Friday, October 31, 2014

What Happens Next: Harry Harrison's The Hammer and The Cross Trilogy

The next installment of "What Happens Next" returns with a look at the late Harry Harrison's The Hammer and The Cross Trilogy. What happens when an English slave boy converts to an organized version of Norse paganism and bring religious tolerance and advance technology to Medieval Europe? Find out below. As always, this future is based off my own personal opinion on where I thought the author was going with his literary universe. I tried to stay as close to the author's vision and the rules established for his world. Watch out for spoilers.

The One King's reign may have been short, but its legacy has reverberated down the centuries. King Shef's rule touched off a renaissance that started in northern Europe and spread across the world. It was a renaissance not just of technology, but of ideas like toleration, liberty and freedom. Now as the year 2014 (much of the world still uses the Christian calendar) nears its end, scholars look back at how far the human race has come...and how far they still have to go.

The Empire of North, as expected, did not survive its King's mysterious disappearance after the Battle of Rome. Leaving no heirs and with the Viking kings refusing to recognize his pact with Alfred of the West Saxons, the different parts of the Empire went there separate, but peaceful, ways. Alfred became the lord of all of the British Isles while Guthmund of Sweden (sometimes called "the Greedy") eventually united all of Scandinavia under him and his heirs in a loose confederation. The former halves of the empire have remained close allies (even today) although there governments would change and sometimes whole regions would gain (and lose) independence. This cooperation was especially fruitful in the 900s with the discovery and colonization of the New World.

In contrast, Shef's rival Bruno, the short-lived Emperor of Rome, is a more controversial figure in history. Many deplore his religious zealotry and cruelty (even by 800s standards), while German nationalists credit him with creating the German state and Christians credit him with establishing the framework that eventually led to the unification of the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity (which is something the German nationalists don't brag about since their state church left the mainstream Christian church centuries ago).

Nevertheless, present day Europe still reflects the marks of both men. The British Isles are still united under the Republic of the Isles, the heirs of Alfred now living as private citizens. They are still allies with the Nordic Union, although relations remain cold with former members of the Union, Finland and Novgorod Republic. Other close allies include Normandy and the Jewish-majority state of Septimania (which doesn't always get along with the other Jewish states like the Kingdom of Khazaria or the city-state of New Zion).

While the Holy Roman Empire collapsed shortly after Bruno's death, a generation later the western German states unified after being inspired by the Emperor's belief in German supremacy. From this core group the Kingdom of Germany was created and it unified the German people (except for those odd Prussians, but they aren't considered "true" Germans anyway). Germany is one of the great powers on the continent and has worked hard to maintain that role by intervening in neighboring states to keep them small and weak (Moscow has lost count how many times it has been sacked). They have calmed down a bit recently and the King is now more of a figurehead (and tourist attraction), but old animosities die hard.

Other important states in Europe include technocratic Andalusia which still controls much of Iberia and North Africa, the Bulgar-Greco Khanate which straddles the Balkans and Asia Minor (the Armenians and Kurds split the eastern half) and Occitania, the only Cathar Christian majority state in the world (although they have communities throughout the world). Eastern Europe to the Urals are split into many different states.

The events of the renaissance in 9th century Europe can also be seen as indirectly responsible for how the rest of the world looks as well. After their attempts to invade Europe and the Middle East were rebuffed, the Tatars spent more time consolidating their Asian conquests. Today the Tatar Empire reaches across East Asia, Central Asia, Siberia, northern India and the west coast of North Thorgunland. It would probably be the world's greatest power if it had a functioning central government. The Empire is very decentralized with the electors of the Kurultai holding the real power and generally unwilling to surrender any of it to the Khan. Not only does this suit the diverse ethnic groups of the Empire just fine (especially the Nipponese who would love to break away), but also the rest of the world who feel one nation holding too much power over the other would just be a recipe for endless conflict. The Vijayanagara Empire keeps a watchful eye on their northern border, just in case the Tartars get any ideas.

There was some attempts by Europeans to colonize Africa over the centuries. British and Norse traders were some of the earliest groups to enter the market (if you don't count the Islamic Europeans, which even today people still forget). They found some African practices, like slavery, abhorrent and native Africans also distrusted the message of the Christian and Way missionaries sent to convert them. Much of Sub-Saharan Africa's history is full of wars between Europeans and natives leading well into the 16th century, with the Islamic nations to the north sending weapons to the Africans to check the expansion of the Europeans. Today all of Africa either belongs to the larger Caliphates of the north or are independent native states affiliated in some way to Kongo or Great Zimbabwe. The one exception being the small Leonese colony on the Cape.

