Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Releases 1/27/15

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Hardcovers

Pacific Fire by Greg van Eekhout

I’m Sam. I’m just this guy.

Okay, yeah, I’m a golem created from the substance of his own magic by the late Hierarch of Southern California. With a lot of work, I might be able to wield magic myself. I kind of doubt it, though. Not like Daniel Blackland can.

Daniel’s the reason the Hierarch’s gone and I’m still alive. He’s also the reason I’ve lived my entire life on the run. Ten years of never, ever going back to Los Angeles. Daniel’s determined to protect me. To teach me.

But it gets old. I’ve got nobody but Daniel. I’ll never do anything normal. Like attend school. Or date a girl.

Now it’s worse. Because things are happening back in LA. Very bad people are building a Pacific firedrake, a kind of ultimate weapon of mass magical destruction.  Daniel seemed to think only he could stop them. Now Daniel’s been hurt. I managed to get us to the place run by the Emmas. (Many of them. All named Emma. It’s a long story.) They seem to be healing him, but he isn’t going anyplace soon.

Do I even have a reason for existing, if it isn’t to prevent this firedrake from happening? I’m good at escaping from things. Now I’ve escaped from Daniel and the Emmas, and I’m on my way to LA.

This may be the worst idea I ever had.

Paperback

King of the Cracksmen: A Steampunk Entertainment by Dennis O'Flaherty

How far will the luck of the Irish stretch?

The year is 1877. Automatons and steam-powered dirigible gunships have transformed the United States in the aftermath of the Civil War. All of the country’s land west of the Mississippi was sold to Russia nearly fifty years earlier, and “Little Russia,” as it’s now called, is ruled by the son of Tsar Alexander II. Lincoln is still president, having never been assassinated, but he’s not been seen for six months, and rumors are flying about his disappearance. The country is being run as a police state by his former secretary of war Edwin Stanton, a power-hungry criminal who rules with an iron fist.

Liam McCool is an outlaw, known among other crooks as “King of the Cracksmen.” But his glory days as a safecracker and the head of a powerful New York gang end when he’s caught red-handed. Threatened with prison unless he informs on his own brethren fighting a guerilla war against Stanton’s tyranny, McCool’s been biding his time, trying to keeping the heat off him long enough to escape to San Francisco with his sweetheart Maggie. But when she turns up murdered, McCool discovers a trail of breadcrumbs that look to lead all the way up to the top of Stanton’s criminal organization. Joining forces with world-famed lady reporter Becky Fox, he plunges deep into the underground war, racing to find Maggie’s killer and stop Stanton once and for all.

King of the Cracksmen is an explosive, action-packed look at a Victorian empire that never was, part To Catch a Thief, part Little Big Man, steampunk as you’ve never seen it before.

The Revolution Trade: A Merchant Princes Omnibus by Charles Stross

The Revolution Trade: an omnibus edition of the fifth and sixth novels--The Revolution Business and Trade of Queens--in Charles Stross's Merchant Princes series.

Miriam Beckstein has said good-bye to her comfort zone. The transition from journalist to captive in an alternative timeline was challenging to say the least, she discovered that her long-lost family, the Clan, were world-skipping assassins. Now, while civil war rages in her adopted home, she's pregnant with the heir to their throne and a splinter group want her on their side of a desperate power struggle. But as a leader or figurehead?

Meanwhile, unknown to the Clan, the US government is on to them and preparing to exploit this knowledge. But it hadn't foreseen a dissident Clan faction carrying nuclear devices between worlds—with the US president in their sights. The War on Terror is about to go transdimensional. But Mike Fleming, CIA agent, knows the most terrifying secret of all: His government's true intentions.

The Strange Journeys of Colonel Polders: A Novel by Lord Dunsany

An inspiration to many for his style and prose, Lord Dunsany was a pioneer for fantasy fiction, inspiring such famous writers as H. P. Lovecraft, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Neil Gaiman, to name a few. More than sixty years since its first publication, The Strange Journeys of Colonel Polders is now once again available to readers.

In this classic fantasy story, a no-nonsense British officer, having offended an Indian swami in his club, finds his spirit lodged into a succession of animal bodies. Some of the animals the officer’s spirit enters are a cat, a goat, an eel, a fox, and many others. In his fantastic style, Dunsany captures the exact sentiments of each animal, making it believable that the office has, in fact, taken them as his own.

