Monday, August 3, 2015

Map Monday: The Baltic Region by False Dmitri/Ben Carnehl

I am a big fan of the works and maps of Ben Carnehl, also know as False Dmitri on AlternateHistory.com. Besides his work on that forum, he has a long history with the online alternate history community and has been an active member of such communities as the AltHistory Wiki and Ill Bethisad. I have featured his work before, such as his map of the Royal Province of Maryland and his balkanized American ethnicity map, which is the #2 most viewed post on The Update. After seeing one of his most recent maps get a lot of Twitter love, I decided to feature it on Map Monday. Its called "The Baltic Region":
The map is set in Ben's Pseudodemetrian Imperial Commonwealth universe, where Russia, Poland, and Sweden are united under a shared dynasty. This is very similar to his Affiliated States of Boreoamerica universe, where world building is emphasized over plausibility. That is not to say that Ben doesn't put a lot of work into these universes, but the details tend to focus on social and cultural issues rather than politics. They are quite enjoyable worlds to follow, much like his maps.

While I do enjoy maps with a lot of details and annotations, sometimes you get tired of the MSPaint aesthetic and want to see something a little more polished. In this case we see a region of this timeline that must be very important as it is the meeting place of the three major powers that make up the PIC. Its not cluttered and the colors are pleasing to the eyes. I enjoyed it and I am glad others who I shared it with thought the same.

Honorable mention this week goes out to MrGreyOwl's "Republic of Romanistan". 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.

* * *

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.

Weekly Update #199: Time Travel is Dangerous

Editor's Notes

Only 1 week away from Weekly Update #200 and a special announcement from yours truly. On top of that, I will most likely surpass 700,000 total views this month. Suddenly 1,000,000 views does not sound that impossible anymore.

In more secretive news, I had a fun time Saturday talking with a certain alternate historian you all should know rather well. Our project is gaining a momentum and we both look forward to sharing it with you all very soon.

And now the news...

4 Reasons Why Time Travel is Dangerous!

If there is one thing I learned this week from the news its that TIME TRAVEL IS DANGEROUS!!! Here are the four reasons why you should think twice before jumping into that time machine:

#1: The People in the Past Are Crazy. Such as this maid who killed her employer in 1870, took over her life and even fed the fat boiled off from the dead body to children. Yikes! So much for those Victorian morals.

#2: You Could Accidentally Destroy Yourself. According to science, if time travel were real you would inevitably create two versions of yourself that would eventually meet and annihilate the other. So perhaps Doc Brown wasn't that far off when he cautioned Marty about running into himself in the future.

#3: Your Historical Ignorance Can Be Your Undoing. People often assume they know history, when they really don't. Just check out these popular historical misconceptions that could cause a lot of problems for you, especially if you try to change the past. This brings me to my last point...

#4: The Outcome is Always Unclear. You just can't control what will happen if you change the past, whether it is intentionally or by accident. Who knows what damage you could cause. You may even wipe out the United States!

So leave time travel to the professionals. You know the ones I am talking about: alien outlaws, crazy scientists and cops who speak with a Belgian accent.

Video of the Week

This week the featured video goes to the new History Respawned video on Tropico 5:
This episode featured John Harney as he talked with Dr. Renata Keller of Boston University about how Tropico 5 parodied US-Cuba relations, racial dynamics in the Caribbean and how difficult it is using humor to tell history.

Honorable mention goes out to Alternate History Hub's What if the Drug War Never Occurred?

* * *

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.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

RIP: Adrienne Martine-Barnes (1942-2015)

It sucks when you have to learn about new alternate historians only after they have passed away. File 770 announced yesterday that author Adrienne Martine-Barnes has passed away. Although mostly know for here work int he Darkover series, she also contributed to the alternate history genre.

According to Uchronia, she is the author of The Swords Sequence (The Fire Sword, The Crystal Sword, The Rainbow Sword and The Sea Sword), which is sometimes called Chronique D'Avebury. This four book series is set in a universe where the English royal succession is changed after Henry II and the Crusades never happened. Additionally, gods, magic and time travel also exist. Admittedly, I wasn't able to find much regarding this late 1980s book series, so if anyone who follows this blog has read them, please share your thoughts in the comments.

My thoughts and prayers go out to Adrienne's friends and family.