The New World (North and South Thorgunland) is a patchwork of Norse, British, Norman, German, Leonese, Andalusia, Tartar, Srivijayan and native states, the largest being the former Norse colony of Markland. The Skrælingjar had no immunity to Old World diseases and thus there was a large death toll across the continents. Over time the Skrælingjar recovered and even adopted technology from the colonists just in time when immigration really kicked up in the mid-14th century (new advances in medical sciences had led to a population boom as more diseases were wiped out). The colonial wars dragged on to the 18th century before the Treaty of Stamford established a lasting peace by creating a council were colonial and native nations could air disputes. The spirit of the Peace of Stamford proved contagious and today the former capital of the One King serves as the site of the World Council, which acts as an assembly of nations who work together to keep the peace on Earth.

The world has known one global conflict, although you will never find it in the official record. Throughout much of the 19th century, the developed countries waged a war to eradicate the Hidden Folk (also known as trolls to the Norse). Almost every nation knew about the Hidden Folk, the physically opposing humanoid species that were experts at hiding. World nations generally enforced the ancient treaties made between them and the human communities that lived near their dens. Most scientists believe they are the descendants of an extinct species of humans, which could explain why humans can cross-breed with them, but no one has been able to confirm this theory because none of the Hidden Folk have ever stepped forward to do the extensive DNA testing necessary. Despite the long peace, the early 18th century was marked by massacres and destruction at human factories, laboratories and military bases carried out by the Hidden Folk. The usual methods of communication with the Hidden Folk only conveyed warnings that humanity needed to stop their machines or they would end up destroying the world.

Human governments covered it up (blaming it on industrial accidents and foreign sabotage) since they didn't think anyone would believe them if they blamed Sasquatch for all of their problems, but at the same time sought to eradicate the Hidden Folk menace (besides humanity was never that comfortable with living next door to a race that considered them a part of their diet). How successful humanity was depends on who you ask. Most humans never realized what was happening besides a rash of disappearances and odd military maneuvers in uninhabited wildernesses. While some Hidden Folk did die in the fighting, the ones who suffered the most were the half-breeds who were often rounded up and exterminated out of fear of them collaborating with the enemy. Only after human scientists began discovering the dangers of human caused climate change that the majority of nations realized what the Hidden Folk were getting at. The World Council stepped in and passed a series of environmental regulations that were adopted across the world and the Hidden Folk attacks ceased (now the World Council looks the other way if someone tries to cut corners and finds all their shiny new nano-factories going up in flames).

There are very few people in this world who don't believe in divine being(s), although with few exceptions (the Church of Germany, Sunni Muslims in the Arab peninsula, the Sapa veneration of the Inkas, etc.) most follow the Hundite Theory of the Divinity. Neurologists have confirmed that the human mass consciousness is powerful enough to create actual god(s) who live apart from humanity in a different realm of space/time, but can manifest their power on Earth. Those specially attuned to the god(s), the heroes and saints of history, can act as conduits for these beings and their power. Most nations keep tabs on these humans and often employ them as agents (a soldier who can bring down divine justice is quite effective weapon against a terrorist strong holds). Of course, since the god(s) take the form and personality that their believers give them, world nations fear what might happen if a truly evil god is ever created and unleashes the feared Ragnarök.

Exactly how to prevent this, no one knows, but the Svandists have an idea. Although they have rejected what another timeline would call the atheism of their founder (its hard to argue with scientific proof that gods exist), they still hold that all the god(s) are inherently evil and thus need to be wiped out. To do this they believe they must purge all fantasy from the human mind. Even realistic fiction is frowned upon by a devout Svandist. Nevertheless, most people don't take them seriously, but they certainly fear the Svandist state of Circassia. Every moment of their citizens life is regimented and controlled. Special implants given at birth gives powerful artificial intelligences the ability to access every mind and punish any fantastical thoughts. They have purge all forms of individuality and they desire to spread their philosophy across the globe. Circassia may be small, but their arsenal of weapons of mass destruction keeps some World Council members awake at night. Currently Circassian scientists are very interested in several near-Earth asteroids...

The affair of this world, however, don't concern Shef. He sits waiting on the floating platform in the equatorial Atlantic ready for his turn up the Space Graal. Although many in the world carry his popular name, he secretly knows he is the true heir of the famous Shef, a direct descendant of the One King who faked his own death to live in peace with his wife. Although his olive skin and dark hair are products of his ancestors interbreeding with the people of the Emirate of Sicily, his blue eyes betray his Norse heritage. Like his ancestors, however, Shef is about to go on a great voyage into the stars. Ever since the secrets of faster-than-light travel was discovered, humanity has been expanding across the stars in an ever widening sphere. Shef, leaving his Earth-bound troubles behind, is seeking a new life on a distant globe just recently settle by Man.

Unbeknownst to him, someone (or something) in its little pocket of space/time has taken a shining for this new Shef. He/she/it (it has many names and forms, depending on who is praying to it) has plans for him and it could shake the very foundations of human civilization...

Which work of alternate history would you like to see me do next? Let me know in the comments.

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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.


  1. Hmm, well, seeing what happens next in Turtledove's Timeline-191 series could be interesting.

    1. Well I do have a bare bones idea for the next 60 years, but it will take a while to complete. Its an epic series.


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