Out of print for more than sixty years, The Strange Journeys of Colonel Polders is a fantastic tale that takes you to the core of fantasy writing and shows the skill of Lord Dunsany, which many writers hold in the absolute highest regard. A lost classic, The Strange Journeys of Colonel Polders is finally available for readers of the beloved fantasy genre.

E-books

Resistance: A Novel by Owen Sheers

Resistance is a beautifully written and powerful story set during an imagined occupation of Britain by Nazi Germany in World War II.

In a remote and rugged Welsh valley in 1944, in the wake of a German invasion, all the men have disappeared overnight, apparently to join the underground resistance. Their abandoned wives, a tiny group of farm women, are soon trapped in the valley by an unusually harsh winter—along with a handful of war-weary German soldiers on a secret mission. The need to survive drives the soldiers and the women into uneasy relationships that test both their personal and national loyalties. But when the snow finally melts, bringing them back into contact with the war that has been raging beyond their mountains, they must face the dramatic consequences of their choices.

Audio

Stars & Stripes Forever: A Novel of Alternate History by Harry Harrison

In a war room in Washington, William Tecumseh Sherman and General Robert E. Lee huddle together and plan their next, joint military operation. In the jungles of Mexico, Ulysses S. Grant is locked in brutal combat with the best of the British Army. And in the heart of the new American South a fragile peace is threatened...

In the dazzling alternate history of Harry Harrison, this is the world as it stands in 1863. Just three years before, a titanic Civil War loomed in America. But an incident involving a British ship and two Confederate spies changed everything. As Abraham Lincoln defied Britain's Lord Palmerston, tensions between the two nations boiled over and Her Majesty's Navy unleashed an attack on American soil aimed at bolstering the Confederate cause. The results were catastrophic.

A stunned North and South put aside their differences and a new kind of war erupted, with Americans fighting side by side against the British on two fronts: in the South and on the Canadian border. Now, Britain has been defeated and America is struggling to keep its union together until another blow is struck. It comes from Mexico, where elite units of Her Majesty's Army including the famed Gurkha fighters are massing for a possible attack through Texas.

Into the gauntlet, Lincoln sends his chosen angel of death, General Grant. But the weary president knows that two centuries of British power will not be ended with a single battle. So his top soldiers, including Lee and Sherman, plan the most daring naval invasion ever launched: an assault on British soil itself. And in a secret that must be protected by an underground army of spies and secret agents, the U.S. will invade the Emerald Isle to set the Irish free at last. Filled with real characters on both sides of the conflict, Stars and Stripes in Peril is the new masterwork from one of our most provocative authors.

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, January 26, 2015

Map Monday: Union of American Federal Republics by Rvbomally

I love a good dystopia and Rvbomally writes and draws some of the best dystopias. Check out his "Union of American Federal Republics" if you do not believe me:
In this world the federalism of the Constitution is replaced by a Soviet-esque federation complete with autonomous ethnic and religious republics. This came about after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson and William H. Seward, which led to not only the aforementioned new divisions, but also a one party state that is only nominally a democracy where minorities are trapped in impoverished autonomous republics unable to escape. Rvbomally only gave a brief description of this timeline, but it still sounds rather grim. The map itself is simple, yet effectively portrays the dark road its author has taken America down. Take some time to really look at the map and you will see a lot of tiny changes that speak volumes.

Honorable mentions this week go out to "TL-191 Undone" by Marshal Braginsky on Counter-Factual.net and the "United American Commonwealth" by Frezeit on AlternateHistory.com. You should also check out [t]he map of the continental United States that contains an elf making chicken by Mark Frauenfelder at BoingBoing and 10 Rules For Making Better Fantasy Maps by Lauren Davis on io9. 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 #177

Editor's Note

I was so happy to get one of my two big announcements out of the when I revealed my Capricon 35 schedule. I plan to make the second this week, so stay tuned for some more big news.

Not sure if I talked about this yet, but I am going to be doing something different for the rest of the year. Occasionally I have experimented with "theme" months, but this year I am going to put a little more effort into it. You will learn more about what I am planning later either at the end of the week or next Monday.

And now the news...

What do the critics think of Agent Carter?