* * *

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.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Book Review: West of Eden by Harry Harrison

The 1980s were a great time for alternate history. I know some people give credit to Leinster, Moore and Dick for starting the alternate history genre, but if they started it, than the authors of the 1980s perfected it. This was an era were a new crop of writers were entering the speculative fiction genre with backgrounds in history, instead of science and engineering. They used their knowledge of the past to craft new works of science fiction and to fill out the tiny library of alternate history. Authors who were part of this era included Harry Turtledove, SM Stirling and, of course, the late Harry Harrison.

Harry Harrison has contributed a lot of works to the alternate history genre, especially through his "trilogies". There is the fun historical fantasy Hammer and the Cross trilogy (which I had a blast writing in) and the notoriously implausible Stars and Stripes trilogy. There is one more trilogy, however, that we have not discussed yet: the Eden trilogy. This series is set in a world where the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs (which for some reason Harrison stated it hit Iceland in our timeline and not the Yucatan...was this a popular theory?) never happened and thus Earth's entire evolutionary history is changed leading to a world where a sentient race of amphibious reptiles that walk upright compete with humanity. If this seems implausible...you're right, but more on that later.

The Eden trilogy began in 1984 with the publication of West of Eden. This tells the story of a young hunter (or Tanu) named Kerrick who is captured and raised by the Yilanè (the aforementioned smart lizards) after they wiped out his family and tribe. At first Kerrick thinks of nothing but escaping, but as he learns the Yilanè language to survive and comes to understand more of their culture, he begins to forget his "humanity" (the quotations are significant, but again more on that later) and sees himself more like a Yilanè and less like a Tanu. The Yilanè, however, fear the walking/talking mammals enough that they seek to rid them from the continent they are now colonizing as longer winters threaten their homes in the Old World. A chance encounter with one of the survivors of these raids convinces Kerrick that his place is with his own kind and he finally escapes. The Yilanè, especially the ambitious Vainte and vicious Stallan, are not ready to let him go and chase him and his people across the continent. Meanwhile, Kerrick uses his knowledge gained from his years of captivity to better fight the Yilanè and eventually prepare the Tanu and their allies to take the fight to the invaders across the sea and drive them from their home once and for all.

A lot of stuff to unpack here, so lets begin with the Old World where the Yilanè are from. Without the extinction event, dinosaurs never died out and instead continued evolving and the Yilanè are a product of this. They have built an advanced civilization, but not with technology as we know it. Instead their civilization, which has existed for millions of years, uses advanced genetic engineering to create houses, tools, transportation and weapons made entirely out of organic creatures and materials, reminiscent of the Yuuzhan Vong from the old Star Wars Expanded Universe. If this sounds impossible without some sort of period where they first obtained a level of inorganic technology first, you are probably correct, but trust me, the craziness has just begun.

You see Kerrick and his people aren't human. They look like humans, talk like humans, think like humans and do all the other human-y things humans do, but they are not humans. In our world, humans as we know them evolved from apes in Africa, but in West of Eden the dinosaurs prevented mammals in the Old World from going down this evolutionary path...but not in North America. Yep, the Tanu are actually descendants from a North American ape/monkey that somehow managed to evolve into a human-esque species during a brief (relatively speaking) period of time when Central America was flooded and all of the dinosaur species had died out in North America, giving the Tanu and related peoples a chance to develop and later flee to the cold north when the dinosaurs eventually returned. Man, the stars really had to be aligned for evolution to create something exactly like the humanity of our timeline.

So in terms of plausibility, West of Eden is making Stars and Stripes look like historical fiction that Richard J, Evans would be proud of. So what about the story itself? Well actually it has a lot of similarities with the Hammer and the Cross trilogy. Protagonist hates invaders, but joins invaders and learns their ways, only to inevitably escape from invaders to lead his own people against them. The Yilanè even have a troublesome religious cult called the "Daughters of Life" that fulfills much the same role as the Way. To Harrison's credit, this series predates the Hammer and the Cross so he can be forgiven for being derivative. Nevertheless, the story wasn't bad, especially if you enjoy the older style of writing that emphasizes telling over showing. You learn about Kerrick's struggle as he finds himself stuck between two alien societies. Even with the death of his family, he struggles to sufficiently hate the Yilanè like the other Tanu and at times even sees some benefits to Yilanè civilization over the hunter/gather culture of the Tanu. Furthermore, I like societies that use living things as machines and such. It might not be practical or plausible for that matter, but its a cool aesthetic that appears again and again in genre fiction, including alternate history, such as Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy.

