RogerBW's Blog

Alternate Generals 26 April 2014

Anthology from 1998 of alternate histories based on different decisions by military leaders; edited by Harry Turtledove, Roland Green and Martin H. Greenberg.

Most of the stories, I have to say, are quite forgettable, can be summed up in a sentence and don't really have much to offer beyond that summation: Nelson fought for the French. Custer lived at Little Big Horn, and became president. Caesar decided to reject kingship, but was still assassinated. Joshua Chamberlain ends up fighting for the Confederates. And so on. A few left a more lasting impression.

The reason I picked up this collection was Tradition, by Elizabeth Moon: it deals with the pursuit of Goeben and Breslau in the early days of the Great War. Craddock replaces Troubridge, and ignores his orders so as to go after the fleeing ships. It certainly feels like a reasonable set of consequences, and the seriousness of contemplating an act of mutiny is given its due weight (possibly assisted by Moon's military background). I don't know enough about the period to pick holes in it, but I found the story most enjoyable.

Two Second World War stories go together, though they're not adjacent in the book; in both William Sanders' Billy Mitchell's Overt Act and R. M. Meluch's Vati, an air leader does a better job than the historical oneā€¦ only to find that, in one case, preventing the disaster of Pearl Harbor means the USA's entry into the war is much less whole-hearted, and in the other, that delaying Overlord and bringing jet fighters into Nazi service in large numbers merely prolongs the war and makes the end worse when it comes. It's always a temptation for a writer of alternate history to make things better (unless you're Steve Stirling who seems to glory in making things worse), and it's most pleasing to see an acceptance that sometimes a tactical victory can lead to a major strategic error.

The other stand-out story for me is Lois Tilton's The Craft of War, told as a Socratic dialogue, in which Sun Tzu is exiled from China and ends up organising the army of Xerxes. Here, yes, it can still be summed up in a sentence, but the joy is mostly in the writing style.

Recommended if you can get it very cheaply second hand, and you're interested in alternate histories anyway. But it's very slight, and would be hard-put to justify its original cover price.

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  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 10:57am on 26 April 2014

    Yeah, they did a whole series of those. I could have sworn I had ALTERNATE GENERALS 1 and 2 but they seem to have gone the way of all pulp. (To the charity shops normally.)

    I still have ALTERNATE PRESIDENTS, which was quite fun. It had an alternate outcome for each of the American Presidential elections from Ben Franklin as the Father of His Country (more than he was already, the randy old devil) to Robert Sheckley dropping some alien first contact on Michael Dukakis. I rather enjoyed some of these, especially the picture of Teddy Roosevelt losing re-election due to a 'premature' support of feminism and ending segregation.

    I also have the last of the sequence ALTERNATE KENNEDYS and if you think GENERALS was less than full value for money...

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 08:48pm on 26 April 2014

    I read ALTERNATE PRESIDENTS quite a while ago, but I didn't know enough about US presidential history to work out most of it. Still don't, probably. And my fascination with the Kennedys is probably best measured with a microscope.

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