Monday, August 8, 2011

I am going to try and keep this blog updated more frequently with information about current writing projects, planned writing projects and any works due to be published.

If you have viewed my bibliography page you may have noted that I listed two stories in the upcoming anthology Dr. Omega and the Shadowmen. One of the questions that may have occurred to you is, Who is Dr. Omega. To this I could answer simply yes, Who is Dr. Omega. This sounds like a line from the Abbott and Costello routine Who's on First. The parallel meaning for the phrase applies to both in my reply and in the comedy routine.

Dr. Omega is a character that was created by Arnould Galopin and published in a novel entitled Dr. Omega in 1906. It was translated into English in 2005 by Randy and Jean-Marc Lofficier.

Dr. Omega is a elderly, somewhat irascible scientist who built a machine called the Cosmos. The cosmos has the ability to travel through time and space. The internal illustrations of the 1906 edition bear an uncanny resemblance to the first incarnation of a certain other time traveling doctor. You may know of Who I speak.

There is a theory floating around that Dr. Omega might be the same person as the other time traveling Doctor. Of course to speculate thus could get a person in trouble so I would never dare do it. Any similarities between the two characters is purely coincidental.

Both of my stories begin at the same time and place. Dr. Omega is taking his young traveling companion to the New York premiere of The Wizard of Oz. However when they arrive at their destination they discover that New York city has become drastically altered; in one version it is a dead city, in another it is an overpopulated dystopia. Before they can attend the film they must discover what has altered history and fix it. In doing so they also discover the true nature of Dorothy Gale's greatest enemy and uncover the mystery surrounding a famous pulp hero's origin.

Hopefully those who buy the book will enjoy the stories.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Not So Recent News

I haven't posted to the blog in quite some time. For many reasons my heart was just not into doing so. However I know that I have been remiss in doing so. Anyone who visited recently has seen that I added a bibliography page. If you have visited that you will have seen that in the past couple of years I have added to my published body of work.

In 2009 I published two stories "No Good Deed" in Tales of The Shadowmen 6: Grand Guignol, Black Coat Press, 2009 and "The Deadly Desert Gnome" in Glimmerglass Volume 1, No. 1

"No Good Deed" is the origin story of Jean Passepartout, the valet from Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days. Even as a kid I found Passepartout an interesting character, although a great deal of this came from the portrayal of him by Cantinflas in the 1956 film version.

When we first meet Passepartout at the beginning of Around the World in 80 Days, he is 30 years old and has been a valet for five years. Prior to that he had had been an itinerant singer, a circus rider, a teacher of gymnastics and a fireman. He had accomplished all of this before he was 25 years old.

Passepartout had also just been hired by Phileas Fogg the day before they left for the trip around the world. Phileas Fogg had fired his long time valet for bringing him shaving water that was two degrees cooler than Mr. Fogg required. This was designed to show the reader just how regulated and clock like Fogg's life was. Yet he hired on first interview a man who had a rather checkered history of employment. It does seem a bit odd.

In The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, Philip Jose Farmer's secret history of the events behind Around the World in 80 Days, Farmer explained that the two degrees was a signal from the valet to Fogg. Fogg, the valet and Passepartout were all members of an organization that desired to end war, poverty, crime and disease.

My version of Passepartout was inspired by Farmer's in that he was the agent of an organization but in my version this is a branch of the French government, an intelligence section run by C. Auguste Dupin. Passepartout's varied professions were in part training and covers for his work as an intelligence operative. A falling out with Dupin however led him to leaving the service and being exiled to England. "No Good Deed" is the story of how the ten year old Jean met Dupin and started to work for him.

One review called it a clever, classic mystery.

Earlier this year, No Good Deed was translated into French "Le Mauvaise Bonne Action" (French version of "No Good Deed") Riviere Blanche, 2011

"The Deadly Desert Gnome" my other story published in 2009, I will discuss in a different post.

In 2010 "Flesh Endures" appeared in in The Worlds of Philip José Farmer 1: Protean Dimensions, Meteor House, 2010. Outwardly Flesh is a sequel to Philip Jose Farmer's classic novel, Flesh. A group of space explorers returned to Earth after a gap of 800 years and find it drastically changed. An environmental disaster had wiped out most of humanity. The remnant population had formed a society that was eerily reminiscent yet wildly different from what the explorers had left. American legends and myths had become infused with primitive Earth worship. Columbia, was the Great Mother Goddess, and her high priestess was Virginia. Because of his name Peter Stagg was forced to become the Sun Hero, an avatar of the Great Mother's mate. During the course of the novel he has to take part in a baseball game, which in this post apocalyptic world uses a spiked ball and bats are weapons.