I can see why a lot of people won't like this book and I am not going to try and push it on you. That being said, I enjoyed it and will probably read the next book, Winter in Eden, when I get a chance. Harrison may not always tell a plausible story, but at least he tells an entertaining story. If you want to witness a clash between two alien species take place on our own planet, go check out West of Eden.

* * *

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.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Book Review: Jokers Wild edited by George R. R. Martin

I talked originally about reviewing this on my channel, but I think instead I am going to focus more on my Trope Talk series instead (next episode TBA). So now I will review Jokers Wild, the third volume of the Wild Cards shared universe, edited by Sharknado 3 star, George RR Martin.

Jokers Wild takes place shortly after the events of Aces High on Wild Cards Day, the 40th anniversary of the day when an alien virus was released over New York City, killing most of the people that contracted it and horribly disfiguring the few survivors, except for those lucky enough to gain superpowers. The Astronomer and his followers are taking revenge on those Aces who defeated their attempt at world domination by killing them one by one. While Fortunato and others race to stop him, an Ace named Wraith steals some notebooks from a wealthy New Yorker, but soon discovers he is a powerful criminal who will stop at nothing to get his property back. On top of that, Sewer Jack learns his niece ran away from home and is alone somewhere in New York City. As he seeks her out he enlists the help of his friend Bagabond who also...okay lets just say there are a hell of lot of subplots going on at once.

If everything above sounds confusing, it is. Not only is Jokers Wild a book where you need to read what came before, the problems are compounded by the fact that this is a "mosaic novel", where different short stories from various authors are edited together to tell one story. Now the previous two books in the series had overarching themes that tied many of the stories together, Jokers Wild on the other hand, is presented as one story told by seven different authors, including Martin, with each author writing for a different point of view character. I have to give them credit for putting together a readable novel with that many minds/egos, but the finished product is still rather rough. Transitions don't always flow well with characters changing drastically as points of view switch. I can forgive them, however, since this was their first time and considering the Wild Cards series now has over twenty volumes, perhaps later mosaic novels are more polished now that they have more experience.

I am not going to nitpick all the issues with the book, but I do want to point out how clumsily the Sewer Jack "reveal" was handled. Turns out he is gay and before you get angry, trust me, it really isn't much of a spoiler. They pretty much broadcast that fact on a giant neon sign almost straight from the beginning. A beautiful woman wonders why he is uninterested in her advances, he looks for his niece in a gay bar that he implies he has visited once or twice, he gets really upset when a random stranger calls him a "fag", his male friend who he has strong feelings for has HIV, he knows a lot about women's makeup...wait, what? Maybe its just because I am a heterosexual, but I don't think being gay means you immediately know how to apply makeup competently!

To be fair this book was originally published in 1987, and presumably the stories themselves were written even earlier, so just having a gay major character in a book marketed to the general public was a pretty big deal. I mean there were some states that still were enforcing anti-sodomy laws. Critics I listen to have pointed out that writers in the 80s and 90s really didn't know how to write gay characters and often fell back on stereotypes and cliches. So perhaps everyone involved can be forgiven for this issue, especially because even with all of my negativity above, I can still recommend this book.

What is great about Wild Cards is that it presents a surreal superhero universe where things don't quite work out the way they would in the comics. Most of the people who survived the Wild Cards virus are grotesque monstrosities and have been relegated to the lowest rung of society because of it, even if they do have a superpower. Even those who kept their normal, human looks don't always get useful powers (i.e. being able to fly, but not lift anything up because you are not strong enough or gaining magical-esque powers, but to recharge you have to have sex and never ejaculate). Even the "heroes" come off more like reality TV stars than actual heroes and the few traditional vigilantes are often viewed at best as menaces and at worst serial killers. That is all on display throughout the book and it was those elements that kept me reading until the end.

Jokers Wild is a bizarre and fun breakdown of the usual superhero tropes and if the technical side of the book is rather weak, the universe Martin and his friends created more than makes up for it. Go check out Jokers Wild, but make sure you read the first two books first.

