Research that seems to be everyone's cup of tea.

In the second book in the Chronicles of St Mary's series, Max and the team visit Victorian London in search of Jack the Ripper, withess the murder of Archbishop Thomas a Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, and discover that dodos make a grockling noise when eating cucumber sandwiches.

But they must also confront an enemy intent on destroying St Mary's - an enemy willing, if necessary, to destroy History itself to do it.

Paperbacks

Black Tuesday by Bob Mayer

When a mysterious force known only as the Shadow infiltrates history, it has a suspicious target: the date October 29 in six different years spanning 999 to 1980. The Time Patrol must send its highly skilled members into the past with only twenty-four hours to stop the destruction each time.

Each targeted date features a significant event, including Sir Walter Raleigh’s beheading in 1618, the American stock market crash of 1929, and the first Internet message sent in 1969. But the missions are never as clear-cut as they seem, leading the team straight into the dangerous paths of extraordinary adversaries, such as yetis, krakens, and Vikings.

As time grows short, the Time Patrol learns that no amount of training and experience can prepare them for the enemies they battle and the alternate realities they face. And now, six changes to history could lead to the ultimate catastrophe: the end of existence.

Operation: S.I.N.: Agent Carter by Kathryn Immonen

Tying into the explosive events of ORIGINAL SIN , see an untold story from the origins of the Marvel Universe! After an alien energy source is discovered in Russia in the early 1950s, it's up to Peggy Carter and Howard Stark to find out what happened. But a newly risen terrorist group going by the name Hydra also happens to be on the hunt for their own nefarious purposes! It's only when a mysterious operative going by the name of Woodrow McCord enters the picture to aid Peggy and Howard that they realize just how far some people are willing to go to keep the Earth safe!

Operation S.I.N.: Agent Carter TPB is a tie-in to ABC's hit TV show, Marvel's Agent Carter!

COLLECTING: Operation S.I.N. 1-5, Captain America and the First Thirteen 1

Sherlock Holmes: The Thinking Engine by James Lovegrove

Man vs Machine

it is 1895, and Sherlock Holmes is settling back into life as a consulting detective at 221B Baker Street, when he and Watson learn of strange goings-on amidst the dreaming spires of Oxford.

A Professor Quantock has built a wondrous computational device, which he claims is capable of analytical thought to rival the cleverest men alive. Naturally Sherlock Holmes cannot ignore this challenge. He and Watson travel to Oxford, where a battle of wits ensues between the great detective and his mechanical counterpart as they compete to see which of them can be first to solve a series of crimes, from a bloody murder to a missing athlete. But as man and machine vie for supremacy, it becomes clear that the Thinking Engine has its own agenda...

Third Reich Victorious: Alternate Histories of World War II edited by Peter G. Tsouras

This book is a stimulating and entirely plausible insight into how Hitler and his generals might have defeated the Allies, and a convincing sideways look at the Third Reich's bid at world domination in World War II. What would have happened if, for example, the Germans captured the whole of the BEF at Dunkirk? Or if the RAF had been defeated in the Battle of Britain? What if the U-Boats had strangled Britain with an impregnable blockade, if Rommel had been triumphant in North Africa or the Germans had beaten the Red Army at Kursk?

The authors, writing as if these and other world-changing events had really happened, project realistic scenarios based on the true capabilities and circumstances of the opposing forces. Third Reich Victorious is a dynamic and eye-opening alternate history that opens up the dramatic possibilities of World War II.

We Install: And Other Stories by Harry Turtledove

From Harry Turtledove, bestselling author of the Worldwar series and The Guns of the South, a collection of nine stories and three essays that illuminate his broad storytelling range

Harry Turtledove earned the title “master of alternate history” from Publishers Weekly for his thought-provoking novels that turn historical facts into gripping tales of possibility. But his writing talent goes much further. We Install offers a showcase of styles, from humor—in “Father of the Groom,” a scientist with a penchant for wild experimentation helps his love-struck son by synthesizing a wedding ring out of two carrots—to classic science fiction, as in the Hugo Award–winning “Down in the Bottomlands” and “Hoxbomb,” in which a regular guy just trying to make a living selling scooters has to deal with some very odd competition. The alternate history tale “Drang von Osten” begins on a bloody battlefield in World War II and ends somewhere quite different. In the brand-new “Logan’s Law,” a man discovers that sometimes, second chances really do work out. The book’s three essays tackle the diverse subjects of how to write alternate history, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and the history of Chanukah.