I know The Man in the High Castle is still on all of your minds and trust me I didn't forget about it. In fact I made another special link dump for it below under the Links to the Multiverse section. We still don't know when we are going to get a new episode, so if you need your alternate history television fix, why don't you check out Agent Carter?

According to WikipediaIn 1946, Peggy Carter must balance the routine office work she does for the Strategic Scientific Reserve (S.S.R) while secretly assisting Howard Stark, who finds himself framed for supplying deadly weapons to the top bidder. Carter is assisted by Stark's butler, Edwin Jarvis, to find those responsible and dispose of the weapons.

Now I have always held that the Captain America films and their spin-offs, like Agent Carter, blur the lines of comic book universe and alternate history. Even if it is not a true alternate history, there is no denying it has a dieselpunk aesthetic to it (and if you want some unexpected dieselpunk, go watch The Grand Budapest Hotel). But is it any good?

Well so far the reviews I have seen have been positive. Liz Bourke of Tor said she is in love with the show, but she may be predisposed to liking to show because of her "pro-ladies-hitting-people-with-snappy-dialogue" personality. Meanwhile Vix from Geek Syndicate gave episode three a 4 out of 5 star review and praised the show for being a trailblazer in bringing more female leads to the Marvel universe.

Have you watched Agent Carter yet? Tell us what you think in the comments.

“El Dorado” Expansion for Europa Universalis IV Lets You Go For Gold

Yeah I didn't come up with that title, but I thought it was amusing. Anywho, Paradox Development is bringing the genocide adventure and politics of the Spanish conquest to life with the "El Dorado" expansion for Europa Universalis IV.

This expansion’s historical focus will be on the Central American and South American theaters. According to the press release, you can play "[a]s the Aztecs, [and[ subject the Mexican plain to your rule but make sure you have enough vassal kings to sacrifice to your angry gods. As the Europeans, push deeper into the jungles of the Amazon, following rumors of lost cities and magical fountains. Defer to the Pope as he intervenes to divide the New World among squabbling empires."

The centerpiece mechanic of "El Dorado" is the Nation Designer, a tool that let’s you customize your starting nation in a campaign. You choose your starting capital and neighboring provinces, modify your starting culture and leader and then play as this nation in the game. Sounds like a useful tool when crafting an alternate history scenario.

Learn more by watching the trailer:

Europa Universalis IV: El Dorado will be available on major digital delivery platforms for Windows, Mac and Linux next month.

Videos for Alternate Historians

Its time for some more YouTube videos that bend the borders of reality. We begin with Game Theory's look at the Pokemon multiverse:
Next up, author Gareth L. Powell is interviewed on the Abaddon Solaris channel and man are those some amazing British accents:
By the way, you can also read this text interview with Gareth on Rising Shadow. Speaking of sweet British accents, here is the new trailer for PlayStation's The Order: 1886:
Learn more about the game's plot here and see how violent the game is here. And finally, we end by asking is time travel possible with some of the most seductive British accents Doctor Who can provide:

Links to the Multiverse

Amazon's The Man in the High Castle

Amazon 2015 Pilot Season: THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE Stands Out at TwitchFilm.
Amazon Launches New Pilots at Blastr Magazine.
Amazon's New TV Pilots: 7 Reviews, From Sci-Fi to the Civil War at Yahoo!
Bingeworthy: Amazon Prime wants you to find the next 'Transparent' at The Cap Times.
First Impressions: The Man in the High Castle at Ramblings of the Easily Distracted.
The future of television is here and now at Stuff.co.nz.
The Man in the High Castle: The Amazon pilot all sci-fi fans should watch at The Independent.
‘The Man in the High Castle’ Depicts America Under the Nazis at Medium.
The Man in the High Castle never lets us believe its alternate-history nightmare at The Verge.
The Man in the High Castle on Amazon: Outstanding at Paul Levinson's Infinite Regress.
The Man in the High Castle Recap: Pilot at Movie News Guide.
The Man in the High Castle S1.01 - Pilot Review at GamesRadar.
The Man in the High Castle Shines in Amazon’s Pilot Season at Geek Dad.
The Man in the High Castle: When a Nazi-Run World Isn't So Dystopian at The Atlantic.
Review: Amazon’s new pilot season offers the good, the bad, and one train wreck at GeekWire.
'Salem Rogers,' 'The Man in the High Castle' are the best of Amazon's 2015 pilot season at zap2it.
Two dystopian TV shows to die for at Your Tech Weblog.
Why The Man in the High Castle Is Essential Science Fiction at Den of Geek.