* * *

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.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Audio File: StarShipSofa

Guest post Sam McDonald.
In this edition of The Audio File we'll be talking about StarShipSofa. StarShipSofa is a science fiction podcast that is part of the District of Wonders podcast family which includes Tales to Terrify (horror), Crime City Central (crime and mystery), Protecting Project Pulp and Far-Fetched Fables (fantasy). In many ways I can best describe StarShipSofa as what would happen if Alternate History Weekly Update was a podcast. The podcast is primarily hosted by the ever jolly Tony C. Smith and includes many informative fact segments such as Look Back at Genre History with Amy H. Sturgis, Science News with JJ Campanella, Film Talk with Dennis M. Lane and much more.

They even have their own equivalent of The Audio File; though their's is called Cheapskates and is about free fiction in general, but it has many of the same principles as The Audio File. Anyway, all these great segments in edition to the feature stories does add to the shows length. Average show time usually goes for well over an hour; sometimes it's even over two hours. I know it might seem intimidating at first, but it is all well worth your time, I promise. For those who don't want to listen to the entire show, the starting point of each segment are listed on StarShipSofa's website.

Certain episodes from early in the podcast's run are referred to as Aural Delights, but it is very much part of StarShipSofa. Anyway, enough intro, onto the stories. Everyone has a story aboard StarShipSofa. Let's go find some...

"Raft of the Titanic" by James Morrow
Narrated by Peter Seaton-Clark
Originally Published in The Mammoth Book of Alternate History 

In our world many passenger aboard the Titanic died due to the lack of lifeboats. In this story, however, after the iceberg was struck a great raft was created to save all the passengers. Eventually the passengers go on to establish a near utopian society aboard the ever expanding raft. With such a perfect society will any of the passengers ever want to leave?

With stories based around events like the Titanic or the Hindenburg you usually have to resort to fantastical means when writing alternate history. In this case, however, we got a somewhat realistic alternate history of the Titanic. I say somewhat because things do go a bit idealistically aboard the raft. The biggest issue I can think of is that, besides rain, there didn't really seem to be any source of fresh drinking water on the raft. Nonetheless, overall I found this story quite enjoyable.

This story is a great example of oceanpunk. What is oceanpunk? Oceanpunk is a punk set primarily at sea or on a world primarily covered by water. Waterworld and One Piece are good examples of oceanpunk. In other matters, I enjoyed how the story was told as a series of letters. I also thought that Peter did a great job with the narration.

An alternate history of the Titanic with an oceanpunk twist. Very much recommended.

"Escape From New Austin" by Paul Di Filippo
Narrated by Amy H. Sturgis 
Originally Published in Jigsaw Nation

This story takes place in a world where America split into two nations around 2004. The blue districts became the nation of Agnostica and the red districts became the nation of Faithland. The story follows a girl named Amy from Agnostica controlled Austin. She's obsessed with country music and conservatism and she determined to follow her dreams of traveling to Faithland. Are the two nations, however, really all that different?

Okay, the plausibility of this story is definitely on the softer side. The point of this story, however, was less about being a believable alternate history and more about providing commentary on recent society. In that regard I think this story does pretty well. True to their names, Faithland is a lot more religious than Agnostica, but on the whole they're a lot more similar than they are different. Granted, my personal views on the matter are a bit different, checkout my blog for that, but I digress.

Anyway, I found this story much more enjoyable than that other Jigsaw Nation story I reviewed in the post on Escape Pod. As for the narration, Amy H. Sturgis isn't just great at writing fact articles, she's also an excellent narrator. For a great story from the Jigsaw Nation anthology, look no further.

"Jaguar House in Shadow" by Aliette de Bodard
Narrated by Morag Edwards
Originally Published in Asimov's 
2011 Hugo and Nebula Award Nominee 

This story is set in the Xuya universe. It's a world where China kept its treasure fleet, discovered and colonized the New World and the Aztec Empire survived. Within the Aztec Empire there used to be several different military orders named after animals, but now only the Jaguar Knights remain following a purge by the new emperor. A rebellion was started by a Jaguar Knight named Xochitl, but it was suppressed and she was imprisoned. Her friend Onalli, however, is determined to bust her out and find a new life in either Xuya or America.

The thing that really sold me on this story was the rich and detailed descriptions of life in the modern Aztec Empire. It's clear that Aliette did a lot of research and knows what she's talking about. As someone who writes stories set in an Aztec inspired fantasy world I really appreciated that. I also liked the ways Aztec culture had adapted to the modern world. For example, human sacrifice has been phased out, but blood letting is still part of the religion.

This was a really great introduction to the Xuya universe, and I can't wait to find more stories set in this world. Morag handled the narration quite well. It's a story about strange rumblings in a present day Aztec Empire. Very much worth your time.