My story takes place about a 1000 years after the events of Flesh. In Flesh Columbia had been located on a good portion of the East Coast along with a few other states. As Flesh ends, it is slowly annexing two of the other states. In my story Columbia's influence had recently taken moved into the Midwest. In doing so they encountered another society which was related in another post-apocalyptic tale by Philip Jose Farmer. This was the Empire of Kaywo from The Cache. The Empire of Kaywo was an empire that conquered most of the midwest and was based in Cairo, Illinois. By the time of my story because the center of population had moved, the capitol had been relocated Senglwi (Saint Louis, MO).

Although it was not dealt with in the story itself the reason that Kaywo and Columbia had not clashed or met during the events of either Flesh or the Cache is because a radioactive desert separated the two cultures, a hundred years prior to the events of Flesh Endures the radiation had faded enough for travel to be permitted.

Philip Jose Farmer had said that "The Cache" was an unofficial sequel to a trilogy written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. In keeping with this some of my place names and a couple of character names in Flesh Endures also reflect this tribute to Burroughs.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Evil in Pemberley House: A Review

The Evil in Pemberley House

A darkly erotic thriller.

A Review

One of the more exciting books coming out this summer is The Evil in Pemberley House by Philip Jose Farmer and Win Scott Eckert.

In the interests of full disclosure, I must admit from the onset that I have long admired the works of both of the authors and that they were and are personally known to me. Although some people may consider this to be a prejudicial and biased review for these reasons, I think that I am fair minded enough to be impartial.

The Evil in Pemberley House is a collaborative novel by Philip Jose Farmer and Win Scott Eckert. Farmer had begun the novel in the early seventies, probably around the time he was finishing up his magnum opus Tarzan Alive but left it unfinished. Having found the manuscript and a detailed outline, Eckert asked to finish the novel, so that it could finally be published.

Mr. Eckert is perhaps uniquely qualified to be Farmer’s collaborator on this novel since the background of the novel concerns Farmer’s Wold Newton Family, a subject near and dear to Eckert’s heart. Eckert has been webmaster and publisher of the premiere Wold Newton family website An Expansion of Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe for over a decade. Eckert was also the editor of Myths for the Modern Age, a collection of essays that expanded upon Farmer’s Wold Newton Family concept.

Although some reviews may call The Evil in Pemberley House a posthumous work, it is not. Although it will be published after Phil Farmer’s passing, the novel was finished, approved by Farmer and bought by a publisher prior to his death.

Most reviews will most likely examine The Evil in Pemberley House in context to its Wold Newton Family, however I am taking another tact and looking at the novel in the context of Farmer’s erotic fiction.

Farmer is, perhaps unfairly, known as the man who introduced sex as an important plot element into science fiction in his novella “The Lovers”. His name became further equated with sex due to his popular forays into “pornography” and his unflinching look at sexuality in many of his mainstream science fiction novels. It should be mentioned that although, Farmer did write science fiction novels that do have a strong sexual content to them, these are main stream novels and are not considered by most to be pieces of erotica. Among these are Flesh which examines a post apocalyptic world given over to the worship of the Goddess, Lord Tyger which, as part of its overall theme, demonstrates how sexually uninhibited a Tarzan figure truly would be, Fire and the Night about an interracial affair that conjoins sexuality and race in an interestingly psychological way, and Dare which pits the sexually inhibited humans against the sexually open horstels.

Farmer’s three major pieces of erotic fiction are A Feast Unknown, Image of the Beast and Love Song.

Phil wrote these three books for a publisher of erotica and did so for money. It was not uncommon however for known writers of differing genres to write pornography for money in the forties, fifties and sixties. However most of these written under pseudonyms but Phil Farmer used his own name. He also wrote for a publisher that specialized in experimental erotica. Essex House was created to compete with Olympia Press which published classics of erotica such as the poetry of Sir John Wilmot and the works of de Sade. Essex was intended to create modern classics of erotica, serious novels with sexual themes.

So when A Feast Unknown, Image of the Beast and Love Song are labeled as pornography, it may seem that they were intended to be prurient or masturbatory fiction. Anyone who has actually read them will soon realize that this is not the case. In each one of these Phil Farmer the sexual theme and the graphic sexual depictions to illustrate a larger theme.

In A Feast Unknown sex and violence were inexorably intertwined and these primal urges are tied to the most primal urge of all, survival. The sexual scenes A Feast Unknown are almost always married with an act of violence.

Image of the Beast sex and violence are connected but are not seen stemming from the same primal urge. They are two methods by which resurrection or regeneration can be achieved. The graphic sex scenes are horrific in their exposition. Not horribly written mind you but written to evoke strong reactions of disgust and horror.

When reading A Feast Unknown and Image of the Beast, it always struck me that the trickster Phil Farmer was laughing his ass off. People expecting to find “hot” passages found exactly the opposite. Some of the passages are enough to turn people off of sex for some time.