Books and Short Fiction

8 Books From the Last Decade that Made Me Excited About SF  and Fantasy by Jo Walton at Tor.
The 100 best novels: No 70 – Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949) at The Guardian.
100 Science Fiction and Fantasy and Horror Books to Look Forward to in 2015 (Part 2) at Kirkus.
Adam Rowe on The Most Ridiculous Moon Landings in Science Fiction History at SF Signal.
Book Trailer: The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber at Tor/Forge Blog.
Brian Staveley, Author of Providence of Fire, on Fictional History and True Stories at SF Signal.
A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab (Excerpt) at Tor.
Eight steps to building a fictional world that works by Alison Morton at Writers' Village.
Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire Is Now On Kindle Unlimited at The World According to Quinn.
Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King at The County Line.
Review: The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter by Rod Duncan at My Bookish Ways.
Review: The Just City by Jo Walton at SF Signal.
Review: Pacific Fire by Greg van Eekhout at Tor.
Review: A Thousand Perfect Things by Kay Kenyon at SF Signal.

Counterfactuals, History and News

Creating a Jewish State in the United States instead of Israel at The Counterfactual History Review.
If It Happened There: The State of the Union by Joshua Keating at Slate.
Oregon Was Founded As a Racist Utopia by Matt Novak at Gizmodo.
Two Years After Apocalyptic Predictions Related To An Obama Presidency, Life Goes On at SPLC.
Why Are the Middle Ages Often Characterized as Dark or Less Civilized? at Slate.
The Winds of Change (Predictions for the 1960s) at Galactic Journey.

Film and Television

9 Reasons you should watch Marco Polo at Hodderscape.
Ascension and alternative histories of the future at Future Fictions.
Discover the Truth Behind Sons of Liberty Series at Journal of the American Revolution.
George Lucas On ‘Star Wars': Disney Didn’t Use My Ideas For New Movies at Deadline.
A History of … The Mummy at Geek Syndicate.
Japan’s Atomic Bomb at Far Future Horizons.
Marco Polo: Netflix's Critical Flop That Dared to Be Diverse by Lenika Cruz at The Atlantic.
Oakwell Hall to appear in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell at The Huddersfield Daily Examiner.
Review: 12 Monkeys at Amazing Stories.
Review: 12 Monkeys 1.2 and 1.3 at Paul Levinson's Infinite Regress.
Review: Elementary 3.11 at Sherlock Peoria.
Review: Space 1999 at The Little Red Reviewer.
Tulsa History Buffs Not Required For 'Drunk History' Casting Call at NewsOn6.com.

Games

Crossing the Streams: Batman and Tarzan at Panels.

Graphic Novels and Comics

Original ‘hit list’ reveals a very different ‘Infinite Crisis’ at Comic Book Resources.

Interviews

Elizabeth Bear at SF Signal.
Cherie Priest at Reddit.
Adam Roberts at Tor.
Thom Trulove at Buzzy Mag.

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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, January 23, 2015

The Audio File: Escape Pod

Guest post by Sam McDonald.

In recent years the number of short story magazine podcasts has seen a significant increase. Consequently this means that there are quite a few alternate history short stories available for free, but don't be shy about dropping a donation or starting a subscription if you like what you find.  Many of these magazines rely on their readers to pay their authors. So, being something of an expert on podcast magazines, I decided to take it upon myself to act as your guide in the first of what I hope to be many great articles about the wonders of audio magazines.

In this installment we'll be tackling Escape Pod, and before we head into the stories we'll need to cover a bit of background. Back in 2005, Escape Pod founder Steve Eley created the podcast as a way of showcasing some of the best talent in the field of science fiction.  At the time Eley wasn't sure just how long the podcast was going to last, but ten years and over 400 episodes later it's safe to say the podcast has proved to be more successful than Steve could possibly have imagined. Escape Pod's success helped prove the viability of online short story podcast magazines and led to the creation of two other Escape Artists podcasts: Pseudopod for horror and PodCastle for fantasy (more on them in later posts).