"Something Real" by Rick Wilber
Narrated by Logan Waterman
Originally Published in Asimov's 
2012 Sidewise Award Winner

Moe Berg was a true renaissance man. He had multiple Ivy League degrees, knew many different languages, played baseball and was a spy during World War II. In this story he gets involved in a plot to stop Werner Heisenberg and Germany's attempt to develop develop an atomic bomb.

I'll admit that I didn't know too much about Moe Berg before listening to this story, but that didn't effect my ability to enjoy this story. Obviously, the Nazis were nowhere near capable of actually creating a viable atomic bomb, but it does make for a pretty good spy thriller plot. It's really a testament to Rick's writing talent that the story worked so well despite potential issues. Hey, it won the Sidewise Award so obviously it's pretty good.

Of course, a story like this needs a good narrator and Logan is that narrator. It won the Sidewise for a reason and I happily recommend it.

"The Time Travel Club" by Charlie Jane Anders
Narrated by Ibba Armancas
Originally Published in Asimov's 

This story follows a recovering addict named Lydia who has joined a time traveler's club. At first it was all just pretend and games, but then one of the members brings an time machine to the meeting. Lydia and the other members try to figure out what to do with this astonishing discovery and grow closer together.

Yeah, the summary doesn't really do it justice, but this is a really great story. The theme of a lost person finding friends through nerdy means struck a cord with me. I never really had many friends in high school or that many growing up, but then I went to college, met my now very good friends, got introduced to anime, went on many fun adventures...okay, that enough about my personal life. Point is I related with the characters in this story.

One of the things I liked was how the time machine was just that, as opposed to a space and time machine, and the characters were always having to take the Earth's rotation into account. There are some slight alternate history elements to this story, but that's a surprise I really shouldn't spoil. As I've said before, the writing and characterization are top notch in this story.

Ibba did an amazing job with the narration. A story about time travel, friendship and finding yourself. I couldn't recommend it more.

"Prophet of Flores" by Ted Kosmatka
Narrated by David Birkhead
Originally Published in Asimov's 

This is the short story that served as the basis for Ted Kosmatka's Prophet of Bones. It takes place in a world where creationism won out over Darwinian evolution and is the accepted scientific explanation for how the world came to be. The story follows a biologist named Paul Carlson; he's been performing experiments since he was young to test if evolution is true. He's been assigned to a paleontology dig on the Indonesian island of Flores that could change the world of science.

A recurring problem I find with Ted Kosmatka is that, though he comes up with some interesting ideas, he doesn't consider their full ramifications. So it is with this story. The explanation for why creationism is accepted in this world is that radiometric dating determined that the Earth is only 10,000 years old. However, despite that both science and the world as a whole look almost exactly like our world. Not only that, but the fossil record is exactly the same as in our world.

Evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology and if you get rid of that you potentially get all sorts of changes. Also, no science is an island onto itself and knocking out evolution would have effects across the scientific world. For that matter, you don't always throw something out the window in light of new evidence, rather you can refine it in light of new information. You'd also expect that their be higher levels of religiousness in such a world, but again, nothing that seems different from our world.

Now I have to be fair here, when it comes to writing characters and bringing that human element to the story Ted does an amazing job. There are also hints at the end of some kind of conspiracy. That being said, I simply can't get over the tremendous suspension of disbelief required by this story. For that matter, I'm surprised Ted felt the need to go the alternate history route, considering that we live in a world where nearly half of all Americans believe the Earth is 10,000 years old and created in seven literal days.

Obviously, I didn't enjoy it too much, but I can't quite bring myself to give it the stamp of disapproval. Should you chose to give it a try I advise to approach with a considerable degree of caution.

"Adrift on the Sea of Rains" (Part 1 and Part 2) by Ian Sales
Narrated by Logan Waterman
2012 Sidewise Award Nominee 

Yeah, this story has been reviewed before, but I still think the audio version is worth going over. You guys probably know the drill; Cold War goes hot and only twelve astronauts on the Moon survive and use a bit of secret Nazi tech to search for a new universe to live in.

Now, this story has a lot of technical jargon that might not necessarily translate so well in audio. So, how well does it work? Well, StarShipSofa wrote to Ian about these concerns and he wrote a version especially for them with the jargon simplified or explained in-story. I can personally attest that it works out quite well, and Logan once again does a great job with the narration.

