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Edited by Harry Turtledove



354pp/$24.00/July 2002

Alternate Generals II
Cover by Dru Blair

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Alternate Generals II is, as the name suggests, the second volume of the Harry Turtledove edited alternate history series.  While the majority of the stories in the anthology are well written and well-throught out, the book does suffer from one of the problems which plagued its predecessor of not providing the casual reader with some of the background information which would permit a greater enjoyment of some of the more esoteric scenarios.

“American Mandate” is James Fiscus’s description of an American colonial power in Turkey following the Great War, with General Pershing attempting to deal with the high tempers that are flaring against the corporate governor appointed by the Harding administration.  At the same time, Mustafa Kemal is trying to spark a revolution against the sultan and a modernization of Turkey.  In some ways, “American Mandate” is a utopian look at the early twentieth century idea of political mandates, which leads to events falling a little too perfectly in the interests of Pershing and his comrades.

Senator Adlai Stevenson travels to a semi-occupied Alabama in Michael F. Flynn’s witty “Southern Strategy.”   After the Americans did not participate in the Great War, but did join Wilson’s League of Nations, the United States has been reduced to a second-rate power.  A series of lynchings in the south, the clearings, has led to a League occupation to bring about racial harmony.  Stevenson is brought into contact with a variety of factions, and while Flynn uses analogs from history in a humorous manner, he also draws more serious parallels in this racially divided country and the difficulties of getting it back on track.

All too often, alternate history authors take an historical figure, put them in a different situation and proceed to alter their personality to the extent that the author could be writing about anyone.  Harry Turtledove avoids this trap with his portrayal of Adolph Hitler in “Uncle Alf.”  Following the German victory in the Great War, Hitler finds himself sent to Lille, where a group of socialists are threatening the German occupation.  Turtledove’s portrayal of Hitler shows his hatred turned towards anyone who he perceives as having wronged him or not living in the world as he sees it.  Although not depicted as the monster he became historically, Turtledove’s character is still loathsome in his self-congratulatory manner.

Noreen Doyle explores an alternative ancient Egypt in “Horizon,” which provides her with one of the major problems in writing alternate history:  using a period which many readers will be unfamiliar with.  However, even more important is that Doyle has elected to focus her attention on the big picture, rather than flesh out characters that the reader can relate to.  Horizon is a look at the Egyptian pharoah Akhenaten and his foray into Asia during the war between the Hittites and the Mittani.

Judith Tarr has written several novels about the crusades, and her story “Devil's Bargain” continues in that milieu.  On the eve of laying siege to Jerusalem, Richard of England is made an intriguing by the Old Man of the Mountain who ruled over the assassins.  While much of Tarr’s story is a straightforward account of Richard’s battle for Jerusalem, the ending does look at Richard’s reaction to his bargain in both a practical and psychological manner.

Roland J. Green takes the famous incident of George Patton slapping a soldier as a departure point in “George Patton Slept Here,” which follows the Italian campaign through a series of letters, journal entries and newspaper articles.  Rather than giving in to his initial impulse, Patton gives the soldier words of encouragement with the result that his reputation and the campaign proceed in different directions.

In Harry Turtledove’s “The Great War” series, George Armstrong Custer is allowed to live into the twentieth century, where he becomes a tank division commander.  Chris Bunch repeats this casting, although he has created a Custer who is identical to the historical figure, except born in 1885, nearly a decade after the historical Custer was killed at Little Big Horn in “Tarnished Glory.”  In this position, Custer takes over George Patton’s role in World War II, since the Patton in this timeline was killed in World War I.  While many alternate histories debate the Great Man theory of history, Bunch has created a scenario which shows how interchangeable individuals can be:  Custer for Patton in Italy, Reno for Custer at Little Big Horn.  However, Bunch is not willing to champion this position, and Custer’s actions in World War II, while similar to Patton’s, result in a very different history in the second half of the twentieth century.

S.M. Stirling & Richard Foss use a series of flashbacks en route to the presidential inauguration to tell the story of two “Compadres” who have risen to the highest offices in the country.  The authors play the identity of Roosevelt’s Vice President, who is not Charles Fairbanks, close to their chest, providing some clues as to his identity throughout the story.  Rather than being an alternate history about the effects of change, in this case the placement of the Mexican-American border, this is an alternate history of surprise, as the authors spring their Vice Presidential selection on the reader.

Just as Judith Tarr visited the third Crusades with her tale of Richard at Jerusalem, Susan Shwartz goes a century earlier to look at Bohemond at Antioch in “And the Glory of Them.”  Besides the crusader motif, the stories have more in common as each general finds himself having a strange encounter with a man who is, or may be, his enemy.  The stories work well when juxtaposed against each other, as Tarr’s Richard accepts the advantage offered to him while Shwartz’s Bohemond insists on earning glory for himself.

R.M. Meluch’s contribution to Alternate Generals, “Twelve Legions of Angels,” begins as an extended joke between the author and the reader.  Told as an investigation by Hermann Goerring into a piece of “speculative fiction” written by Hugh Dowding following the successful invasion of Britain by the Nazis, Meluch and the reader share in a laugh about how Dowding describes what occurred historically and the disbelief in his suggestions by those who have lived through this alternate reality.  Once the joke, which also serves to let the reader know what really happened, is out of the way, Meluch uses the situation to have Dowding examine his own feelings of responsibility for the downfall of his country and the deaths of so many of its pilots.

Joel Richards creates an unlikely general in his story "In the Prison of His Days," set during the Irish uprising of 1913. The poet W.B. Yeats is offered a generalship, and eventual cabinet post, for his assistance in an Irish uprising against the English. The revolutionaries realize that in addition to a flash point, they also need a method of spreading the word about their activities to the rest of the country. 

Esther Friesner creates not just an alternate general in "Labor Relations," but an alternative way of making war. Friesner's general, the empress of the Japanese, has come up with a plan to conquer Korea without ever engaging the Koreans in an actual battle. When one of her soldiers, Matsumoto Yoshi eventually deserts because he realizes there will be no chance for him to gain glory in this war, the empress's plan is revealed.  Friesner's story relies heavily on magic and the supernatural to bring about its conclusion. 

Turtledove has elected to end the anthology with a piece by William Sanders, who provided one of the high points of the first Alternate Generals with his story "Billy M\itchell's Overt Act." In "Empire," Sanders builds an alternative North America which only slowly, but carefully, reveals its shape. His portrayal of a Napoleon who never became Emperor of France, but instead finds himself dealing with Davy Crockett, Sam Houston, and Andrew Jackson is realistic. While "Empire" is not as strong a story as "Billy Mitchell's Overt Act," it shows Sanders's ability with alternate history and providing details to the readers in a reasonable manner.

James Fiscus American Mandate
Michael F. Flynn Southern Strategy
Harry Turtledove Uncle Alf
Noreen Doyle Horizon
Judith Tarr Devil's Bargain
Roland Green George Patton Slept Here
Chris Bunch Tarnished Glory
S.M. Stirling & Richard Foss Compadres
Susan Shwartz And the Glory of Them
R.M. Meluch Twelve Legions of Angels
Joel Richards In the Prison of His Days
Esther Friesner Labor Relations
William Sanders Empire

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