Over the years Escape Pod has featured numerous host including Mur Lafferty, Norm Sherman, Alasdair Stuart and episode feedback by Nathaniel Lee. It's the little commentary the host gives before and after an episode that in my opinion, gives Escape Pod (and all Escape Artists productions) a very person touch.  They've  featured narrators from all walks of life, both professional and amateur. The intro and outro music, provided by monster surf rock band Daikaiju, is another of those little personal touches I adore.

Originally, the text of the stories themselves wasn't included, but after a certain point that changed. As much of a fan as I am, even I can't tell you when exactly that was, but suffice it to say the more recent the story the more likely it is the text will be included on the website.  In any event, many Escape Pod stories were originally published elsewhere (though they have their fair share of originals as well).  If they don't have the text they will usually link to it.

Escape Pod has certainly left its mark on short story podcast magazines, but now that we've got the introductions out of the way, let's talk stories. Since this is an alternate history blog I've limited myself to alternate history related stories.  Believe me, if it was just stories in general we'd be here all day.  Remember, these stories are released on a Creative Commons, attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives license; feel free to share them all you like, just don't change or sell them.  Now, get ready, because it's story time...

"Joe Steele" by Harry Turtledove
Narrated by Steve Eley
Originally published in Stars: Original Stories Based on the Songs of Janis Ian

Those of you familiar with Harry Turtledove's work have probably heard of this one, but it's still worth going over.  The basic premise is the Joseph Stalin's parents immigrated to the United States during the 19th century, and Stalin grew up in Fresno, California.  Stalin eventually takes the more American name Joe Steele and is later elected president via some shady dealings.  This being Stalin, however, means that the next few decades aren't exactly sunshine and lollipops.

Now, the plausibility hounds in the audience are probably complaining that Stalin ought to have a different worldview if he was raised in America. To be sure that's probably true, but Steele still needed to act recognizably like Stalin or else we have no story. Stalin or not, the Depression was a rough time, and I can easily see the conditions giving rise to an extremist movement.  Especially if FDR were out of the picture, as he is in the short story.

As for the writing, it has a very 1940s newsreel quality to it, and Steve does a really good job of conveying that feeling. All in all this was a very fun story, and as a bonus you get to hear the song that inspired this story, "God & The FBI", in its entirety right after the episode.

"Good Hunting" by Ken Liu
Narrated by John Chu
Originally published in Strange Horizons

There are not nearly enough words to describe how much I love Ken Liu. Every story he makes is a masterfully crafted work of art.  He knows just how to tug on your heartstrings, make you connect with his characters, leave you wanting more and so many other things. Seriously, people are always talking about who's going to be the next big thing in speculative fiction; well behold the next big thing people.  Need proof?  This is a man who has won pretty much every major science fiction and fantasy award, and he's only been seriously writing since about 2009.

Okay, enough gushing, onto the story. "Good Hunting" takes place during and in the years following the Opium Wars, but a steampunk version of the war.  There's also magic in this alternate China featuring everything from hopping ghosts, spirits and huli jing (Chinese fox spirits that take the form of beautiful women).  Our story follows a young ghost hunter and a hulijing as they watch the world around them change with the coming of British colonization.  Besides the usual troubles that come with colonization there's an added issue; the British have built a railway right on top of a qi vein, and this is having extremely negative consequences on the supernatural world.

One of the things I love about Ken's work is that no matter what story he writes I always learn something new. In this case I got to learn what huli jing are, and as a lover of mythology and folklore that was a big plus. I also appreciated how Ken didn't pull any punches with his depiction of colonialism and the darker side of steampunk. You could easily see the blocked qi vein, and the impact it has on the supernatural community, as a metaphor for the impact that colonizers often have on native cultures. Throughout the story there's a feeling of sadness for the passing of old traditions as new ways are forced upon China.

However, the story ultimately ends on an optimistic note. Without giving too much away I can best summarize the ending like this: sometimes forces beyond our control change our lives in major ways, and that means old traditions will die, but we can adapt and keep those old ways alive in a new form. A bit of advice about the narration; John Chu can seem a little...off, when you first hear his voice. Give your ears a minute or so to get use to his narration voice and you'll find he's the perfect man to convey Ken's story.

It starts as a whimsical Chinese fairy tale and ends as a gritty steampunk.  I couldn't recommend it more.

