Edited by Gordon van Gelder

Four Walls Eight Windows


434pp/$15.95/August 2003

One Lamp
Cover by J.T. Lindroos

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Over the years, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has published myriad alternative history stories. Editor Gordon van Gelder has gone through their backlist and selected fourteen of those stories, dating from Poul Anderson's "Delenda Est," first published in 1955 to Charles Coleman Finlay's "We Come Not to Praise Washington," which first appeared in 2002. The stories are not, however, spread evenly over the intervening years, with none from the 60s or 70s and a full six from the 90s.

Van Gelder's selections help demonstrate that alternative history is more than simply a re-imagining of the battles of the Civil War or World War II. While it is true that some of the stories deal with these events, notable Maureen F. McHugh's "The Lincoln Train" and Bradley Denton's "The Territory" for the Civil War and C.M. Kornbluth's "Two Dooms" and Harry Turtledove's "The Last Article" for World War II, the majority of the stories focus on other points of divergence. The earliest divergence is probably in Poul Anderson's "Delenda Est," in which the deaths of the Scipios at Ticinus led to a twentieth century in which things are notably different.

The stories also focus on various aspects of alternative history. In the aforementioned "Delenda Est," time travel plays a pivotal role not only in the solution to the story, but in the entire background. Other stories, such as Charles Coleman Finlay's "We Come Not to Praise Washington" focus more on the human elements of the story, in this case set in a very different early United States. Technological advances are the focus of Jan Lars Jensen's "The Secret History of the Ornithopter," providing a hard science fiction element to these stories of alternative history.

While many of the alternative histories focus on the United States, there are several which explore the full range of the globe, from the twentieth-century Japan depicted in Jensen's "The Secret History of the Ornithopter" to the seventh-century Arabia of Robert Silverberg's "A Hero of the Empire."

More than one of the stories demonstrate a omphological bent. Both Paul J. McAuley and Paul di Filippo examine science fiction's own history in the stories "The Two Dicks" and "And I Think to Myself, What a Wonderful World," respectively. Other alternative history stories also explore this theme, including di Filippo's "Mairzy Doats," Larry Niven's "The Return of William Proxmire," and Stephen Dedman's "Amendment" among others.

In addition to "Delenda Est," the classic tales van Gelder has elected to reprint include Alfred Bester's "The Men Who Murdered Mohammed," a time travel story about personal alternative history, and C.M. Kornbluth's classic world war II story "Two Dooms" about the development of the atomic bomb in World War II.

Reading the stories in One Lamp will not only give the reader a view of the breadth of alternative history, but also excellent reading. Many of the stories included have been nominated for some of science fiction's major awards and, in the case of "The Lincoln Train" have won them. The authors van Gelder has included know how to write and know how to develop their plots and characters. While some of the stories may appear a little dated, they are still as entertaining as they were when initially published.

C.M. Kornbluth Two Dooms
Maureen F. McHugh The Lincoln Train Hugo WinnerNebula NomineeSidewise Nominee
Robert Silverberg A Hero of the Empire Sidewise Nominee
Dana Wilde The Green Moon
Paul McAuley The Two Dicks
Charles Coleman Finlay We Come Not to Praise Washington Sidewise Nominee
James Morrow Auspicious Eggs
Poul Anderson Delenda Est
Alfred Bester The Men Who Murdered Mohammed
Harry Turtledove The Last Article
Jan Lars Jensen The Secret History of the Ornithopter Hugo NomineeSidewise Nominee
Ben Bova The Caf´┐Ż Coup
Paul Di Filippo And I Think to Myself, What a Wonderful World
Bradley Denton The Territory Hugo NomineeNebula Nominee

Purchase this book from Amazon Books.

Return to