Tag Archives: alternate history

Superman: Red Son

The upside to that random Frank Miller book I read today is that it broke up my otherwise back-to-back Mark Millar readings. (Although, of course, if they’re pronounced the same (as I suppose), it’s like a threepeat. Which is really a terrible word, so I hope it’s instead mill-are as I’ve always said under my breath when typing it.) I’m not sure what I would have read if I had planned ahead, but the graphic novel that happened to be sitting in my car, still uncategorized after my last trip to Recycled Books in Denton, was Red Son. And I’ve been wanting to read it for ages anyway, so there was really no question of anything like worrying about it not being one of my ongoing non-superhero series and therefore out of order.

The conceit, if the title does not make it obvious, is that Kal-El’s ship landed on the other side of the planet, where he was found by collective-farmers and raised as a Communist before developing superpowers (as one does) and becoming Stalin’s darling. And then, of course, the story proceeds.[1] There’s not a lot more I want to say, because things go in extremely interesting directions that should not be spoiled, but I will say that it presents one of the most compelling versions of Lex Luthor I’ve ever seen. And despite my avoidance of DC Comics, I follow really a lot of Superman stories on film. So.

One downside: I cannot find it in me to entirely approve of Superman having as strong of a moral center without having been raised by the Kents. I comprehend how that’s wildly unfair to millions of possible parents out there in the early twentieth century world, and especially to somewhat fewer millions of Soviet parents. Nevertheless, it’s a thing.

[1] Not that you can tell from where you are reading, but I have been paused for a very long time because the incredibly compelling Game Six of the World Series has distracted me from typing for a while. I’m not sorry or anything, just documenting.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

If I look at it from outside myself, I am forced to admit that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter sounds exceptionally twee. “Hey, you know what would be zany? If in addition to ending slavery and saving the United States from utter failure as a national concern less than a hundred years in, Abe Lincoln also used to hunt vampires!” So, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. I get how that premise lends itself to completely pointless silliness, I do.

But, here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to. And the way I know this is that our author (also notable for his recent release of an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that I have not yet read) managed to tie together a whole lot of history, pathos, and adventure into what is at the least a semi-believable package. And honestly, it’s not the part with the vampires that leaves me in doubt, it’s the part where vampires could possibly still be a secret today, while having quite as many people know about them in the 1820s-1860s as this biography purports. My point is, the research is (at the least) usually valid, the narrative flows very well, and the outcome has few if any contradictions with the established history as I know it. I just nearly want to read a more traditional Lincoln biography to see what other differences exist, if any. (Particularly potential difference in the cameo appearances of other noteworthy folk.)

I will also say, in case it matters to any of my readers, that I didn’t feel that the adding of blame to vampires for slavery (particularly as it related to the Civil War, but also in general) seemed in any way to shift blame away from the humans in the South. But then, blame hasn’t ever really been a zero-sum game, so that’s not too surprising. I’m just glad to have not found apologism anywhere in here, as my experience would’ve been lessened greatly.

Resistance: Fall of Man

After long delays[1], I have finally gotten a PlayStation 3, what with the Blu-Ray playing capabilities and all. Resultingly, I also snagged one of the handful of PS3 exclusives that also looked in any way entertaining. And even more surprising than all of this combined, I finished the damn thing. It’s ever so slightly possible I may play through again, because there are lots of pieces of paper with more storyline that I missed and new weapons to kill the alien/zombie hybrid things with. In realism land, I won’t. But I might, and that’s a piece of shock in itself.

Resistance: Fall of Man chronicles a non-specific divergent history without an apparent World War II in which some kind of weird bio-experiment (that seems a lot more plausibly like alien technology to me) goes awry in Russia over the course of the 1930s and ’40s, and then suddenly breaks free and conquers all of Asia and Europe in a matter of months. The especial deadliness comes from the fact that the majority of humans caught up in the conflict are converted into new waves of killer alien/zombie hybrids themselves. So, never-ending supply of new soldiers. And now it’s late 1951, England has all but fallen, and it’s time for some random American dude to have a weird immunity to the alien takeover thing that makes him even more hybridized than the others, insofar as he gains powers and yellow eyes but retains his essential humanity, and then, y’know…. payback time.