"Soft Currency" by Seth Gordon
Narrated by Melissa Bugaj
An Escape Pod Original 

This story takes place in an alternate 1970s America in which men and women use separate money. Men use dollars and coins while women use coupons and stamps (they come in the same denominations as dollars and coins).  For the sake of time, the cliff notes version is that this was started after World War II to help returning GIs regain their old jobs; if you want the full history you'll have to listen to/read the short story.  Certain businesses only take dollars while other only take coupons; the system is partially justified by claiming that men and women buy different things. Unfortunately, the exchange rate is not 1:1 and often favors the dollar more than the coupon.  As such many illegal currency exchanges have popped up over the years. Our protagonist Cassie, a clerk at a coupon only grocery store, find herself drawn into such an operation.

First of all let me just say that Seth did and excellent job with the world-building. I really felt like the world was well explained, but that it also existed beyond the confines of the story. Also, hats off the Melissa for doing such a good job juggling the cast of characters. Having said that, and keeping in mind that I still think it's an excellent story, there were a few details that didn't quite add up.

For example, why the difference in value between the dollar and the coupon? Wouldn't it just be easier to keep things on a 1:1 ratio. Also, what's so bad about illegal currency exchanges? Surely the women running them must be losing money, and it's not like they're counterfeiting or anything like that. On the other hand, maybe the answers were closer than I initially realized.

It's repeatedly implied throughout the story that the systems true purpose is to reinforce traditional gender roles.  It's also mentioned that America is the only nation to use segregated money. The story also hints that people are beginning to to notice how the system makes no sense, and the Women's Liberation Movement appears to be purring right on schedule.  Come to think of it, the story could easily be interpreted as an allegory for the continued wage discrimination against women.

Maybe it was the author's intent to leave certain questions unanswered and the audience wanting more. All things considered still an excellent story and very much recommended.

"Southpaw" by Bruce McAllister
Narrated by Brian Liberman
Originally published in Asimov's Science Fiction 

The myth that Fidel Castro was given the chance to play baseball for the New York Giants has long been discredited. Suppose, however, that not only was he given the chance, but that he'd said yes. In this story that's exactly what happens. Castro plays for the New York Giants and has a wonderful girlfriend named Nancy. Life seems good, but Cuba is on his mind so much lately, especially once he begins having visions of a strange world where he, not Batista, is the leader of Cuba.

For those of you concerned about the plausibly of this story, the author himself admits that he's fully aware Castro never got a chance to play baseball for America. Nevertheless, he thought it would make an interesting story. Admittedly I'm not much of a sports person, but I feel like this story is written well enough to be enjoyed even if sports isn't your thing. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I thought the narrator did an excellent job. What can I say?  Escape Pod knows how to pick narrators.

Without giving away too much I can say that there was a bit of this story that reminded me of The Man in the High Castle and I enjoyed that. I also appreciated how Castro was depicted as a very human character.  He knows just how lucky he is to have risen through the ranks of society, and he's keenly aware of how much suffering his fellow Cuban are going through. At the same time, there's no clear answer for fixing this problem.

For a look at a different side of Fidel Castro I'd recommend giving this story a try.

"The Eckener Alternative" by James L. Cambias
Narrated by Mur Lafferty 
Originally published in All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories

This story's a little different than the ones we've talked about. It's not initially set in an alternate history, but follows someone's attempt to make one. Our protagonist, John Cavalli, is a student at a university for training time travelers. He's also a lover of airships and is determined to save them from dying out. After a few failed attempts to change history his path becomes clear. He's going to prevent World War II from ever happening, but is that really such a good idea?

Admittedly this story was more action than dialogue, but since it features a male protagonist I initially wasn't sure if Mur was going to be the right fit for this story. All things considered, I think Mur handled the narration of this story excellently. The story itself made some pretty good observations such as why airships, cool as they are, were ultimately replaced by airplanes.

There this scene in the cafeteria I found particularly amusing. The students are all talking about what they'd go back in time and change. You get the standard answer: stop Cortez, save Lincoln, but then there's the guy wanted to give machine guns to the Confederates. It appears Harry Turtledove will still be read even after we invent time travel.

This one was short, sweet and to the point. I recommend it.