We Install will delight longtime Turtledove fans and new readers alike with its rich offerings from one of the finest craftsmen writing today.

To readers, authors and publishers...

Is your story going to be published in time for the next New Releases? Contact us at ahwupdate at gmail dot com.  We are looking for works of alternate history, counterfactual history, steampunk, historical fantasy, time travel or anything that warps history beyond our understanding.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, a blogger on Amazing Stories and a Sidewise Awards for Alternate History judgeWhen not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the day when travel between parallel universes becomes a reality. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and YouTube. Learn how you can support his alternate history projects on Patreon.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Map Monday: The Baaid Maghreb by thomas.berubeg

Alternate American colonization timelines are one of my favorite kinds of timelines. I enjoy it when people speculate about different cultures settling different areas of the Americas then what happened in OTL. So I naturally gravitated to this map by thomas.berubeg when he posted it for one of AlternateHistory.com's many map contests:
This is actually just one of many maps Thomas included in his short scenario: "The Age of Exchange (The Far Maghreb)". In this alternate timeline, the Viking colony of Vinland is more successful, leading to an earlier die off due among the Native Americans. Although contact is eventually lost with the colonists after the Little Ice Age, knowledge of the New World is more widespread leading to the Sultan of Morocco to send an expedition to rediscover the continents in 1421, sparking a Muslim colonization of Middle America and the conversion to Islam by many of the more advanced Native American states who had recovered from Old World diseases.

This world has Muslim Mesoamericans, English knights in the South and a lost colony of Vikings, what more could you ask for? On top of that the map itself is well done and I liked the use of the Arabic script. If you haven't already, go check out Thomas' scenario.

Honorable mention this week goes out to Rick Noack's upside down map quiz on The Washington Post. If you want to submit a map for the next Map Monday, email me at ahwupdate at gmail dot com with your map attached and a brief description in the body of the email.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, a blogger on Amazing Stories and a Sidewise Awards for Alternate History judgeWhen not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the day when travel between parallel universes becomes a reality. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and YouTube. Learn how you can support his alternate history projects on Patreon.

Weekly Update #202! Nazi Treasure Train, Tyler Bugg and Darren Total War.

Editor's Note

For those who don't know, I joined Patreon a couple of weeks ago. If you haven't already, please consider becoming one of my patrons. I am offering rewards that range from exclusive content, early access to posts and the chance to tell me what to write about next. Additionally I have several milestone goals, the first being the return of the Flag Friday series. I have revised the amounts on those to make them more realistic, so please check them out when you get the chance.

Fair warning, I need to finish my abstract for the Sideways in Time edited collection and thus I may not post on one or more days. Thanks for your patience and hopefully I will have something really cool to share with you in 2016.

And now the news...

Headline: Two Men Believe They Have Found a Lost Nazi Treasure Train

There is an old rumor that the Nazis had collected a horde of treasure from pillaging Wroclaw, but when the Red Army was approaching the city in 1945, the Germans sent an armored train in to take all the valuables out. After the war, however, no one could find this train and the loot it held. Eventually the existence of this train was dismissed as nothing but a rumor.

That all changed when two men came forward last week saying they have found the train, but won't release the location until they are promised a 10% cut of whatever it holds. Although this is not alternate history, the story nevertheless blew up across the Internet and got people (including myself) comparing it to an Indiana Jones plot (although Operation Condor is more appropriate in hindsight).

Whether this train really is the legendary Nazi treasure train remains to be seen. There is still a lot of skepticism about the men's claim, but the fact that they have attorneys and are demanding a reasonable amount seems to confirm that at least they are taking it seriously. Some may wonder why they don't just hand the location over without demanding anything in return, but let's be honest. When they are old, frail and penniless, the satisfaction of finding someone else's stuff won't pay the bills.

