Friday, August 19, 2011

Review: The Other Teddy Roosevelts by Mike Resnick

Theodore Roosevelt was an amazing man.  He is noted for his exuberant personality, range of interests and achievements.  His resume reads: President of the United States, naturalist, explorer, cowboy, hunter, author, soldier, vampire hunter, detective and filibuster.  OK, maybe I made those last three careers up.  To find those Roosevelts you need to read The Other Teddy Roosevelts by Mike Resnick.

The Other Teddy Roosevelts  is a collection of short stories Resnick wrote over his career, each starring the former American president.  You can tell that Resnick is enamored by Roosevelt.  The beginning and end of the anthology is given to OTL information about Roosevelt, including many quotes and factoids about this larger than life American politician.  Nevertheless, Resnick makes a relevant point about Roosevelt: he may be a real person, but his life reads like an old sci-fi pulp action hero.

All of the stories are arranged chronologically and one can almost believe that they are all set in the same alternate universe, until they read some of the stories set near the end of Roosevelt's life.  While all of the stories are alternate history, many are borderline and others fail to give the reader a complete picture of the alternate universe.  Probably the best example of alternate history in the anthology is "Bully!", where the point of divergence happens when Roosevelt takes up the OTL offer to seize the Congo from the Belgians with only 50 men to back him up.  Although successful at first, Roosevelt soon runs into the problem of convincing the natives that American democracy is more preferable than their traditional tribal ways.

Other tales include "The Bull Moose at Bay" (Roosevelt won the 1912 election), "The Light That Blinds, the Claws That Catch" (Roosevelt's first wife Alice does not die in 1884) and "Over There" (Roosevelt reforms the Rough Riders to fight in World War I).  While all alternate histories, the stories do not expand past the point of divergence and tease you about how the world is different.  For example in "The Bull Moose at Bay" we are told that Roosevelt managed to prevent what would have been World War I from lasting longer than a year.  How exactly did he manage that accomplishment without the help of a combat-ready squadron of alien space bats at his command?

Nevertheless, that does not ruin the stories or take away from the fact that Theodore Roosevelt was truly a remarkable man.  It is a shame that American history classes pass over his accomplishments, usually only focusing on his charge up San Juan Hill, the Great White Fleet, the Panama Canal and his famous slogan "speak softly and carry a big stick".  I personally had to do my own research to truly appreciate his accomplishment.  I recommend Edmund Morris' The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt for anyone who wants to start learning more about one of the greatest American presidents the United States ever had.

In conclusion, though light on actual alternate history, this anthology of short stories on Theodore Roosevelt was an excellent read for those knowledgeable or ignorant of Theodore Roosevelt's life.  He truly was a real-life action hero and Resnick's stories manage to capture that perfectly.

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Matt Mitrovich is a long-time fan of alternate history, founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a volunteer editor for Alt Hist magazine. His fiction can be found at Echelon PressJake's Monthly and The Masquerade Crew. 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.

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