Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Alternative Historians

Another day spent visiting a historic building has left little time for posting -

- but where are we at with the blog? This blog has accepted that SM Stirling is a worthy successor of Poul Anderson, although it seems that, as an alternative historian, Stirling is an even worthier successor of Harry Turtledove, with whose works I am as yet barely familiar. I would welcome any correspondence comparing the alternative histories of these three authors. Anderson presents several alternative timelines and also discusses prevented divergent histories in his Time Patrol series.

Having read and posted about Stirling's alternative versions of the British Empire and of the inner Solar System, I then followed the latter series into Old Mars, an anthology co-edited by GRR Martin and Gardner Dozois. I expect that this book's fifteen original retro-visions of Mars will coalesce in memory as GRR Martin's Introduction said happened for him with the pre-Mariner fictional versions of Mars.

Allen M Steele's Martians are dark and golden-eyed and Steele cleverly gives the adjective, "artesian," a second meaning. The Martians have an artesian well while they themselves are Homo artesian, men of Ares/Mars. However, these Martian aborigines are technologically primitive and their "canals" are merely diverted rivers. In this respect, they diverge from Martin's composite Martians who were the heirs of many old and fallen civilizations.

I listed Poul Anderson's various Martian races here. Some of these appeared in more than one timeline, for example an owl-like Martian showed up in an unconnected story about the exploration of Mercury.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I used to be a fan of the "alternate history" SF of Harry Turtledove before I became dissatisfied with them. More and more I came to prefer S.M. Stirling's versions of alternate history. They were sometimes really GRIM (see his Draka books) but, for that reason and others as well, they felt more real to me. However, I continue to like Turtledove's stories about Basil Argyros, an intelligence agent of an alternate Eastern Roman Empire which never had to contend in desperate life and death struggles with Islam for survival. So, I would recommend at least Turtledove's AGENT OF BYZANTIUM (which strongly reminds me of Poul Anderson's AGENT OF THE TERRAN EMPIRE).


Sean M. Brooks said...

I should have added to my previous note that Turtledove is a professional scholar of Byzantine history, which meant doing things like translating Byzantine historians such as the CHRONICLE of Theophanes Confessor. A work I have, btw. That means Turtledove's indepth knowledge of Eastern Roman history gave his Basil Argyros stories a more convincing "feel" that I don't quite find in others of his works.


David Birr said...

The copy of *Agent of Byzantium* on my bookshelf has a front-cover blurb reading, "In the spirit of Flandry and James Bond."

Turtledove's *The Guns of the South* is an interestingly worked-out alternate history -- when he wanted to present a presidential election, he researched the probable results by state in order to come up with a full tally and used that to decide who won, rather than picking a winner and then fudging the voting numbers to make his choice win.
It also includes an interesting variant of time machine: one that can only travel a certain fixed "distance" into the past. It's compared in-story to a railroad line, connecting 2013 to 1864, and then 2014 to 1865, and so on....

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Birr,

THAT I can agree with, that Turtledove's Basil Argyros stories ARE in the spirit of Dominic Flandry and James Bond. Except that I find Flandry more thoughtful, reflective, "deeper" than Bond.

Yes, I agree that Turtledove's GUNS OF THE SOUTH is a very carefully worked out alternate history SF novel, probably better than some of his other works. And I do recall the bit in that book about the fictional US presidential election of 1864.

I'l be frank and say one big reason why I'm no longer quite as much a fan of Turtledove as I used to be can be found in his short story "Under St. Peter's."