Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What If Wednesday: NATO Did Not Expand Into Eastern Europe

Last week I found a counterfactual by Cheryl of Nuclear Diner that posited a world where NATO never expands into Eastern Europe. It was based on the opinions of what she called "foreign policy realists" that blamed NATO for the events in Ukraine because it provoked Russia by expanding into their sphere of influence. Now I have heard this opinion voiced before and I have not been sold on the logic. It sounds too much like victim blaming. Some of the blame is shifted from the aggressor because of something the victim did, i.e. "if you didn't want to be raped you shouldn't have worn such slutty clothes" or "the Germans invaded the Soviet Union to defend Europe from invasion". Arguments like that ignore the motivations and desires of the aggressor and in the end encourage similar behaviors from the aggressor. Essentially it is appeasement all over again.

Now I am sure some of the examples above might set some off on tangents that would derail the conversation, so lets get back to the question at hand: what if NATO (and presumably the European Union as well) did not expand into Eastern Europe? Would the Ukrainian Conflict be happening right now? Certainly it is fair to admit relations may be better between Russia and the West. There does appear to be evidence that promises were made that western military forces would not be stationed in the East, but if they were made they were never formalized. Still it is understandable that Russia could have felt betrayed by the West and thus this could explain some of the current problems the world is experiencing in Europe.

Yet that is just one of many factors influencing the current situation. Russia's conflict with the West is as much a cultural battle as it is anything else. Putin has made one of his goals to make Russia the world leader of anti-western culture. The differences between Russia's conservative values and the West's more tolerant society is not something that can be solved at the negotiating table. Either the Western world would require a major cultural shift following the end of the Cold War or Russia would need to completely isolate itself from the global economy to prevent some sort of conflict. And what about ethnic Russians who approve of Putin's presidency, but reside in parts of the former Soviet Union? Should we just assume that their desire to once again be a part of Russia would disappear in a world where the West stays out of East?

Assuming NATO leaders stands by their promises, and the leaders of the European Union follow their lead, Russia is unlikely to stay out of Eastern Europe. With the West ignoring them and Russia exerting political/economic pressure, one by one the Eastern Europe states would take their cues from Moscow. The Warsaw Pact might have fallen, but a new version would arise to take its place. Areas where there is a high percentage of Russian minorities could be ceded back to Russia. More former Soviet Republics could also be members of the Union State. Having regained its old influence, Russia would still position itself as the leader of the anti-western world, as its conservative culture clashes with Western Civilization. Conflict is likely inevitable somewhere, with the Yugoslav states or the Middle East being likely candidates for new proxy wars as a new Cold War begins.

Then again, perhaps Eastern Europe would resist. I am reminded of the Eastern Europe nation from Harry Turtledove's "Les Mortes d'Arthur" that came together after the Soviet Union collapsed in the near future. Perhaps abandoned by the West and terrified of a more powerful Russia, the Eastern European nations band together into their own political and economic alliance, something along the lines of the proposed Intermarium perhaps? A community of nations to keep Russia at bay and to compete with Western Europe for economic dominance on the continent. Perhaps they may even gain support from the United States not just as a convenient buffer against an old rival, but also as an alternative ally in case there is any dissatisfaction in Western Europe with American policy. Then again this doesn't prevent any conflict or from Russia inciting minorities to revolt as they are doing now.

Perhaps the one thing to take away from this counterfactual is that some sort of post-Cold War conflict between Russia and the rest of the world was inevitable. So what do you guys think of my scenario? I understand that because this is a current event and the terminology I was required to use, passions are likely to run high. Please keep all comments civil.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a blogger on Amazing Stories. Check out his short fiction. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

New Releases 9/16/14

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

Paperback

Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon by David Barnett

Nineteenth century London is the center of a vast British Empire, a teeming metropolis where steam-power is king and airships ply the skies, and where Queen Victoria presides over three quarters of the known world—including the east coast of America, following the failed revolution of 1775.

