by Bryce Zabel

Diversion Books


302pp/$15.99/December 2017

Once There Was a Way

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

On December 31, 1970, Paul McCartney files suit asking for the dissolution of the Beatles contractual partnership. Although he dissolution was not finalized until December 29, 1974, it marked the end of the Beatles, although they had effectively separated earlier in the year when Paul announced he was leaving the band in April, prior to the release of Let It Be. Beatles fans have often lamented not being able to see the four Liverpudlians working together into the 70s, but Bryce Zabel has imagined a world in which the Fab Four continue to record and perform together in Once There Was a Way.

Zabel's branch point comes prior to the Beatles breakup when Johnny Carson shows up for their Tonight Show interview on May 14, 1968 and subsequently, along with Ed McMahon, alters the course of history. Zabel uses alternative titles whcih were considered for their last few albums to reimagine them, more in name than in contents, and so there are references to A Doll's House, Everest, and a live album that never occured in our timeline. Other changes happened as well, and so the Beatles are forced together for the filming and promotion of a Kubrick-directed Lord of the Rings. The necessity to stay together for the film provides Zabel with the impetus to have the band create more music and perform in more concerts. Their subsequent album play lists become Beatles versions of the songs released on their solo albums for the most part, which allows the reader to re-create the unreleased Beatles albums, perhaps inspired by Lennon's 1970s comment the fans could mix their own Beatles records by taking selections from their post-Beatles careers.

Although Zabel does look at Harrison, Starr, and McCartney, the main character in the book is John Lennon. His Lennon is unappealing and has is most notable for being contrary. Zabel makes it clear that Lennon wants to quit the Beatles (and notes that the feeling, at various times, was also felt by Starr, Harrison, and McCartney), but in the book, Lennon's whim drives the actions of the other characters, with McCartney bending over backwards to keep the band together, Harrison taking or leaving the band, but mostly wanting it to stay together, and Ringo wanting to keep the band going, but feeling that he doesn't have too much of a say.

Unfortunately, Zabel has a tendency to undermine his own alternate history. References to the modern political scene: Barack Obama and Donald Trump, for instance, make the reader question what the importance is of the Beatles remaining together as Zabel presents it. The historical changes, beyond the band and a narrow world of music, seem minimal. The performances he describes and albums he lists would be nice to have, but the underlying message of the novel is that musicians (and by extension other entertainers?) can't effect change in the world.

Nevertheless, Once There Was a Way offers Beatles fans a glimpse into moments with the band which never happened in our own timeline. When Zabel describes their concert in Central Park, he brings the event to life in a way that makes the reader wish the concert had actually happened. Although the book presents a world with additional works by the Beatles, including some collaborations, it does not offer a compelling reason for the change to have happened.

Purchase this book

Amazon BooksOrder from Amazon UK

Amazon Books



Return to

Thanks to
SF Site
for webspace.