Love Song is perhaps Farmer’s tamest sexual, and most erotic book of the three, however the sexuality in the novel services a purpose beyond titillation. Although the sexual content in Love Song is more erotic than in the other two, there is still a strong undercurrent of violence connected to the eroticism. The violence however is a consequence of the underlying theme of haunted sexuality. All of three of the main characters are psychologically damaged and these neuroses manifest as either as severe sexual inhibitions or complexes. Canador House is supposed to be haunted by a leering, sexually charged ghost, but when the ghost is revealed, the denouement is even more horrifying than any specter could be.

The Evil in Pemberley House as a novel of erotic fiction in the same vein as the three just mentioned, and like them it is erotic fiction with a purpose. Each of the three books in addition to having an underlying theme was also a pastiche/parody of a particular genre. A Feast Unknown was a pulp pastiche, Image of the Beast, a horror pastiche and Love Song a romance pastiche.

The Evil in Pemberly House is a gothic romance pastiche carrying over with more explicitly the motif of ghostly haunting. It plays with all of the genre conventions with an heiress taking over a haunted castle, being menaced at every turn by sinister characters. Hidden pasts and relationships are uncovered. As with the other pieces of erotic fiction, there is an underlying motif or theme connection to the sexuality that permeates the book. This sexual theme seems to be control. Sex is used in The Evil in Pemberley House by the characters to dominate one another, it is also used as a means to control the spirit of the house, that is to physically and psychologically own it.

Only by taking control of her own sexuality, by overcoming her sexual complex is Patricia able to control her own destiny.

As a sexually graphic pastiche of the gothic horror genre, the protagonist is like other gothic protagonist, sexually menaced at every turn. Often the in such novels protagonist is less a heroine and more a victim. While one can sympathize with a victim up to a certain point, there inevitably comes the time when this wears thin. You either become bored or you get angry with the character’s lack of character.

Yet The Evil in Pemberley House takes a different spin on this situation, the main character is the daughter of a famous crime fighter, whose cousin was an extremely capable woman.. Like her famous father she has a tendency to get into sticky situations yet is capable enough to rescue her self. Patrcia Wildman may be the main character in a gothic horror novel she is a stronger, more vibrant character than most such portrayals.

In regards to the sexually explicit material of the novel. The Evil in Pemberley House is akin to that in Love Song, although it is not the main focus of the novel as it was in Love Song. Pemberley House’s graphic sexual content is subsumed almost entirely into the story. When the other three novels were published sexually explicit material in mainstream media was rare and so its portrayal was pretty cutting edge. However the modern audience had become inured to sexuality at least in its portrayal in print or visual presentation. With pornography so common place looses much of its impact and so does not need to be the central focus, even in a darkly erotic thriller.

Besides sex has always been a double edged sword for Farmer. Portraying it brought him both acclaim and condemnation, and I think possibly precluded him from being looked at in the same regard as Asimov, Heinlein or Clarke. For my money, I think his ideas were just as broad and his execution was in many regards more skillful than the Big Three.

While perhaps less explicit than the other three pieces of erotic fiction The Evil in Pemberley is a book for mature audience and does have a strong sexual content. Yet these scenes are never simply prurient and each one is intrinsic to the plot as a whole.

However clever the author of a review wants to be in discussing his favorite novelist, the reader undoubtedly is impatiently thinking. Get to the gist! Is it any good? Does it measure up to Farmer’s other works?

The answer to both questions is a resounding yes. Like many of Farmer’s works it can be read on many levels, a sexually charged gothic thriller, a psychological mystery, a sherlockian/pulp pastiche and yes, as a novel that fits into his Wold Newton Family mythos. Farmer’s skill was always to adeptly take many disparate elements, do some literary alchemy and decant gold from the mixture. The Evil in Pemberley House is no exception to this rule. It is a very good book and a compelling read. I think that it easily stands alongside such works as The Adventure of the Peerless Peer, Greatheart Silver, The Other Log of Phileas Fogg as well as his erotic classic A Feast Unknown.

A good deal of credit for this must be given to collaborator Eckert. Even if a scholar of an author’s works, as Win Eckert is most assuredly is of Farmer’s work has so thoroughly steeped himself in his collaborator’s words that it seems as though they have hijacked and channeled his muse only a writer of talent can make the collaboration seamless. I have read a few works that were unfinished works, finished by other authors, of some note, and invariably there comes a point in your reading where you know where the original text left off and the new writer took up the pen. In the case of The Evil in Pemberley House unless it is pointed out to me, I cannot tell were Farmer left off and Eckert began. While it is a collaboration, it is truly a Farmer book.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Goodby Phil

Today my hero died.

He died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 91. Although it may seem as though he lived a long, full and productive life and that his death cannot have been unexpected; it was. Because like all heroes, he was not supposed to die but go on forever.