Young Gideon Smith has seen things that no green lad of Her Majesty’s dominion should ever experience. Through a series of incredible events Gideon has become the newest Hero of  the Empire.  But Gideon is a man with a mission, for the dreaded Texas pirate Louis Cockayne has stolen the mechanical clockwork girl Maria, along with a most fantastical weapon—a great brass dragon that was unearthed beneath ancient Egyptian soil. Maria is the only one who can pilot the beast, so Cockayne has taken girl and dragon off to points east.

Gideon and  his intrepid band take to the skies and travel to the American colonies hot on Cockayne’s trail. Not only does Gideon want the machine back, he has fallen in love with Maria. Their journey will take them to the wilds of the lawless lands south of the American colonies – to free Texas, where the mad King of Steamtown rules with an iron fist (literally), where life is cheap and honor even cheaper.

Does Gideon have what it takes to not only save the day but win the girl?

David Barnett's Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon is a fantastical steampunk fable set against an alternate historical backdrop: the ultimate Victoriana/steampunk mash-up!

Editor's Note: Check out my review of Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl on Amazing Stories.

E-books

Plexis Boxed Set (Armageddon Arising, Engines of Empire, Edge of Evil) by Ivan Kramer

THIEVES vs. ASSASSINS
LOCKPICKS vs. KNIVES
WITS vs. HANDGUNS

When Alec's parents - professional international burglars - decide to penetrate the Russian Royal train to steal some classified paperwork for their mysterious client, he decides to help them. But what seems to be an easy break-in becomes the first knot in the net of intrigues that have entangled the globe. Now Alec must prevent a major catastrophe and track down those who control the plot's gears steering the events toward an unpredictable finale.

A chain of murders and explosions, mysterious clues and ominous evidence takes young Alec McGuinn to Paris, London and the Balkans, finally leading him to America. But how can one fight the secret terrorist masters of this world if they would stop at nothing to silence a humble technical student?

A humble student? Are you sure? Raised by his internationally sought parents who now hide from the European police in the vastness of the Russian Empire, he's no novice to the world of crime.

The century of steam and diesel, of zeppelins and locomotives. The era of great heroes and dastardly villains. The weapons of the past against the breakthrough technologies of the future!

More Plexis books are coming shortly!

To fans, 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 and a blogger on Amazing Stories. Check out his short fiction. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Map Monday: Maps of the Change

With the recent release of The Golden Princess by SM Stirling (check out my review on Amazing Stories) I decided to showcase two maps I found last week that were inspired by the Emberverse series. The first is a world map of the Changeverse from 2020 AD by Zoidberg12:
The big issue I have with this map is that it doesn't take into account the information from the new book, but otherwise an excellent work of fan cartography. Next up we have a map from Ephraim Ben Raphael showcasing the United States of America (Guam):
Click on the link for more details on how this imagined survivor state (this is certainly not canon) came to exist. Really nice looking map in my opinion, but I expect as much from Ephraim (whose work has appeared numerous times on The Update).

Honorable mention this week goes to The Germanator and his two maps of Swedish America (1699 and 1730). 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 and a blogger on Amazing Stories. Check out his short fiction. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

Weekly Update #160

Editor's Note

Excuse me while I get through some shameless self-promotion. Alternate History Weekly Update has once again been entered in the Underground Book Reviews' Independent Literary Industry Awards Contest. You can click the link to see the rules, but to vote for us you need to like us on UBR's Facebook page when our post appears.

As you know The Update has always tried hard to provide content from indie authors and we are proud to be recognized for this effort. I will keep you guys posted on when voting will begin.

And now the news...

Will an Independent Scotland Balkanize Europe?

I have covered US state secession proposals before, but this is the first time I have covered a European nation potentially losing some of its territory by secession. I am talking about Scotland, whose citizens will be going to the polls this week to decide whether or not they will remain a part of the United Kingdom. Polls currently give "No" a slight lead, but the number of undecided voters mean this vote is too close to call.