I probably should be tired of games whose main point is to be mankind’s alien-killing service? But not yet!

[1] I mean, it launched, what, 2.5 years ago? I are slow!

Star Trek

MV5BMjE5NDQ5OTE4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTE3NDIzMw@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_Obviously, you are aware of this movie, and you’ve probably already formed your own opinion. And anyway, I’d be leery of spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen it. In theory, this constrains my review by quite a lot, but I figure it leaves me free to talk about what I really wanted to anyway. But, first things first. Did I like it? Enough to see it three times on opening weekend. Did it have flaws? I can think of a couple offhand, one extremely nitpicky and one that, absent, would have failed to feel like a Star Trek movie anyway. Plus, I think I’m willing to claim that at one point, there was actually an insufficient amount of technobabble. Was it accessible to non-fans? I feel as though it really was, and the reviews I’ve heard from non-fans (and in one case, an actively anti-fan) have borne this impression out. So you should really go see it, if this has not already occurred.

Because what J.J. Abrams made here was a philosophical, character-driven action movie, and really, how many of those do you think exist? Of the ones that exist, how many do you think aren’t insufferably smug about it? This right here is a narrow field to occupy! Action: ’cause, you know, space battles and laser gun fights. Character-driven: the driving forces of the story are all based in interactions. Kirk and McCoy’s friendship. Kirk and Spock’s rivalry. Spock’s relationship with his human mother. Nero’s irrational impulse for personal rather than systemic revenge. (He’s the bad guy.) Philosophical: take a group of people that shook the foundations of the Federation (and, projecting outward less than you’d think, the galaxy) and drastically change their history. Okay, many of the changes were not drastic, but one was, and there are clear, subtle ripples from there even before the main plot of the movie takes over. And then explore the question of random chance versus unalterable destiny.

I liked that by the end of the movie, the history of the Federation is vastly divergent from the one that fans of five TV series and ten movies know. And I like that it’s not going to be “fixed.” It was a bold move that I think is going to pay off in spades for the future of the franchise. But as much as I approve of that, I absolutely adored watching as, moment by moment, destiny pushed beloved characters into roles that they had fallen into by seeming happenstance in the original timeline. This new Trek may have surprisingly non-causal time travel that never really existed in “my father’s” Star Trek, but it also has some modicum of fate. And that’s kind of cool.

Watchmen (2009)

So my normal Mondays involve some beer, some bar food, and some zombie slaughter. It is a pretty sweet deal, y’know? This Monday had its differences, though, in that I skipped the beer and food alike in favor of a brief, ultimately successful struggle to get the media company to honor the passes they had sent out for a sneak preview of Watchmen. (Okay, technically, we relied upon the kindness of strangers. But the important part is, everybody had a seat!)

So I watched it for something like two hours and forty-five minutes, and I’ve spent the subsequent day or so trying to figure out what I can possibly say about it, that I haven’t already said. The layouts and scenery shift constantly between starkly beautiful and grimily seedy with almost dizzying regularity, as a perfect counterpoint to the characters and their actions and motivations and essential, almost unstoppable humanity.[1] It’s a highly political and moral tale set at the height of communist paranoia in an alternate, superhero-laden 1985, and the thing is, I really don’t want to say any more than that because it’s worth coming to fresh.

But if you’re one of the people who didn’t come fresh, because you’ve already read Alan Moore’s original book from which this movie was drawn, I’ll say this much more: it is very probably the most faithful and effective adaptation of a literary work I have ever seen.[2] Got anything going on Friday or maybe Saturday? At least, anything you can’t cancel? Because, go see this.

[1] I might be gushing. But the story and the characters really are that good.
[2] And I was pretty happy with almost all of Peter Jackson’s choices on the Lord of the Rings movies.