My hero was Philip Jose Farmer, trickster and iconoclast, scholar and humorist.

It may seem odd that my hero was an author, and I am certain that being labeled a hero would have both embarrassed and amused Phil.

Yet I regard him as my hero for the impact that his work had on my life. Phil’s work made my head explode and in doing so exposed my brain. That is it exposed my brain to works of literature I would never have read had I not read his books running the gamut from Pride and Prejudice to The Nova Express. His playful use of language and character instilled in me the habit of reading his work carefully to try to catch all of the nuances. This habit carried over to works by other authors and allowed me to enjoy their works with a better appreciation than I would have otherwise.

I began reading Phil’s works in early adolescence. I believe that the first book I read by him was The Fabulous Riverboat, which was the second in his Riverworld series. Although I entered the book not really knowing what was going on and had to wait several years for its sequel, that book made me appreciate the dark humored genius of Mark Twain and led me to read Twain’s works besides Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. The next Farmer book I read was Behind the Walls of Terra, which was the fourth of his World of Tiers novels. I immediately had to read A Private Cosmos which was the predecessor to Behind the Walls of Terra.

Shortly after this is when I stumbled upon Tarzan Alive at the public library. Prior to reading Phil Farmer I had read most of the Edgar Rice Burroughs books I could find. I had read what few Doc Savages I could find and had read Sherlock Holmes. When Farmer wrote this extensive biography of Tarzan he had also included Doc Savage and Sherlock Holmes as members of Tarzan’s family tree. This whet my appetite for more Farmer. However I could not find any of his books in the local books stores.

This was in the seventies, back in the dark ages prior to the internet so my resources were very limited. I somehow found the address of a book store in Los Angeles that specialized in science fiction and laboriously pecked out a letter to them on an old Royal typewriter asking if they had any Farmer books.

From A Change of Hobbit I was able to obtain The Book of Philip Jose Farmer, Down in the Black Gang and The Other Log of Phileas Fogg.. While I loved the short fiction in the two anthologies, I must admit that my favorite was The Other Log of Phileas Fogg. Not merely because it expanded upon the themes of his Wold Newton Family but because it further expanded my horizons. It taught me another way of reading fiction, of seeing the story behind the story, the writing of the pampliset beneath the printed word.

The Other Log of Phileas Fogg puts forth a different version of Jules Vernes Around the World in Eighty Days. Farmer does not change Verne’s work but adds a new backstory onto it, that the race around the world was part of an ongoing war between two competing extraterrestrial factions stranded on Earth.

I have heard some people complain that the The Other Log of Phileas Fogg ruined Around the World in Eighty Days because they could no longer read the original without seeing the aliens lurking in the shadows. I have heard a similar complaint about A Feast Unknown, Phil’s pastiche about Doc Savage and Tarzan, although suitably disguised.

Frankly, I have never understood this complaint. I can read Around the World in Eighty Days and read it as Verne wrote it and I can also read and imagine the secret war transpiring in the background. Phil was an author who worked on many levels and the readers who can adjust their thinking to see beyond the mundane will get a fuller enjoyment of his works.

Phil’s works made me appreciate literature by broadening my literary horizons and by tricking my young mind into thinking analytically. His works also gave me a life long interest in history, science, anthropology and sociology.

One of the main reasons however that Phil Farmer was my hero was because he unknowingly helped me through a rough patch in my adolescence. In 1975 I was a high school sophomore who hated school. It was hell on Earth. My father had disappeared shortly before the school year had begun, ostensibly to find work in another city. We did not hear from him for years. My best friend had moved and transferred to a different school. I was a short, geeky kid alone and totally out of his element. Desperate to make friends I fell in with a “bad” crowd and cut school for about a solid month. We hung out at one or another house, drinking their parents liquor or beer. One by one however each of my “friends” was eventually caught because they weren’t facile enough circumvent the mail or phone calls from the school.

Yet even a budding criminal mastermind such as I could not escape the clutches of the law forever. After I was busted I was given the choice of expulsion or re-admittance to the school with several extra punishment hours, basically these were study halls tacked on to the end of the day.

During the course of these eighth hours, I read what I thought was the greatest book ever written. I must have read it four or five times during the course of those punishment hours. The story was about a young man who travels the universe search for the answer to the eternal question, Why were we created? Why? Why? The books dark humor and its denouement of pointlessness somehow lifted my spirits. Although I did not know it at the time this book was written by Phil Farmer, like many other people I believed that Venus on the Half Shell had been written by Kurt Vonnegut but under the name of Kilgore Trout. I had read Breakfast of Champions earlier and so knew about Kilgore Trout. Yet even as I read Venus on the Half Shell, I wondered why this book was so much better than Vonnegut’s other books. (Sorry Vonnegut fans but that’s how I feel.)