But what does an independent Scotland mean for the rest of Europe? Robert Kuttner wrote an interesting article for the Huffington Post suggesting that part of the blame for the situation rest with the European Union because it made it economically feasible to split up minority regions from larger nation-states as independent countries. The European Union has stated Scotland would no longer be a part of the EU if they secede, a stance no doubt meant to appease larger members who have active secessionist movements (see the map to your right).

I don't think the European Union, however, is thinking in the long-term. The EU risks looking like Swiss cheese if Scotland declares independence and more minority regions follow (Spain has several of them). On the other hand, supporters of a more federated Europe should probably encourage smaller states since they will be more likely to delegate more authority to the central government. Perhaps there is more at stake than we realize and with Russia stretching its muscles, Europe should be doing everything to stick together as a whole and stop worrying about its separate parts.

And what about the rest of the world? Are other regions around the globe, like Texas, more likely to secede if Scotland votes for independence? Should we be concerned that North Korea backs an independent Scotland? Let us hear your opinions in the comments.

What are people saying about Outlander Episodes 5 and 6?

Speaking of Scotland, lets talk about the last two Outlander episodes. For episode 5, Sharlene Mousfar of Geek Syndicate gave the episode a 4 out of 5 and said the "chemistry between Jamie and Claire has kicked up a notch as have the stakes." Katharine Trendacosta of io9 commented on how Claire's future knowledge is beginning to be a problem, especially when she tries to change history. For those who haven't read the books, and from what I heard the show follows them pretty closely, I just wanted to let you know Uchronia does not list them as alternate history. Shame really.

Now on to episode 6 (see a quick preview here). Once again Sharlene Mousfar of Geek Syndicate continues to rate the show highly, giving it a 5 out of 5. She commented on the graphic violence of this episode, but generally thought it was a good episode. Author Paul Levinson titled his review "Outstanding", which some up his review quite nicely.

Seriously I need to watch this show!

Videos for Alternate Historians

We begin this segment by asking: did you attend the 2014 Historical Novel Society Conference in London this year? Well in case you didn't you can check out highlights from the conference below:
Friend of The Update Alison Morton, author of Successio, has also written about her experiences at the convention (part 1, part 2 and photos). Now we end this segment with a look at Cody Franklin's new video, what if 9/11 never happened?
Don't forget to share your video recommendations with us at ahwupdate at gmail dot com.

Links to the Multiverse

Books

Alan Moore Completes 1 Million+ Word Historical Fantasy Novel, Jerusalem by John ONeill at Black Gate.
Author FAQ: On writing and on getting an agent by Michael J. Martinez.
Creative Alchemy Author Offers Free Fantasy Novel Inspired by Real WWII Heroines at PR.com
Designing the Dress for Of Noble Family’s Cover Image by Mary Robinette Kowal at Tor.
A different, dangerous land: Three alternate depictions of Britain by Vikas Datta at Economic Times.
Dragon Con 2014: Harry Turtledove Q and A, and The Big Things Panel by Doug Dandridge at Imagination Unlimited.
Steam Era Transportation – Railways in Stories by Ray Dean at Steamed!
The Steampunkery of H.G. Wells by R. Graeme Cameron at Amazing Stories.
What If Anne Boleyn Had a Son? by AlexandriaIngham at Wizzley.

Comics

A beginner's guide to DC Comics's multiverse by Alex Abad-Santos at Vox.
Cool Stuff: The Star Wars Deluxe Edition Hardcover Collection by Peter Sciretta at Slash Film.
Latest L. Neil Smith Report by Baloo at Ex-Army.

Counterfactuals, History and News

Alternative History - NATO Never Expands at Nuclear Diner.
​For Centuries, This Mystical Jewish Sect Lived Hidden In Plain Sight by Mark Strauss at io9.
The Islamic Roots Of Science Fiction by Charlie Jane Anders at io9.
Japan: Hirohito warned attack on Pearl Harbor would be 'self-destructive' by Justin McCurry at The Guardian.
This Is What Would Happen If The Yellowstone Supervolcano Erupted by Ajai Raj at Yahoo.
Three Things To Keep In Mind About The Big Jack The Ripper 'Reveal' by Robbie Gonzalez at io9.
Why Estonia Might Be Next on Putin’s “Wanted” List by Rob Garver at Yahoo.