In at the Death

One of those things where I end up with a pile of reviewable materials all finishing up at once has just happened. Lucky for me, I’m working today, on one of the slowest days of the year, so theoretically I have enough time to get it all caught up and sorted in my mind before any useful particulars fade away. Though I suppose it might help if I had more inclination; that seems to be another thing in addition to time that gets sacrificed when I finish so many things at once. As ever, the best way to get rolling is to just blunder ahead willy-nilly without any thought until something appears on the page. (I have it on good authority that this is the key to all writing, not merely for reviews.)

Firstly, I finished another Harry Turtledove alternate history cycle. In at the Death chronicles the final year of World War II and its aftermath, in a 1944 and 1945 that has already seen four wars between the United and Confederate States in just 80 years. Since the outcome in broad strokes was essentially a foregone conclusion as of the end of the previous volume, most of what I got out of the book was a chance to enjoy the characters again and to get at least a glimpse of the possible future of a completely different world. After all, with North America divided against itself, Japan had no effective adversaries in the Pacific Rim. And in a Germany that won the previous war and thus had no calamitous economic collapse or subsequent hatred for its Jews, the brightest minds of the atomic age had no reason to flee that country. The future is an uncertain place that I’d be thrilled to see more of, but if Turtledove stops here with the conclusion of the second World War and just brief glimpses of what could follow, it will still have been more satisfying than the concluding volume of the alien invasion of World War II series. As stories with 11 volumes go, well, I’ve certainly read some that were a lot less consistent than this one has been. Yay, alternate history!

The Grapple

As anticipated, another alternate history of the many wars between the USA and the CSA was released, and then I read it. I mean, months later, also as anticipated, but that’s fine because there’s only one left, and now I can not wait a long time to see how things turn out, if that’s my preference. It probably won’t be, but, y’know. It’s nice to have options. Also, of course, it would probably be easy to keep on rolling the clock forward even after World War II ends, since the face of the planet is so different after eighty years of Confederate existence. America allied with non-fascist Germany, Russia still under the control of the tsar, Canada occupied… lots of differences.

The main problem with The Grapple is that the surprises are running out. Is there a crazy guy in charge of a downtrodden nation who has united his people in hatred of an outsider ethnic group, which group is now being slaughtered by the millions? Why, yes. Does this slaughter actively interfere with what could have been a successful war effort? On multiple levels, in fact. Does he at least have VX rocket analogues with which he can create a little bit of tension? You know he will sooner or later! Is there a top secret atomic arms race? Heck, that even happened in the aliens version of World War II that Turtledove already wrote, so no way is it going to vanish this time.

The one thing that does recommend the series is that it has spanned ten books now and three generations. As a result, I find myself interested in the individual fates of the characters, wherein some drama is still possible. I suppose I couldn’t expect the outcome of the war to be different, since there are stark lines between good and evil at this point. But it still hurts a series when you know almost exactly how it’s going to end and you’re only a little over halfway through it. (I mean, not that there will be twenty books, but that this particular war forms its own “mini-series”, if you will. That right there is a handy term. You’d think someone would have thought of it before now.)

Return of the Jedi: Infinities

I know it seems like I should be a long way behind, but I’m not. No movies in an Age, one of my books vanished (and has since been replaced, but I’m in the middle of another books right now, which is huge and comfort material, because I wanted to turn my brain off for a bit), I’ve been playing Final Fantasy (and sure, doing well, but the end is days off yet at the minimum). However, I have read several comics lately, and I think I’m willing to review them. So, there’s that.

I was out looking for issues of Serenity, and I came across a 4-part Dark Horse offering, Return of the Jedi: Infinities. A minor change during one of the Jabba’s Palace scenes launches an alternate history of Episode VI. I like Star Wars, and I like alternate history, so I went for it.