Alternate Historian of the Week: Tyler Bugg

This week's featured alternate historian is Tyler Bugg. For those who don't know, Tyler is the author "From Enigma to Paradox" which appeared in the Substitution Cipher anthology. Additionally, Tyler has contributed several articles to The Update on topics ranging from FDR, Napoleon, Canada and the Titanic. He even came up with an entire backstory for the alternate history photos I use in the blog's promotional material. He is really a creative guy and I highly recommend you check out his work.

For example, he wrote a two part series on everyone's favorite fictional war: America vs. Canada (see part 2 here). Check it out on his blog, (Alt)History Inc., and see if his scenario is better than Turtledove's depiction of the scenario in Timeline-191.

Video of the Week: TACTICS! - Barbarians at the Gates! by Darren Total War

As I may have mentioned before, I am a huge fan of the Total War series of games, which combined real time tactical battles with grand strategy. It is a fun series and I got as far as Empire: Total War (where I spent many enjoyable hours conquering Europe as the Maratha Empire) before I had to stop playing. A combination of a full time job and a busy writing schedule prevented me from devoting the time to computer games like I used to.

Thankfully, we now live in the Age of YouTube, which means that even if I don't have the time to play the games myself, I can still watch other people play them. For example, lets watch Darren Total War provide commentary on his recent multiplayer battle where he led Tylis against Carthage on a Barbarian city settlement:
Yeah it may not be exactly alternate history, but being able to play out realistic battles with Classical era nations is a tool that more alternate historians need to utilize. More importantly, Lets Plays like this is what makes YouTube great.

And a honorable mention goes to...me! If you can forgive me for a little self-promotion, I highly recommend you check out me recent Trope Talk video on airships:

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, a blogger on Amazing Stories and a Sidewise Awards for Alternate History judgeWhen not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the day when travel between parallel universes becomes a reality. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and YouTube. Learn how you can support his alternate history projects on Patreon.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Book Review: The IX by Andrew P. Weston

I really wanted to enjoy The IX by Andrew P. Weston. It had a really cool concept. Humans on the verge of death are pulled from different eras of the past by a powerful alien entity to fight an army of seemingly endless murder machines, all the while having to overcome the cultural and language barriers to become an effective fighting force. Sounds like a fun action romp with a level of sophistication. Its in the execution, however, that the book lost me.

We learn that an alien race, called the Ardenese, which are described as really tall humanoids with large foreheards (sort of like the aliens from This Island Earth) are on the verge of extinction. Another alien race of energy beings who feed off the bio-electrical fields generated by other organic beings (sort of like the aliens from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within), known hands of the Horde, are winning their war against the Ardenese, who are holed up in their last city. The Ardenese, however, have a plan. They will upload their minds into an incredibly advanced super-computer, called the Architect, that will scour space and time to discover an alien race that can fight for them until the Horde is defeated and they can repopulate their plant.

Of course, that race is humanity, and at first the Architect only pulls humans from our distant future, but their advanced energy weapons have no effect on the Horde. A lucky break happens, however, when it is discovered that the Horde are obliterated by contact with iron. Thus when the ninth wave of human draftees are brought in, they come from eras of time where iron is still used in their weapons. These include, the Ninth Legion of Rome from 120 AD, a US Calvary Regiment from 1860 and a special forces squad from the mid-21st century.

Even with the time travel, alternate history content is minimal or non-existent depending on how you perceive the history being presented by Weston. Let me explain: the characters from 1860 include a US Cavalry company and several Native Americans on their way to negotiate a peace treaty for Senator Lincoln with an alliance of the Cree, Lakota, Sioux and Apache. They are prevented from doing so after rogue members of the company lead them into a trap because there is grand conspiracy involving the aforementioned tribes and several southern states (due to Sam Houston's involvement) who want to overthrow the US government.

Where do I begin? First off, Lincoln was never a senator. Second, those tribes are scattered between Canada and Northern Mexico and all speak different languages, so the chances of them forming some alliance like the one described in the book is implausible. Plus, the Lakota are actually a sub-group of the Sioux, but the author makes it very clear throughout the book that they are a separate tribe. Third, Sam Houston as governor of Texas actually opposed his state's secession from the Union during the American Civil War so the idea of him being part of some coup attempt seems far-fetched. Finally, Weston seems to imply to real reason the Civil War began was because the Southerners and Great Plains Indians were just trying to overthrow a central government they didn't believe in anymore, which is a troublesome theory about that period of history for someone to have in my opinion.