"The '76 Goldwater Dime" by John Medaille 
Narrated by Norm Sherman 
Originally published in Residential Aliens

Okay, this one might not exactly be alternate history per say, but it's still pretty fun. Our protagonist is a numismatist trying to convince someone that he has come into possession of coins from alternate universes. Instead of the usual presidents, these coins depict figures such as Barry Goldwater, Benedict Arnold and Eugene V Debs.

Norm absolutely nailed it with his performance of the crazed coin collector; if you think this is good you should see him in his native habitat over at the Drabblecast.  I also like how the story is presented in the form of a conversion, but we never hear the other person, just the narrator's reactions and remarks. It was fun imagining the kinds of world's these coins might have come from.

All in all a very fun little story. Definitely worth checking out.

"Why I left Harry's All-Night Hamburgers" by Lawrence Watt-Evens
Narrated by Jonathon Hawkins
Winner of the Hugo Award for Best Short Story

This one is also debatable as to how much it counts, but it won the Hugo Award, so that's got to count for something. Our protagonist gets a job at a hamburger joint in West Virginia, but this isn't just any hamburger joint. Harry's All-Night Hamburgers serves as a hub for travelers from different alternate universes; it seems West Virginia is always out of the way and unassuming no matter what the universe. Our protagonist soon faces a choice; continue life as it is, or travel to new and exotic universes, but risk never seeing this one again.

You're probably expecting me to say I liked the narrator at this point. Well...you'd be absolute correct.  As for the story itself, I enjoyed getting to see glimpse of the different world's and letting my imagination fill in the blanks. I was mildly amused at how one of the character came from a world that sounded rather similar to the plot of Bioshock: Infinitebut keep in mind this story was written well before Bioshock: Infinite came out. I also enjoyed the advice the protagonist received on how to resolve his dilemma. I'm struggling to find the right words, but seriously this is an excellent story.

Defiantly earned its Hugo, and should probably earn your time as well.

"Homecoming at the Borderlands Cafe" by Carole McDonnell 
Narrated by Steve Eley
Originally published in Jigsaw Nation

Well, they can't all be winners. There had to be at least on rotten apple in this bushel. Hey, at least this proves I can actually not like something and have a negative opinion. First some background, Jigsaw Nation is a collection of short stories with the central premise that around 2004, Red and Blue States (or in some case, Red and Blue districts) became two separate nations.  All the stories have there own take on the how this happened and what the results were. Most of them are rather interesting and though provoking, but this one...I was seriously considering leaving it out all together.

Okay, I'll try my best to be as neutral possible. So the basic set up is that Red States are known as the Confederacy and Blue States are called Columbia.  I know what the author was trying to do here, but Columbia as a name has already been taken. Anyway, our protagonist is a Confederate cafe owner talking with some recent immigrants from Columbia. The couple is mixed race, but the Confederacy is a heavily segregated society, but the narrator assures us its all separate but equal. I really hope that was in character and not the author, herself a black woman, doing the talking.

So why would a mixed race couple knowingly move to such a racist society? You see, Columbia still allows Christianity, but has banned the Bible for being homophobic. The authorities were also going to take the couple's child away if they educated it with the Bible. No seriously, that's what the story says. Look, if the premise is that things split in 2004 you're not going to get anything like that without diving into strawman territory. It's a strait up example of the Golden Means Fallacy/Balance Fallacy. Atheists (and I say this as one myself) don't want to take away your Bibles, your kids or ban religion. What we want is to be treated equally and we want everyone else to be treated equally as well. We might not agree with what you say, but we'll fight to the death for your right to say it.

I don't know if I should consider Steve Eley commendable or insane for running this story. Either way, don't waste your time with this stinker. Pick one of the other stories I've featured.

Conclusion

I don't want to end on a sour note, so I'll take a moment to reflect on all the good stories we discussed.  From Harry Turtledove to Ken Liu, from Castro as a baseball player to coins from another world. I hope you enjoyed these sampling and give them a try. And hey, these as just the alternate history related stories, there's hundreds of other amazing stories just waiting to be listened to as well. Remember, if you like what you hear don't be shy about dropping a donation, Escape Pod is funded by its fans.  Hopefully, I can do this again some other time and talk about some other great short story podcast. If so, I will see you then.