Years later when I learned that it had in fact been Phil Farmer that had written Venus on the Half Shell, I mentally kicked myself for not having seen it earlier. There was a couple of Farmer’s characters mentioned during the course of the tale, although I thought this was simply a case of one author making tribute to another. Yet there were also instances meticulously worked out alien biology, albeit to humorous effect. Examples of such discourse in alien physiogamy showed up in several of Farmer’s works such as The Lovers, the World of Tiers series and The Stone God Awakens.

Perhaps most telling was the theme of immortality. There were two forms of immortality in Venus on the Half Shell: physical immortality and spiritual immortality and both were dependent on the other. Knowing that his search for the answer could take centuries, Simon Wagstaff agreed to drink an elixir that made him physically immortal. However as he discovered there was a catch, it also released his ancestral memories. Eventually Simon had to share his body with the consciousnesses of his ancestors. Simon Wagstaff was in a sense a microcosm of the Riverworld, where the immortal physical self is bound to an immortal spirit.

There is little doubt that Phil was influenced by the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs. The concept of immortality ran through the gamut of Burroughs work. The concept of immortality played a huge role in many of Phil’s work. It was so pervasive that I tended to think of Phil as immortal..

This morning reality clashed with my mental imagery. Philip Jose Farmer, my hero died. The all too mortal immortal passed from this life and onto the next.

Although I cannot help but feel a great sense of loss, knowing that there is a great vacuum on the Earth, a hole in the space time continuum where the mind and body of Phil Farmer once existed I can be comforted by knowing that he had indeed achieved immortality. His work. His work still exists and will exist for generations to come.

Good bye Phil, I will miss you.

Hopefully one day, we can meet once again on the banks of the River of Eternity.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

What if Part Four

Continuing from my previous posts on the subject of alternate history. The Third main category of alternate history is the cross-time travel alternate history. The term is a bit of a misnomer since most versions of the cross-time alternate history story do not involved anything to do with time or time travel. The term came into prevalence because of Murray Leinster's seminal crosstime travel story Sideways in Time and Andre's Norton's Crosstime series. In Sideways in time a unknown catastrophe strikes the Earth and various locations of the Earth have been replaced with analogs from alternate universes. A college instructor in mathematics tries to utilize the displacements to find a place where his abilities will enable him to rule. Andre Norton's The Crossroads of Time introduces the concept of the Time Wardens, a organization created to police different timelines. A more accurate term for this category of the genre would perhaps be paratime which was utilized by H. Beamer Piper in his various paratime stories and novels. They also deal with an organization that freely travels between parallel time lines, although their motive is an economic one. However inaccurate the term might be, crosstime is the one that seems to have stuck.

The crosstime category is probably the second largest category in terms of usage, the other being the straightforward alternate history. It can be subdivided into involuntary and voluntary crosstime travel, although some novels are a blend of both.  The mechanism for voluntary and in some cases the involuntary crosstime story involve some means of traveling through alternate timelines. This is accomplished either through natural or artificial means. Some stories posit naturally occurring rifts in time/space that allow being to travel through timelines or some inborn ability to do so. Other rely on purely artificial means.

Many of the involuntary crosstime travels begin with someone thrust, as in the words of Howard the Duck 'into a world he never made". Although some of these are purely by chance as in Two Hawks from Earth or Michael Moorcock's Oswald Bastable series, where the protaganist slipped through a naturally occuring space/time rift most of the involuntary crosstime travel tales have something to do with some form of artificial crosstime travel. Calvin Morrison, Edward Bear, Brion Bayard, Blake Walker and Mark Strang are all stranded in worlds that are different from their own by traveling through an device that crossed timelines. Calvin Morrison found himself in Pennsylvania in a far different ruled by Aryans in Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen by H. Beamer Piper courtesy of the an oversight by the Paratime police. Edward Bear was accidentally transported to the North American Confederacy through an experimental device in The Probability Broach by L. Neil Smith. Brion Bayard was kidnapped by members of a crosstime organization, in The Worlds of the Imperium by Keith Laumer. Blake Walker was also forced into an alternate timeline by a crosstime organization in the The Crossroads of Time by Andre Norton. In John Barnes' Patton's Spaceship While following a terrorist organization that killed his wife and mother, Mark Strang was stranded in the 1960s of a world dominated by the Nazis. In Sideslip Ron Archer was thrown into a world where World War II never occured through a a laboratory accident. In almost all of these situations the person is a fish out of water and must learn to live in his new home.