I really can't say much that hasn't been said already, but I can give it a strong recommendation.

"Lord Dickens's Declaration" (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) by Lawrence Santoro 
Narrated by Lawrence Santoro 

This story has multiple points of divergence, but the primary one is that religion died out in prehistoric times. By the 1920s there's peace and happiness throughout the world. The arts are the movers and shakers of society, with science and technology existing purely to serve the arts. Speaking of technology, it's advanced to the point of including such things as supercomputers and time machines. The story follows a team of historians researching a significant event in the life of Lord Charles Dickens, but things quickly lead into a bigger conspiracy all the way back to the origin of humanity.

In terms of plausibility this story is on the softer side, with figures from Jesus to William of Occam appearing despite the changes. Had Lawrence tried to made things realistic, however, it would have resulted in a world so alien it would potentially alienate readers. It took me a bit to really get into that story, but after that I really enjoyed it. It was also helpful the each segment began by recapped the previous events.

One issue I had was how one of the characters was planning on changing the past on the grounds that this world was missing something without religion. If this world had some flaws I might have been willing to buy that, but frankly this seems to be that world John Lennon was singing about in "Imagine". If anything this world seemed to be better off without religion. Still, despite some iffy elements overall it was a great novella.

Lawrence isn't just a great author, he's also a great narrator. This novella was part of a fundraising effort when Spider Robinson's wife was diagnosed with cancer. It's always great when speculative fiction does stuff like that. Another story that I happily recommend.

"Lure" by Harry Turtledove 
Narrated by Dennis M. Lane
Originally Published in Analog and collected in Departures

This story follows a time traveling hunter named Harvey Cutter. He's traveled to Miocene Italy to capture a species of primate for the San Diego Cenozoic Zoo. Unfortunately, he's been having a bit of trouble catching the primate, but I can't tell you any more without giving away the story.

It is well known that Harry Turtledove has a thing for puns and this story is no exception as you find out at the end. As a pun lover myself I quite enjoyed this story. I also enjoyed Dennis' narration of this story.

Now I'm going to talk about the episode this story appear in. For their 300th episode StarShipSofa had a Harry Turtledove special. They had asked him for only one story, but he offered them five; a very impressive feat. Now, they might no have had any power over what stories were offered, and Mr. Turtledove does write more than just alternate history. Still, none of the stories they received were alternate history and I can't help but think of all the great alternate history short stories we potentially missed out on.

Be that as it may, the stories we did receive, including this one, are all quite good in their own right. Let's take a look at some more.

"Not All Wolves" by Harry Turtledove 
Narrated by Ibba Armancas 
Originally Published in Werewolves and collected in Departures 

This story is set in Cologne in 1176 and follows a young werewolf named Dieter as he desperately tries to evade capture and execution. He's tried to get help everywhere, but to no avail. Fortunately, a kind hearted rabbi named Avram offers him refuge in the city's Jewish Quarter.

This is another story where the summary isn't much, but I promise this one is good. I always enjoy stories where the monsters are misunderstood rather than evil. It was interesting how the story made lycanthropy a metaphor for both puberty and the persecution of Jews. Dieter first started transforming we he turned thirteen and Avram mentions that Dieter isn't the only person to have been persecuted in Cologne. It was a really nice and heartwarming story.

There's not too much dialogue in this story, and Ibba did a good job narrating, but it still seemed a tad odd given that the story only has male characters in it. A story that is a little more hairy than Turtledove and one I happily recommend.

"Clash of Arms" by Harry Turtledove 
Narrated by Nick Camm
Originally Published in New Destinies IV and collected in Departures 

This story takes place in medieval Westphalia and follows an Englishmen named Stephen de Windesore. He attends a jousting tournament where he meets a merchant named Niccolo dello Bosco. The two men share a passion for heraldry and coats of arms. They quickly get involved in a coat of arms naming contest, and Stephen wonders if there is more to Niccolo than meets the eye.

Yeah, this is another story that's better than its summary. As a flag lover and flag maker, this story really spoke to me. I loved the exchange of banter between Stephen and Niccolo, and Nick's narration really helped bring it to life. You can always tell that Turtledove is in his element when he writes stories set in medieval times.

Another great historical fantasy story from Harry Turtledove.