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Sam McDonald is a college student from Shreveport, LA.  When not involved with his studies he can be found 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.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

My Capricon 35 Schedule

So I will be panelist again at this year's Capricon. It is being held on Feb 12-15 at the Westin Chicago North Shore in Wheeling, IL. If any of you guys are planning to attend please check out these panels I will be speaking at:

If I Rob a Bank Seven Years Ago Today, Can You Arrest Me Tomorrow?
Friday, 02-13-2015 - 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm - Birch B
It's a paradox! How will time travel effect law and the statutes of limitations? Can you be tried for a crime you committed seven years ago in your personal timeline, but tomorrow in standard time? What other laws will be impacted by timey-wimey things?
Other panelists: Elizabeth Huffman and Patricia Sayre McCoy (M).

World War I as a Theme in SF
Sunday, 02-15-2015 - 1:30 pm to 3:00 pm - Ravinia A
2014 was the 100 year anniversary of The Great War. It has been a theme in books and comics, and we still read stories written by authors who fought in the war. How has World War I influenced the SF/F genre?
Other panelists: James Bacon, Chad Burns and Eric Flint (M).

Hmm...Eric Flint. I am sure I heard that name somewhere before. O well, it will come back to me eventually. In the meantime, you can check out the full schedule here and if you need more convincing, you can read what I thought about last year's Capricon.

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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.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Videos for Alternate Historians #9

Haven't had a chance to watch Amazon's The Man in the High Castle yet? Well here is the opening title sequence to get you interested:
Next up, History Respawned returns with a look at (everything wrong with) Assassin's Creed Unity:
And we finish with a new episode of MegaCraft which looks at the "Airship Attack" map:
Know any good alternate history videos or channels on YouTube? Let us know at ahwupdate at gmail dot com.

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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.

Book Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

With BBC's upcoming adaptation of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, I decided to prepare for the mini-series by actually reading the book it was based on. Even without the adaptation, I probably still would have gotten around to Clarke's debut novel. It is a critically acclaimed work of historical fantasy that has delighted fans from almost every corner of speculative fiction and I can now count myself as one of the many who praise this book.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrrell tells the story of magic's return to England. In this world it is a accepted fact that magic is real, but people have been unable to practice it for centuries. That all changes when the reclusive gentleman, Mr Norrell, brings all the statues in the cathedral of York to life. After this feat of magic he travels to London to aide the government in their war against Napoleon and he gains the trust of the ministers when he brings one of their number's wife back from the dead. As interest in magic increases, a young gentleman named Jonathan Strange decides to pursue a career in magic and shows such a natural talent for it that even the friendless Mr Norrell agrees to take him on as a pupil. The two magicians, however, quarrel and Strange sets off on his own independent research into dangerous fields of magic that could bring about the doom of many.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was an intriguing fantasy story that also had a realistic portrayal of magic. The characters were complex and even the most wretched of them had certain aspects that you could admire. There are plenty of historical cameos that alternate historians can enjoy and reading about Strange's service in Wellington's army during the Peninsular War and at the Battle of Waterloo made me want to pick up some military fantasy to see how Clarke's depiction of war magic compares to more recent examples. The book has an old fashioned writing style, but fans of Dickens or Austen will appreciate Clarke's obvious interest in English literature.

The book, however, can be dull at times. The paperback copy I read clocked in at 1006 pages, which is an unusual length for a speculative fiction book. Much of the story actually focuses on the mundane aspects of early 19th century life, with plenty of criticism directed against the English class system. Casual readers who were looking for an action-packed fantasy epic are going to be severely disappointed. Even I thought the last third of the book could do with some culling, but that is really the only major issue I had with the book. The final conclusion was worth all the build up, even if in retrospect we could have done without some of it.

I am hesitant, however, to classify Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell as an alternate history. In spite of the existence of magic, history mostly parallels our timeline. The real difference to history is presented mostly through the footnotes of the book. During the Middle Ages a magician known as the "Raven King" conquered Northern England and ruled it for 300 years before disappearing. There is an amusing comment by one character who says many countries have myths about a king who will return, but England is the only country where it is part of the constitution (should the Raven King ever return Northern England will revert back to his control). Nevertheless, I can see why it is not listed in Uchronia and "historical fantasy" is probably a better label than alternate history.

Despite its length and lack of alternate history content, I can still recommend Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. It is an engaging story with surprising depth, just don't let its size scare you. It is certainly worth your time.

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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.