Edited by Michael A. Ventrella & Randee Dawn

Fantastic Books


279pp/$15.95/December 2019

Across the Universe

Cover by Dave Alvarez

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

In August 1962, Ringo Starr replaced Pete Best as the drummer for the Beatles. Over the next eight years, the band achieved a level of fame and musical influence that surpassed even Elvis and has captivated the world ever since. On the tales of the release of the film Yesterday, which hypothesized a world in which the Beatles never existed, Michael A. Ventrella and Randee Dawn have produced Across the Universe: Tales of Alternative Beatles, which includes twenty-five stories that look at versions of the Fab Four.

While the anthology does contain a handful of Beatles alternate history stories, most of which revolve around the failure of the Beatles to form rather than the band remaining together longer, the majority of the stories take the Beatles, or some form of them, and put them into a variety of situations. One of the most successful is Allen Steele’s “Come Together” about an interstellar probe with four AIs named for the various Beatles. As the mission progresses, the AIs begin to attain sentience and personalities based on their namesakes.

Certain themes keep coming up, notably the idea that Paul is dead, or undead, or cannot die. Given the proliferation of the “Paul is Dead” hoax, this doesn’t come as a surprise, and the variety of takes, from Zombie Beatles, to a Paul who finds himself resurrected in the basement of Abbey Road Studios after each death, to a Paul brought from a timelines without the Beatles to one in which Paul died in a car crash, various authors offer their own interpretation.

Both Eric Avedissian and Christian H. Smith seem to believe that in a world where the Beatles were not successful John Lennon is the Beatle who is least able to cope. In both “Liverpool Band Battle 1982” and “Through a Glass Onion,” a down-on-his-luck Lennon seems to desperately need to reunite the Beatles in order to achieve his own sense of purpose and success.

Many of the stories are little more than thought experiments that take the Beatles, sometimes only in name, and transfer them to other foursomes: the Marx Brothers, the Scooby Gang, or the Fantastic Four. The strongest of these stories is Ken Schneyer’s “Foursomes,” which uses the transition of the Beatles into the Three Musketeers (and other quartets) as a springboard for a brief exploration of the difference between reality and legend and how fame can lead to the loss of control over their own images and stories.

The strongest stories are based in the characters’ actual histories and backgrounds. Brenda Clough’s look at the 1999 attack on George Harrison through the lens of his interest in Eastern meditation practices feels true to his character. Pat Cadigan has an interesting, and very personal-seeming, look at the Beatles in her time travel stories which places her and a friend at the Beatles’ infamous 1966 Cleveland Stadium concert.

The anthology is uneven, ranging from stories that border on the silly and incorporate almost stream-of-consciousness quoting of lines and titles from Beatles songs to stories which try to understand the Beatles’ interpersonal relationships and the manner in which they created their music and legacy. Beatles fans will find much to enjoy, but also stories that won’t ring true, in the anthology.

Spider Robinson Rubber Soul
Jody Lynn Nye A New Beginning
Charles Barouch The Perfect Bridge
Gordon Linzner The Hey! Team
Lawrence Watt-Evans Paul Is Dead
Allen M. Steele Come Together
Sally Weiner Grotta The Truth Within
Kenneth Schneyer Foursomes
David Gerrold The Fabtastic Four
Cat Rambo All You Need
Keith R.A. DeCandido Used To Be
Bev Vincent Game Seven
Patrick Barb When I'm #64
Carol Gyzander Deal with the Devil
Pat Cadigan Meet the Beatles
Gail Z. Martin The Walrus Returns
Brenda W. Clough My Sweet Lord of Light
Eric Avedissian Liverpool Band Battle 1982
Alan Goldsher Undead in the Material World
R. Jean Mathieu The Heretic
Beth W. Patterson Cayenne
Christian H. Smith Through a Glass Onion
Gregory Frost A Hard Day's Night at the Opera
Matthew F. Amati Apocalypse Rock
Gregory Benford Doing Lennon

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