"The Barbecue, The Movie, and Other Unfortunately Not So Relevant Material"
by Harry Turtledove 
Narrated by Mike Boris
Originally Published in Analog and collected in Departures 

We'll end with one last Harry Turtledove story. This one follows a technical writer from Los Angles named T.G. Khan. His father was a professor of Mongol History, so his full name is Temujin Genghis Khan. One day Khan receives a visit from a time traveling historian from thousands of years in the future named Lasoparop Rof. It seems Lasoparop was looking for that other Genghis Khan and is now at a loss for what to do. Khan decides to help as much as he can with a barbecue, a movie and a few wacky misadventures.

This is definitely the funniest of the four Harry Turtledove stories on this list. A lot of the humor comes from just how unfamiliar Lasoparop is with the late 20th century due to coming from 50,000-60,000 years in the future. He can't tell the difference between machines and animals, barely understands what fire is and yet apparently there are still Jews given that he recognized a menorah. Added humor comes from Khan's deadpan reaction to all of this. At the same time, this story made me wonder about how historians in the future will look back on the present day and what they'll make of it; as well as what misconceptions they might have.

Mike's great narration really added to the humorous experience. Easily one of the funniest Harry Turtledove stories and one I happily recommend.

Conclusion 

Well, we've reached the end of the list and I'm going to cut right to the chase. Tales to Terrify, StarShipSofa's sister podcast, is in trouble. It is in desperate need of funding and we've only got a few weeks to save it. As I've said in the past, part of the reason I started The Audio File was to get the word out and help podcasts in need. Well, this is a podcast in need and I'm not about to let a good podcast go under as long as I have something to say about it. Let's get  on it gang, any amount helps no matter how small.

On a slightly happier note, we've got a choice to make for the next installment of The Audio File. We can go back and visit stories we missed from past podcasts or we can move forward. If we move forward I'll be covering multiple podcast in the next post. We'll see Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons and either Apex Magazine or Cast of Wonders. Let me know what you'd like to do and that's where we'll go.

Remember, help a podcast out and donate some money, and I will see you next time.

* * *

Sam McDonald is a college student from Shreveport, LA.  When not involved with his studies he can be found blogging on Amazing Stories, making and posting maps across the web and working on short stories that he hopes to have published in magazines such as Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, and the Escape Artists Podcasts.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

New Releases 7/28/15

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

Hardcovers

Crooked by Austin Grossman

Richard Milhous Nixon lived one of the most improbable lives of the twentieth century. Our thirty-seventh president's political career spanned the button-down fifties, the Mad Men sixties, and the turbulent seventies. He faced down the Russians, the Chinese, and ultimately his own government. The man went from political mastermind to a national joke, sobbing in the Oval Office, leaving us with one burning question: how could he have lost it all?

Here for the first time is the tale told in his own words: the terrifying supernatural secret he stumbled upon as a young man, the truth behind the Cold War, and the truth behind the Watergate cover-up. What if our nation's worst president was actually a pivotal figure caught in a desperate struggle between ordinary life and horrors from another reality? What if the man we call our worst president was, in truth, our greatest?

In Crooked, Nixon finally reveals the secret history of modern American politics as only Austin Grossman could reimagine it. Combining Lovecraftian suspense, international intrigue, Russian honey traps, and a presidential marriage whose secrets and battles of attrition were their own heroic saga, Grossman's novel is a masterwork of alternative history, equal parts mesmerizing character study and nail-biting Faustian thriller.

The Dinosaur Lords: A Novel by Victor Milán

A world made by the Eight Creators on which to play out their games of passion and power, Paradise is a sprawling, diverse, often brutal place. Men and women live on Paradise as do dogs, cats, ferrets, goats, and horses. But dinosaurs predominate: wildlife, monsters, beasts of burden-and of war. Colossal plant-eaters like Brachiosaurus; terrifying meat-eaters like Allosaurus, and the most feared of all, Tyrannosaurus rex. Giant lizards swim warm seas. Birds (some with teeth) share the sky with flying reptiles that range in size from bat-sized insectivores to majestic and deadly Dragons.

Thus we are plunged into Victor Milán's splendidly weird world of The Dinosaur Lords, a place that for all purposes mirrors 14th century Europe with its dynastic rivalries, religious wars, and byzantine politics…except the weapons of choice are dinosaurs. Where vast armies of dinosaur-mounted knights engage in battle. During the course of one of these epic battles, the enigmatic mercenary Dinosaur Lord Karyl Bogomirsky is defeated through betrayal and left for dead. He wakes, naked, wounded, partially amnesiac-and hunted. And embarks upon a journey that will shake his world.