One odd subsect of the involuntary crosstime travel tale is the transfer to another world by death. In John Clagett's A World Unknown, Simon Ashe is transported to a world where Ancient Rome never died when he died in a plane crash. Eric Norden's The Ultimate Solution seems to be a straightforward alternate history about a Nazi dominated United States until it is revealed that one of the main characters had died and been transferred to this particular universe. In Michael Bishop's A Secret Ascension, upon his death science ficton writer Philip K. Dick peers into an alternate world where he was a successful main stream author which was also a world where Watergate never took place.  In Gordon Eklund's All Time Possible when Tommy Bloom dies travels from an alternate world where America became fascist to one where America becomes a soviet type state.

Although it is more common in fantasy fiction and somewhat in time travel fiction, the idea of a consciousness traveling into another world or dimension has been used a few times in alternate histories. In The Wheel of If by L. Sprague de Camp, Alistar Park's consciousness is rotated into several alternate doppelgangers until he is stuck in a world where the Vikings had settle America. This transfer was done by a mechanical means by men who wanted to get rid of Park's doppelganger without actually killing him.

A great deal of the crosstime alternate history stories have to do with voluntary travel, usually through an organization that either polices the timelines or profits from trading among them. We have mentioned the Piper's Paratime series, Nortons Crosstime series and Laumer's Imperium series. Other such police type organizations involve Sam Merwin's Watcher organization which are the crosstime organization in his House of Many Worlds  and Three Faces of Time. A subset of the policing crosstime organization is the organizations which war across timelines. This concept was probably introduced by Fritz Leiber in The Big Time and Changewar. This involved two time traveling factions that recruited soldiers from all eras and who changed history as part of their stragegies. This concept of warring across time and recruiting soliders from all eras was also part of Simon Hawke's Timewars series. The premise of this series was that in the future war had been changed to a sort of game where by soldiers achieved points by participating in historical battles. Time was believed to be impossible to change, however as the series progress the time line split and the two timelines fight against one another. Richard C. Meredith's Timeliner series portrayed the experiences of a solider recruited to fight across several timelines, believing that he was preventing a catastrophe that would have wiped out all of existence. Keith Laumer's Worlds of the Imperium was also often involved crosstime battles as the zero zero timeline often had to fight against invaders from other timelines. John Barne's Timeline Wars carried on in this vein.

Here are some stories, novels or series that use the ability to travel through alternate histories for profit. Larry Niven's All the Myriad Ways, which also shows how the very concept of alternates can have a serious psychological affect. Piper's Paratime series, Jack C. Chalker's G.O.D. series, Michael P. Kube-McDowell's Alternities, S. M. Stirling's Conquistador, Charles Stross Merchant Princes series and Harry Turtledove's Crosstime Traffic series.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Friday, December 5, 2008

What if Part Three

Continuing from my previous posts on the subject of alternate history. The second main category of alternate history is the time travel derived alternate history. These often vary widely on how much allohistorical content is actually present in the novel.

Both Ward Moore's Bring the Jubilee, about a Union that had suffered a defeat in the American Civil War and John Brunner's Times Without Number which was set in a world where the Spanish Armada successfully invaded England had very little time travel element in them. It wasn't until the end of the novels that the time travel element was introduced with devastating results for the main characters. Some novels such as John Jakes Black in Time in which two competing factions; a black militant group and a white supremacist group  have taken control of a time travel device to make a better world, at least from their perspectives have a series of mini alternate histories in them as the time travelers continually change history. The time travel show Voyagers also featured mini alternate histories which the protagonists had to fix to fix the timeline. One of the common tropes of time travel alternate histories, especially in the min-alternate that alternate history is the result of meddling by a time traveler and that it needs to be fixed. As a result you have organizations such as Poul Anderson's The Time Patrol,  the television series  Voyagers and film versions such as Timecop.

Another common theme in time travel alternate history is changes brought about by the introducion of modern technology or idea. The first example I can think of is A Connecticut Yankee is King Arthur's Court in which modern technology was introduced into the Britain of the Middle Ages. Now arguablely this could also be seen as a alternate universe rather than a alternate history tale since the changes that Hank Morgan made do not seem to have affected the time line. L. Sprague De Camp also has a similar story in Lest Darkness Fall. Martin Padway, an archaeologist is struck by lightning while studying some Roman ruins and finds himself in 6th century Rome. He uses his knowledge to keep Rome from falling. Unlike A Connecticut Yankee, even though we do not see the long term consequences of his actions Lest Darkness Fall is more of an alternate history because Padway does change the lives and fates of historical characters.

Conrad Schwartz, a Polish Engineer of the late twentieth century falls asleep in an inn and wakes to find himself transported to 12th century Poland, a decade before the Mongol Invasion. Conrad uses all his technical skill and military training to create a modern army that will prevent the Mongols from devastating Europe. This is explored in Leo Frankowski's Conrad Stargard series.