Film and Television

See Footage From Unmade ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ Movie Starring Paul Reubens by Peter Sciretta at Slash Film.
Short Film: Interview With a Time Traveler at SF Signal.
TV REVIEW: Doctor Who, S8, E3: Robot of Sherwood at Geek Syndicate.

Interviews

David Barnett at My Bookish Ways.
Paul di Filippo at Amazing Stories.

Podcasts

Episode 27 - Alternate Histories at Try It, You'll Like It.
Reductio Ad Hitlerum by Mike Pesca at Slate.
S&L Podcast - #188 - It's a Dragon Con Plex with Naomi Novik.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a blogger on Amazing Stories. Check out his short fiction. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Rupert Evans Cast as Frank Frink in Amazon TV's The Man in the High Castle

Hot off the announcement about the casting of Alexa Davalos, Deadline is reporting that Rupert Evans (Hellboy) has been cast as Frank Frink in Amazon TV's adaptation of Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle. The press release describes the character as a "an artist and an intellectual with a secret", which is probably the fact that he is Jewish and trying to hide from the Nazis if they follow the novel. The character is one of the point of view characters and probably should have been the male lead, but apparently someone else got that role.

What do you think of the casting news so far? Let us know in the comments.

The Turn of a Blade: Alternate Medieval Histories

Guest post by Andrew Knighton.

The Middle Ages are relatively poorly served by alternate history. The recent past is so prominent in our minds, its impact so clear, that it is the natural jumping off point for speculation. It can also be easier to imagine a past only recently changed - the consequences have had less time to ripple out, and so similarities are more justified.

But this makes speculation about medieval tipping points all the more fascinating. How different might our world be if it had been changed not decades but centuries ago?

The Empire of the World: Islam pushes past Poitiers

The Battle of Poitiers (732) saw the furthest advance of the forces of Islam into Western Europe. A Muslim army under the incredibly capable Abd Al-Rahman faced a Frankish force under the equally formidable Charles Martel. Evenly matched in both numbers and leadership, the two forces fought on and off for seven days before Abd Al-Rahman’s death led the Islamic forces to retreat.

Poitiers set the limits on Muslim expansion in Europe, and led to the rise of a great Frankish empire under Charles Martel’s grandson, known to history as Charlemagne. But what if Charles rather than Al-Rahman had died at Poitiers, the Frankish troops becoming the ones to retreat?

As Barry S Strauss explored in a chapter of Robert Cowley’s What If?, this could have led to a very different Europe. The Caliphate established in Spain, emboldened by this success, could have expanded through France and across Western Europe, unhindered by the divided native princes. Given the success of Muslim civilisation in Spain, the Europe that followed would have been a far more pleasant place - its architecture more open, its farms more productive, its scholars rediscovering Greek classics two centuries earlier.

An Islamic Europe could also have meant an Islamic America, as Europeans took their religion across the Atlantic. Christianity would have continued, like Judaism, as a minority choice within a culture tolerant of the other Abrahamic faiths.

Strauss ends by saying that this Islamic Europe might not have developed the democratic and mercantile ideas that led to the Renaissance and Enlightenment, with all the discoveries they brought. But equally, given the deeply undemocratic nature of medieval European states, it could be argued that these developments would have come sooner under Islam.

Either way, we see a very different Europe.

A North Sea empire: Cnut’s inheritance remains united

Cnut the Great of Denmark, often referred to in English as Canute, was one of the great successes of the 11th century. King of Denmark and England, he briefly controlled Norway and dominated other kings throughout Scandinavia and the British Isles.

On Cnut’s death in 1035 his son Harthacnut inherited Denmark. But Harthacnut, unlike Cnut, had spent most of the preceding years in Denmark, and the English did not accept his rule. Instead another son, Harold Harefoot, took control of England.

