on 20 July 2014
Until recently alternative history was an alien concept to me. Like most people, I had often pondered how life would have been had the Germans won the war, or if the Americans had discovered life on the Moon. However, the fact that there was a whole genre dedicated to this art form had escaped me entirely.
Through technological advancement the fan base of alternative history is ever expanding and one such gentleman helping to achieve this is Mark Lord. Through his website and collections of short works of fiction he is helping to bring alternative history into the public domain.
Alt Hist Issue 5 is the latest instalment in his growing collection and, I'm embarrassed to say, the first I have read. The collection opens with an editorial by Mark Lord. Following a brief apology for the timeframe between issues, he jumps right in by introducing the guest authors and the treats on offer. Each author is introduced with a very brief bio of their work (a lengthened one concludes their contribution) and a brief over view of what's on offer. The friendly narrative immediately makes you feel the work is produced by a much larger family and one that should you wish, are more than welcome to join and enjoy the journey.
The collection consists of 5 stories, the first of which being `After Mary', by Priya Sharma. Set during the 1800's, After Mary is centred on a reclusive scientist, his assistant and his servant. What appears a love story is turned on its head following a visit from his old University friend and the mention/introduction of the novel `Mary Shelly's Frankenstein'. Written in the 1st person, `After Mary' is a great example of suggestive prose as its complex narrative drops the hints without ever fully exploiting them. I'll leave the reader to draw their own conclusions.
The second story, `AD 1929', by Douglas W. Texter, tells the story of what would happen if idealism, or in this case futurism, were to combine with the driving force and sheer will of Al Capone and his criminal underworld. Written with a touch of `The Untouchables' and the political malice of `The Ides of March', AD 1929 is an insight into political machinations and how easily the wrong choices can propel us forward.
The third choice on offer is `The Stiff Heart', by Meredith Miller. Set during The American Civil War, this is a story of choice, fears and one person's contemplations of suicide. Beautifully written, I do feel this story is a required taste and one with which I couldn't fully engage.
The penultimate, and by far my favourite of the collection, is `The Bridge', by Micah Hyatt. Told in four sections, covering just over a decade in time, the narrative follows the construction of a suspension bridge and the cost to the men building it. However, as the story unfolds, you notice a dark undertone running in tandem with the narrative, building to a climax I never saw coming. This story was a real joy to read and will play on my mind for many sleepless nights to come.
The final contribution is `Battalion 202: Rotten Parchment Bonds', by Jonathan Doering. Based in the Northern town of Pontefract, `Battalion 202', deals with the successful invasion of Britain by Nazi Germany. The narrative follows the tale of Harold Storey, a policeman left to defend the town as his comrade's move to the front line to fight, and how he deals with the eventual occupation. Even though this works well as a standalone story, I was more than happy to find out that it was part of an ongoing saga, told from different character viewpoints, the first of which is in an earlier edition of Alt Hist.
To conclude, I believe this is a quality collection of fiction that is both intriguing and entertaining for the reader. The collection of stories on offer cover a variety of genres, are written in a variety of styles and, as such, there should be something for everybody to enjoy.