The Fall: A Novel by R. J. Pineiro

In R. J. Pineiro's The Fall, a sci-fi thriller, a man jumps from the upper-most reaches of the atmosphere and vanishes, ending up on an alternate Earth where he died five years earlier.

Jack Taylor has always been an adrenaline junkie. As a federal contractor, he does dangerous jobs for the government that fall out of the realm of the SEALS and the Marines. And this next job is right up his alley. Jack has been assigned to test an orbital jump and if it works, the United States government will have a new strategy against enemy countries.

Despite Jack's soaring career, his personal life is in shambles. He and his wife Angela are both workaholics and are on the verge of getting a divorce. But the night before his jump, Jack and Angela begin to rekindle their romance and their relationship holds promise for repair. Then comes the day of Jack's big jump. He doesn't burn up like some predicted--instead, he hits the speed of sound and disappears.

Jack wakes up in an alternate universe. One where he died during a mission five years earlier and where Angela is still madly in love with him. But in this world, his boss, Pete, has turned to the dark side, is working against him, and the government is now on his tail. Jack must return to his own world but the only way for him to do that is to perform another orbital jump. This time is more difficult though--no one wants to see him go.

Jack's adrenaline is contagious--The Fall will keep readers on the edges of their seats, waiting to find out what crazy stunt Jack will perform next and to learn the fate of this charming, daredevil hero.

Paperbacks

The Conquering Dark: Crown & Key by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith

A thrilling new Victorian-era urban fantasy for fans of Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, the Showtime series Penny Dreadful, and the Sherlock Holmes movies featuring Robert Downey, Jr.

The Crown and Key Society face their most terrifying villain yet: Gaios, a deranged demigod with the power to destroy Britain.

To avenge a centuries-old betrayal, Gaios is hell-bent on summoning the elemental forces of the earth to level London and bury Britain. The Crown and Key Society, a secret league consisting of a magician, an alchemist, and a monster-hunter, is the realm’s only hope—and to stop Gaios, they must gather their full strength and come together as a team, or the world will fall apart.

But Simon Archer, the Crown and Key’s leader and the last living magician-scribe, has lost his powers. As Gaios searches for the Stone of Scone, which will give him destructive dominion over the land, monster-hunter Malcolm MacFarlane, alchemist extraordinaire Kate Anstruther, gadget geek Penny Carter, and Charlotte the werewolf scramble to reconnect Simon to his magic before the world as they know it is left forever in ruins.

Liberty: 1784 by Robert Conroy

A compelling alternate history novel by the breakout author of WW II era alternate history Himmler’s War and Rising Sun.

The British win the American Revolutionary War, and a desperate Washington and the American founders must make a last stand in an enclave called Liberty.

In 1781, George Washington's attempt to trap the British under Cornwallis at Yorktown ends catastrophically when the French fleet is destroyed in the Battle of the Capes. The revolution collapses, and the British begin a bloody reign of terror. A group of rebels flees westward and sets up a colony near what is now Chicago. They call it Liberty. The British, looking to finish what they started, send a very large force under Burgoyne to destroy them. Burgoyne is desperate for redemption and the Americans are equally desperate to survive.

Had the Battle of the Capes gone differently, a changed, darker, New World would have been forced into existence. But even under those dire circumstances, Liberty may still find a way!

The Separation by Christopher Priest

Researching the war between Britain and Nazi Germany, which lasted from May 1940 to May 1941, historian Stuart Gratton becomes intrigued by the enigma of J.L. Sawyer, an obscure figure who played a key part in bringing the conflict to its conclusion. As he digs deeper, he discovers there were two J.L. Sawyers - identical twins Jack and Joe, one a fighter pilot and the other a conscientous objector - divided both by their love for the same woman and their attitudes towards the war. But as the brothers' story emerges from books, letters, and diaries, the evidence does not all add up, and there may be an even wider separation between them - divergent realities, in which different possibilities and unexpected truths emerge, and nothing is quite what it seems.

Both a brilliant historical novel about World War II and one of the best works of alternate history ever written, Christopher Priest's The Separation earned the Arthur C. Clarke and BSFA Awards and ranks among his finest achievements. Like his classics The Affirmation and The Prestige, it is an engrossing literary puzzle that will keep readers turning the pages until its startling conclusion.

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.

* * *

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.