Friday, April 20, 2007

You're the one they never pick

What to do when your genre never makes the big awards? Start your own awards of course. The Sidewise awards are for alternate history novels. I was all set to scoff, but found myself taking notes about some of the books.I have a love/hate relationship with the genre. There is a lot of crap, but also some quite good reading there.

Alternate history is considered a sub-genre of science fiction, as a key element of sf is its speculative side. The unifying concept of the genre is that at some point, history diverged from our timeline. The novel then explores possible consequences of the change, or simply uses an interesting background to tell a story. I think the genre gets a bad reputation because too many of the stories focus on a meticulous exploration of an alternate timeline. That is interesting, but only so interesting.

Harry Turtledove is probably the best selling alternate history novelist, as this chart of his series illustrates. Turtledove is headed towards becoming the Robert Jordan of alternate history, writing overlong novels in never ending series. I quite liked his How Few Remain, which postulates the South winning the Civil War and the adversaries fighting a re-match in 1881. He then followed this up with EIGHT sequels (+ 2 projected ones) taking the two enemies into a re-imagined World War 1 and 2. I gave up after a while as it became too tedious. He has another multi-volume series that has aliens invading Earth in the middle of World War 2. Great concept, but it went on too long.

Fortunately there are nice short alternate history novels out there. Among the more literary are Pavane, which assumes Catholicism won in England, and the Plot Against America. Fatherland is a great thriller, and I think Resurrection Day, a mystery set in a post-Cuban Missile Crisis goes nuclear US, is underrated.

I recently picked up Weapons of Choice, which has to be the goofiest sounding concept of the last few years. In 2021, the US and allies go up against a rising Islamic power in Indonesia. Taking a cue from the Final Countdown, a time experiment sends them back to world war 2. Yay for the USA but it turns out the Axis gets help too. As silly as it sounds, this one gets raves.

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