Two of the most common changes that time traveler's want to make are to change the outcome of the Civil War or prevent WWII. Harry Harrison's A Rebel in Time is one such novel on this theme. Harry Turtledove's Guns of the South, which was in some ways a precursor to his mammoth Southern Victory series,  has the Confederate Army receiving modern weapons such as uzis and rocket lauchers from South African extermist. Two examples with widely varient results are Elleander Morning by Jerry Yulsman and Making History by Stephen Frey. In Elleander Morning a woman travels back to 1913 and assassinates Adolph Hitler while he is still a starving artist. The lack of Hitler led to no Second World War but the time traveler had left behind some anamlaous objects such as the Time Life History of the Second World War which causes complications in the other wise peaceful world. Making History wipes Hitler from existance by making Alois Hitler infertile. However another person who is a better strategest fills the niche and creates a world that is even more terrible than the one that time traveler desired.

Author Robert Adams who was most famous for his Horseclans series, also had another series The Castaways in Time. The title was a bit of a misnomer since the Castaways were sent back in time to medieval England however, it was the England of an alternate history. The castaways were a group of people who had taken refuse in a house when a flooded highway due to a flooded highway. As it turned out the Castaways and the change in history had come about from time meddling.

More modern authors have taken the idea of a group of people transported to the past with and run with it. S. M. Stirling, who is almost as prolific as Harry Turtledove as an alternate historian, wrote the Nantucket Trilogy which explored the consequences of  Nantucket Island of 1998 being transported back in time to 1250 BC. His Change World Series is a collary series that explores what happened to rest of the world once Nantucket disappeared.

Author Eric Flint also transported an entire city back in time,  The town of Grantville, West found itself transported back in time to 1632. Unlike Nantucket however, Grantville had also been displaced in space and founded itself in Germany in the midst of the Thirty years War. 1632 spawed several sequels which demonstrate that while the technology does have an impact it is the ideas that have the most impact on altering the timeline.

Author John Birmingham explored this idea of the impact of ideas and attitudes in his Axix of Time series. In this case it was not a city that was taken back in time but rather a 21st naval fleet which was transported back in time to the the Battle of Midway. Plopping down in the middle of the American fleet both sides took a horrible toll on one another before realizing that they were fighting the wrong enemy. Although the main part of the fleet landed in a group, some of the ships did get displaced in space as well, thus giving the Axis access to this higher technology. However the science and underlying technology of the 1940s was not sophisticated enough to simply begin cranking out the superior tech, it was not just a matter of the 21st centurians giving up their secrets, entire support technologies had to be learned and recreated. However the difference in idealogies and cultural attitudes between the 1940s and the 21st century were so different as to cause immediate social problems. The 21st centurians were at first confined to an area near California so their radical ideas could not contaminate society but eventually ideas, films and books leaked out.

One recent variation of the time travel element in alternate history that also segues into our next topic is the idea that time travel is impossible but travel between universes is not. Therefore some authors have used this concept to make time travel seem more plausible. Instead of actually traveling back to the past you are traveling to an alternate universe, which was nearly identical to their own but several years younger. This time travel via alternate worlds was used in Stephen Baxter's Time Ships and in the more mainstream author Michael Crichton's Timeline. This concept however was first utilized in Sam Merwin's Three faces of Time in which the crosstime travelers discover an alternate universe equivalent to Ancient Rome. In both cases these were to alternate that were almost replica's of our past. I will explore this further in my next blog.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What If Part deux

In my previous blog I stated that there are three main categories alternate history. There are the straight forward alternate histories which tell a story derived from a historical point of divergence. The author may or may not tell the reader what the POD is

One of the best examples of the straight forward alternate history is Robert Sobol’s For Want of a Nail: If Burgoyne Had Won at Saratoga. As you can guess by the title it's point of divergence takes place During the Revolutionary War. In Sobol's scenario the revolution failed. What makes Sobol's book so fascinating is that it was written as if it were an actual book of history from this alternate universe. It comes complete with footnotes, several appendixs and a fictional bibliography. Written in 1971 when Alternate history books were few and far between, Sobol's book did not garner much notice although it was nominated for a Pulitzer prize. Alternate history was regarded as a subset of the Science fiction genre and most science fiction fans would have not had much interest in the history laden content of For Want of a Nail. Sobol's book remains one of the classic books in the genre.

Contrasting with Sobol's massive tome is Mackinley Kantor's If the South Had Won the Civil War. Written a decade earlier than Sobol's book, Kantor piece was originally written for Look magazine. It too was written as if it were a historical text complete with footnotes. Although expanded from its magazine format at 127 pages the novel is a slim but interesting work, although some people believe that how he ended the novel was unrealistic.

