Friday, April 25, 2014

"Real" Alternate History

You knew it had to happen.  Alternate America finally got a negative review, though it was actually quite entertaining.  Some people say you shouldn’t respond to bad press or negative criticism, and that is true in many cases.  However, it can be fun to play with it, so long as you don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t go after reviewers with a steak knife.  I’ve often made fun of criticism, as can be evidenced by my own “mock” review of The Guns of Mars excerpt displayed during the 2009 ABNA contest.

So, the review in question today is a 2-star review on Amazon which gives the reviewer’s opinion that Altered America is “Not Really Alternate History,” which is pretty funny in itself.  Of course, there are various types of Alternate History, though as this review explains “real” Alt. History has to focus on a specific historical event and change it to create a different future (and there can’t be any magic, time travel, or other such nonsense involved).  So, that’s his personal preference and he’s welcome to it.

When I put this collection together, I decided to include a varied assortment of stories, to span the full spectrum of the Alternate History genre (which, contrary to one person’s opinion, can be quite diverse).  There are a few stories in Altered America that include Fantasy elements, a one that includes Sci-Fi elements, but a majority of them are still straight up Alternate material.

For the sake of argument, let’s take a quick assessment of each story, and see what comprises it.  Anyone who wants to see some brief tag-line descriptions for these stories can go to its Martinus Publishing listing.

Rio Grande by Jackson Kuhl:  Straight Alternate History in the 19th Century, where parts of Texas formed a separate nation.
We the People –by Dan Gainor:  Alt History +Sci-Fi (cloning the founding fathers).
A Single Decision –by Bruno Lombardi:  Straight Alternate History about 9/11.
What if... The Louisiana Purchase Never Happened –by Edmund Wells:  Straight Alt. History.  During the early 1960’s, alternate political divides exist in America during JFK’s Administration.
The Orthogonian –by Sam Kepfield: Straight Alt History, early 1970’s, Nixon as an FBI agent.
Revolution 1865 –by Brad Hafford: Straight Alt. History, British still rule America.
Ship of Souls –by Erik Bundy:  Alt. History +Fantasy.  Vikings settle North America, and there are some ghosts and supernatural elements mixed in.
End of the Rainbow –by Dusty Wallace:  Alt. History +Fantasy.  Elves and Leprechauns in modern times, plus historical back story.
The Loyalist Washington –by Owen Morgan:  Straight Alt. History.  Washington stayed loyal to England.
Guns of the Green Mountains –by Ryan McCallStraight Alt. History.  American independence fails, Vermonters fight against England in 1802.
The Shining Path –by Jason Sharp:  Straight Alt. History.  America invades Quebec in the 1970’s, clearly defined historical explanation included.
The Union Forever –by Sean Menken:  Straight Alt. History.  Years after the Confederacy wins the Civil War, Maryland votes to join them.
Goodbye, Norma Jean –by William R. D. Wood:  Straight Alt. History.  Nuclear war during the early 1960’s, featuring Marilyn Monroe.
Wild Blue –by Jeff Provine:  Alt. History +Steampunk.  Balloon travel abounds in the Wild West (a plausible historical change is explained to justify it).
Avoid Seeing A Mouse –by James S. Dorr:  Alt. History +Fantasy.  Egyptian mythology and curses play a role during Y2K.
Thomas Edison Visits Selwood –by Martin T. Ingham:  Alt. History +Fantasy.  Magic competes with technology for supremacy in the 1880’s.
Divided States of America –by Lauren A. Forry:   Straight Alt. History.  America is balkanized by a dispute over the Constitution, and the various nations are at war during modern times.
A Girl’s Best Friend –by Cyrus P. Underwood:  Straight Alt. History. Marilyn Monroe didn’t die in 1962, and changed history because of it.
The Lights on Broadway –by Charles Wilcox:  Alt. History +Steampunk.  An alternate form of power is discovered at the dawn of the 20th Century.
The Black Blizzard –by Philip Overby:  Alt. History +Fantasy.  Elves, Minotaurs, and Magic exist during the Great Depression.
The Road Was Lit with Moon and Star –by Bruno Lombardi:  Straight Alt. History.  Apollo 11 crashes, and Apollo 12 (with an alternate commander) must land on the moon first.

So, let’s do the math.  That’s 13 “real” Alternate History, 1 +sci-fi, 2 +Steampunk, and 5 +Fantasy.  For a book that isn’t “really Alternate History,” it certainly has a lot of Alternate History in it—just in case anyone was wondering.

The reviewer’s other big complaint was that 3 stories involved either Marilyn Monroe or JFK.  They were all completely different and unique, but there’s no accounting for taste.  It is clear that the reviewer has no problem with the writing, as he has no complaint other than that the stories aren't his cup of tea.  Two of his three other Amazon reviews make a point of deriding poor writing, so, in this case, omission is a compliment!  Good writing and good editing must have earned us that second star!

So, in summary, if you hate Fantasy, Sci-Fi, or JFK/Marilyn Monroe stories, then you might not like half the stories in Altered America.  Though, if you enjoy a little speculative fiction, as well as solid, “real” Alternate History, then this collection is just the thing for you.  Pick it up and see for yourself.

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