Though reunited for a while by Harthacnut, Cnut’s empire of the North Sea was never able to stabilise, and it soon collapsed. But what if it had remained together from the start? What if a single son had inherited both England and Denmark, leaving him with the resources to turn once more to the task of conquering Norway?

It’s possible to imagine all sorts of differences and similarities between the ensuing North Sea Empire and the kingdoms that instead took its place. Built around the sea lanes, it could have become a great naval and trading power. Dominated by the Vikings, England would never have developed the close ties with France that followed the Norman Conquest, and Scandinavia would have played a far larger part in shaping Europe’s culture and politics.

Two wars transformed: the Black Prince lives

Edward of Woodstock, later labelled the Black Prince, was the eldest son and heir of Edward III. A charismatic and successful military leader, the prince played a major role in the Hundred Years War between England and France, governing the English-held region of Aquitaine and leading the English to victory at another Battle of Poitiers (1356). His potential to be a great king was cut short when he died of dysentery in June 1376, a year before his father. The Black Prince’s ten-year-old son instead inherited the throne as Richard II.

It is easy to romanticise the Black Prince, given that he never became king and so did not mar his chivalric image with real political failures. But if we allow ourselves to go with the romanticised image, to imagine the success he could have been, then we see a very different fate for England and France. With Edward’s strong leadership and base in France he could have led the English to further success in the Hundred Years War, consolidating a cross-Channel  kingdom rather than letting the French territories slip through his fingers. And without Richard II’s overthrow in 1399, the seeds would not be sewn for the Wars of the Roses that tore England apart in the later 15th century. The result could have been a stable and united Kingdom of England and France, dominating Europe and transforming its politics.

The potential of a dark age

It’s easy to forget the Middle Ages when inventing alternate histories. But as these three examples show, the period is full of fascinating potential.

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Andrew is a freelance writer based in Stockport, England, where the grey skies provide a good motive to stay inside at the word processor. His collection of history and alternate history stories, From a Foreign Shore, is available through Amazon and Smashwords. He blogs about books, film, TV and writing at andrewknighton.com and can be found on Twitter as @gibbondemon.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Comic Review: Pariah, Missouri #1 by Andres Salazar

It is quite serendipitous that I decided to read and review Pariah, Missouri by Andres Salazar when I did. I just started reading Truman by David McCullough and his family settled in the part of Missouri that Pariah is set and the first chapter talks about the trials and tribulations of living in wild Missouri. The author actually did a good job capturing frontier Missouri life, although Salazar did over-exaggerate certain parts for the sake of the story. That can be forgiven, however, considering the story he was trying to tell.

Pariah is historical fantasy comic with a good heaping of weird fiction. Its the year 1857 in the boom town of Pariah, Missouri. Several people, including the Marshall and many children, have disappeared and a recently arrived puppet show is suspected. A card shark with a secret identity, a prostitute trying to help her family, a voodoo practitioner on the run from the law and a backwoods bounty hunter have to team up to save the down from the supernatural forces that inflict it.

I enjoyed reading Pariah. It was a quick read (I finished it during my lunch break), but it kept me entertained with its wild west heroics. I have seen it described as "A-Team set in a supernatural western", although to be honest it put me in mind of Guardians of the Galaxy by the way the characters interacted with each other. Character development was a bit spotty. At one point a character uses a hitherto unmentioned supernatural ability to defeat the bad guys just when it was needed the most. Perhaps I missed the set up, but nevertheless it came as a big surprise.

The artwork was good, although as I have mentioned before I don't have an eye for such things. The use of watercolors was unique and worked for the story. This is only, however, book one. Salazar has set up the town of Pariah for more mischief, especially from another group who don't have the town's best interest at heart. No spoilers, but I can safely recommend this book for those tired of usual superhero affair and want to try a dark fantasy set in one of the rougher periods of American history.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a blogger on Amazing Stories. Check out his short fiction. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.