Sunday, October 28, 2012

What If...? Novels of Alternative History

Himmler's War (M)
by Robert Conroy

"Fans of the author's previous alternate-history novels (such as 1942) should enjoy this new one, which springs from an intriguing premise: What if Adolf Hitler had been killed in the summer of 1944, not by an assassination plot but by accident? How would the murderous and sinister Heinrich Himmler have responded? How would the direction of the war have changed? Readers unfamiliar with World War II history might feel at loose ends here, but those who are able to spot the divergences between actual and alternate history will be held spellbound by the author's careful and, it appears, militarily sound construction of a new war and (by implication) a new twentieth century. Dialogue that rings true and sharply drawn characters (both real and fictional, on both sides of the war) add to the novel's appeal. Conroy might not be as big a name as, say, Harry Turtledove, but he's definitely an alternate-history writer worth getting to know." - Booklist

Untold story : a novel
by Monica Ali

Starred review: "What if Princess Diana hadn't died tragically in Paris but instead had found a way to escape the unrelenting scrutiny she lived with on a daily basis? That question is the premise of Ali's new novel, which revolves around a fictional Princess of Wales whose life mirrors Diana's. Divorced from the prince, separated from her sons, and hounded by the paparazzi, Ali's princess fakes her own death with the help of her devoted private secretary, who is afflicted with an incurable brain tumor. Reinventing herself as Lydia Snaresbrook, the princess flees England for the U.S., eventually landing in Kensington, North Carolina, where she starts to build a life for herself. Though Lydia can't tell her friends or the man she is falling for the truth about her identity, she is on her way to finding happiness until a figure from her past shows up in Kensington and threatens to unravel the life she has grown to love. As it tackles Lydia's impossible dilemma and the toll fame takes on her, the story builds to a thrilling and rewarding finish. With the recent marriage of Prince William grabbing headlines, Ali's daring and engrossing new novel is bound to garner plenty of attention." - Booklist

The Company of the Dead (M)
by David J. Kowalski

"Its daunting length notwithstanding (752 pp), Kowalski's first novel (originally published in Australia in 2004, where it won two prestigious sf awards) is a tightly plotted, action-packed tale that will satisfy speculative-history buffs and lovers of political thrillers alike. Titanic enthusiast Jonathan Wells, having discovered a means of time travel, stages a well-intentioned but ill-considered attempt to avert the sinking of the doomed liner on April 15, 1912. The attempt proves fruitless but changes that night's events just enough to keep the United States out of World War I. By the 21st century, unchecked German and Japanese aggression has reduced America to a third-rate power, its streets occupied by Japanese soldiers and fragmented by a second Southern secession. Enter Joseph Kennedy, Confederate intelligence operative and fictional scion of the iconic American clan, who comes across Wells's diary, recovered from the Titanic's wreckage. Convinced that an unaltered history, even one containing the horrors of the 20th century that we know, is preferable to the present with its looming prospect of a civilization-ending war, he decides to try to change history back. VERDICT Despite some overlong expository passages in its early chapters, this is an enthralling read, populated with sympathetic characters and believable science." - Library Journal

Other Worlds than These : stories of parallel worlds (M)
edited by John Joseph Adams

"Anthologist Adams presents readers with a wide variety of alternate Earths, some only slightly askew and others completely unfamiliar. Some characters are unwilling explorers, such as an astronaut dragged through one world after another in Stephen Baxter's opener, "Moon Six." Some travel out of duty, like the soldiers of an America that is the multiworlds' policeman in Paul McAuley's "A Brief Guide to Other Histories." A newly widowed husband in Alastair Reynolds's "Signal to Noise" reality-skips to say things left unsaid, while the heroine of Carrie Vaughn's "Of Swords and Horses" answers a call of need ignored by others. The confused can be assisted by Mercurio D. Rivera's increasingly variant advice column in "Dear Annabehls." Adams's selections are mirrors reflecting one other with the best images of alternate realities. Readers will greatly enjoy this exploration of our world's foremost and ascendant speculative authors." - Publishers Weekly

Then Everything Changed: stunning alternate histories of American politics:JFK, RFK, Carter, Ford, Reagan (M)
by Jeff Greenfield

"Veteran CBS News reporter and commentator Greenfield speculates what would have happened if an actual failed attempt to assassinate JFK before his inauguration instead succeeded; Robert Kennedy isn't assassinated, beats Nixon in 1968, winds down the Vietnam War, and with no Watergate scandal, the cultural changes of the 1970s are averted; and, Ford wins re-election, but in 1980 it's Hart vs. Reagan, and Hart wins." - Publisher

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