Here’s the thing: it’s got flashes of unique vision, although a lot of the story seems to involve moving the chess pieces around such that the characters wind up in essentially identical situations, only slightly more bleak about it, for maximum angst. Which isn’t that bad in itself, except that the closing scene of the story is complete cheese, both on paper and in the execution. I didn’t buy it a bit, put the thing down in disgust, and may have been scarred for life if only I wasn’t aware of the awesomeness of other comics that are available these days. (Such as that Serenity I mentioned, once the third issue comes out and I finish the story. Or Sandman.)

Door to Alternity

If you’re in any way interesting, you don’t remember that I read the first book of a Buffy/Angel crossover trilogy in December (at least, not before I reminded you just now), because you’ve had other, better things on your mind. Like, say, tax season, or how the Iraqi election contributes to the stability of that region.

A few days ago, I finished reading the equally engrossing second book of the Unseen trilogy, Door to Alternity. (As before, there are inevitable spoilers through the first several seasons of Buffy, so stop now if you want to avoid them.) Much as The Burning had lots of fire, this book has lots of doors to alternities. (An alternity, sensibly, is an alternate reality but without so many syllables.) The third of the trilogy combines the thrilling danger of randomly appearing monsters swarming over Sunnydale, teens (disaffected and affected alike) disappearing into glowing portals all over LA, and a turf war between Mexican street gangs and the Russian Mafiya. (As you can see, only a couple of key changes have occurred in the greater Southern California area in the ten years since the events chronicled in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.) Against this thrillingly dangerous backdrop, the authors have included the kinds of Buffy tropes you’d expect of a Scooby gang frozen in emotional time for the summer: Xander and Anya sure do talk about and have lots of sex, Buffy, Riley, and Angel sure do spend a lot of angsty thought over their non-existent triangle, and Spike sure does want that chip out of his head.

It was approximately three months between when I read the first book and the second. By comparison, it was approximately two months between when the two books were released. I can’t say I know they were written two months apart as a result of that publication spacing, but I also can’t say I’d be surprised to learn that it was so.

Return Engagement

I think half the fun of alternate history writing comes from the winks and nudges that the author is able to give the informed reader about the parallels and outright differences between what got written and what really happened. Not that this is hard to achieve in a Turtledove novel; he’s the genre’s Grisham, writing alternate history for the masses, which means that he’s not really writing out of the high school history level on most occasions. There are certainly things to spot even for more informed readers, but they’re rare. (Or else, I’m insufficiently informed; that’s likely.)

As for a review of the actual book, there’s not a lot I can say. Although Return Engagement is the first of the Settling Accounts trilogy, it’s the eighth book in the same storyline. Turtledove posits that a set of military orders sent by Lee to his subordinates early in the Civil War was not lost by the messenger, and then jumps ahead first to the 1880s to examine the new fates of such historical personages as Teddy Roosevelt, George Custer, and Abraham Lincoln against the backdrop of a divided continent, while the fledgling Confederate States face their second military challenge.

Except for How Few Remain, each of the books that follows is part of a trilogy, watching the events of first the Great War, then the boom and bust 1920s and 1930s, and most recently the second World War, through the eyes and lives of fictional characters both incidental and important. It works for him, because I’m as interested in the characters’ lives and outcomes as I am in the greater outside events he is chronicling.

Unfortunately, as I said, the similar style of each of these books makes it hard to review an individual one without delving deep into spoilers, especially this far along in the series. (Hint: he’s pretty well writing the same history we have now, except the players and outcomes are wildly divergent. His theory of human nature (which I buy into) just keeps pulling them back to the same places, despite the divergences.) The quality is as high as it was in the first book of the Great War trilogy, and consistently higher in this pure venue than when he writes about fantasy settings with parallels to real world history, or about aliens who launch a worldwide attack in the early days of World War II. Turtledove is simply a better historian than fantasist, and this series lets his talent through better than anything else I’ve read by him.

One thing I can say about this book in particular: as the series goes on, I can see things coming more clearly than I could reading the early books, and as I watch these characters that I’m interested in make clearly wrong choices, the warring sympathy and revulsion leaves me very uncomfortable, I think because of how it humanizes the actors in my world’s history. For my money, that’s good writing.