Now this may be the alternate history, but there really is no clear point of divergence and they do come from the same timeline as the Ninth Legion. To be fair Weston did a better job of presenting the history of the Legion. There are some historians who believe they disappeared in modern-day Scotland, even if there is evidence that the whole or portions of the legion survived on the continent. Problems occur with his description of the Caledonians they were fighting before being taken to Arden. One tribe is called the Iceni, which is actually the name of tribe that inhabited modern-day Norfolk during the Roman occupation of England, and while my preliminary research does show they occasionally practiced cannibalism, the description in the book of groups of them stopping to feast on wounded Roman soldiers like zombies from The Walking Dead was just too silly to take seriously. They also referred to themselves as Caledonians, which is wrong since "Caledonia" was the name the Greeks/Romans gave to modern-day Scotland and the native inhabitants would have called themselves something else.

Besides the bad history, how was the rest of the book? Well, not good. The book is poorly written with too much tell and not enough show. There was also a lot of "As You Know, Bob" moments where one character explains to another character some aspect of the story that both should already know. This is done to provide important exposition to the reader, but it is also not how people normally talk to each other. In fact, most of the dialogue is bad and sounds overly stilted. This wouldn't be so bad if the book was heavier on the action, which Weston writes pretty well, but most of The IX is just talking about things that are just uninteresting. Even the inner thoughts of the characters are boring and, to be frank, it was hard to tell when they were doing that. Sometimes the inner monologues were in italics, as is traditional in most books, but other times they weren't in italics or highlighted in any way to differentiate them from the rest of the text.

The characters from the future are bland and indistinguishable from each other, despite many coming from time periods centuries apart. Even the characters from the past come off more like stereotypes instead of well researched characters, although they are amazingly smart and able to point out obvious things about the enemy that the future humans, who have been fighting them for much longer somehow missed. Also everyone seemed to have taken the fact that they will never see their homes or loved ones again fairly well and drop old animosities almost instantly so they can fight in a war they've never asked for. Ignoring the psychological impact of what the Ardenese did to the humans it dragged into their war was a grave omission in my opinion. Instead what we do get is overused tropes like ancient aliens and hand-waving issues such as language barriers thanks to magical technology.

To be completely honest, I didn't finish this book. I gave up on it after I was more than halfway done. What was the last straw for me was when I was forced to read a five page memo on how an iron ore mining operation was going. From the context of the book, the memo was being proofread by a character before he sent it to his superiors. I'm sorry, but that is just lame. I know background info is both important and difficult to express to readers in an entertaining way, but their are ways to do it. Take a “Hot Night at the Hopping Toad" by SM Stirling. Although not my favorite story in The Change, it still presented what life was like in a post-apocalyptic college town through the eyes of two likable and interesting characters who were catching up with each other over dinner and drinks at a local bar. Then, just to keep things interesting, there is bar fight, someone dies and a murderer needs to be uncovered. Stirling added conflict to make his story interesting and I never saw the conflict in The IX. The Horde never seemed like a real threat and from what I did read, I never even saw them kill a single human. Without real conflict, it is hard to have a good story.

Despite what I said above, I'm once again the lone voice of dissent in a sea of praise. The IX has a ton of good reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads that I just don't understand. Maybe the book picks up in the second half, but if a book can't hold my attention after 300 pages, I don't see any reason to continue with it. I will admit that when there is action happening the book can be enjoyable and Weston certainly praises the work of soldiers in this novel, so if you like that then go ahead and pick up a copy. Otherwise, I can't recommend The IX. I can, recommend, The Misplaced Legion and its sequels by Harry Turtledove, which has similar themes to The IX and is better written.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, a blogger on Amazing Stories and a Sidewise Awards for Alternate History judgeWhen not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the day when travel between parallel universes becomes a reality. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and YouTube. Learn how you can support his alternate history projects on Patreon.