This sort of straight forward pseudo-scholarship format appealed to the historian in me. Back when I was in college and was studying education I created lesson plans derived from using alternate history as a teaching tool. My fellow social science students critiqued my plans as unrealistic and without real world value. At this time, alternate history was still considered a subset of science fiction and so was "out there". A few years later hower some serious historians began using what if as a tool to examine how the historical process worked-- how crucial was the one man theory, were events inevitable, etc. To explore these avenues of reasoning they asked the same questions that previous alternate historians had, however since they were historians and not fuzzy headed science fiction writers they labeled their thought exercises as counter-factual history. Although the counter-factual historians proclaim that their work is much different than the alternate history stuff the basic difference is that counter factual historians don't attempt any science fictional explanations for their what if scenarios and their works are pure (pseudo) scholarship.

One of the first counter-factual books was Irving Stone's They Also Ran. Stone is most famous for his series of biographical novels such as The Agony and the Ecstasy about Michelangelo and Passion of the Mind about Sigmund Freud. They Also Ran is a book of short biographies about defeated Presidential candidates. At the each of mini-biography, Stone speculates on what type of President the candidate would have made.

In addition to pseudo-scholarly examinations of the straight forward alternate history, there are many novels that use that format. The novels use the alternate history as background or a a plot device to explore the lives of fictional characters. One of the most famous straight forward novels of alternate history is Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle. This novel which takes place in a world where the Axis conquered America explores the lives of several people, including an author who wrote an alternate history novel about the Allies having won the war. This version however is also drastically different than our world.

1966's Pavane by Keith Roberts also explored an alternate history in a rather disconnected way through the lives of various characters. Unlike The Man in the High Castle their isn't a narrative thread that ties the book together. Rather it is a series of vignettes, slice of life stories about people living in an England in which the Spanish Armada had invaded England.

One of the first realized alternate history novels was The Gate of Worlds by Robert Silverberg. This is set the near future of a Islam dominated Europe written from the viewpoint of a young English trader. In the Middle Ages the invasions by the Ottomans went unchecked. The main character travels to a Mexico still dominated by the Aztecs.

Another straight forward alternate history classic, which does have a science fiction twist to it, is Harry Harrison's Tunnel Through the Deeps. In this Captain Gus Washington is the lead engineer of a project to dig a tunnel beneath the ocean floor that would connect England and America. Gus Washington is the descendant of the defeated and disgraced George Washington and is attempting to redeem the family name.

Before Martin Cruz Smith won fame and fortune as the author of the Arkady Renko series... Gorky Part and its sequels, he wrote a short, entertaining if implausible alternate history named The Indians Won. This was a novel exploring how the Indians could have beaten the US Cavalry in the 1870's and the modern day consequences of these actions.

Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita also wrote a rather lengthy alternate history novel entitled Ada or Ardor: A family chronicle which chronicles the story of one family living in a Czarist dominated America.

Recently alternate history has become more mainstream and is often considered to be its own genre rather than a subset of science fiction. However this is the more mainstream, straight forward alternate history which does not depend on science fictional elements such as time travel or interdimensional travel to tell their tales. One of the most, well probably the most popular author working in this vein is Harry Turtledove whose works have proven fairly popular.

Turtledove works in all three of the alternate history categories. His first couple of works were in the straight forward categories. As professor of Byzantine history his first stories reflected this interest. He wrote a series of short stories about Basil Agyros, a spy for the Byzantine empire. In this particular history however Byzantine did not fall because Islam never came about. Mohammed converted to Christianity instead.  His second series dealt with a what if dealing with evolution. He wondered what would have happened if homo sapiens had not entered into the New World until the age of exploration. When explorers did land on the new world they found it inhabited by australopithecines and megafauna.  His most massive work, the Southern Victory series which explores in great detail a history unfolding from the south winning the civil war. The series progresses from a second war between the Confederacy and the Union over Mexico and Cuba to the first world war and ending with the Second World War. In this series Turtledove reimagines the Confederacy as an analog for the Germany. He has written a couple of other noteworthy straight forward alternate histories. One is the Infamy series which consists of two novels which deal with the consequences of Japan invading Hawaii after Pearl Harbor. Rule Britannia takes place in an England dominated by Spain in the wake of a successful Spanish invasion. Unlike Pavane however, England is ready to throw off the yoke of Spanish rule. One of Turtledove's more recent novels was The Man with the Iron Heart which posits that instead of accepting defeat after WWII Germany instead launched a terrorist campaign against the occupation forces. This effort was led by Reinhard Heydrich, who in this timeline escaped assassination. While making a plausible story, Turtledove also manages to draw parallels between a defeated Germany and the current occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and the War of Terror.

Two other classic novels that were written in a fairly straight forward fashion are Ward Moore's Bring the Jubilee and John Brunner's Times Without Number. Moore's novel is set in the Union after its defeat from the Confederacy. Brunner's novel is set in a world dominated by Spain. However in the end both end up having elements of time travel in them so they should be placed in the next category which is time travel derive alternate history. I will deal with these on my next post.

Blogged with the Flock Browser