I’ll be blunt: I LOVE HISTORY AND I LOVE HISTORY NOVELS. So needless to say the Alternative History genre sets my heart a buzzing. THe idea of “what if” is such an interesting and sometimes frightening concept that it really should be explored more in literature. Harry Turtledove is one of the biggest personalities in this genre. With a doctorate in Byzantine History and having been a professor of history for much of his adult life it is easy to tell that he knows his stuff. He is also well know for his numerous fantasy stories. Atlantis and Other Places is a book of his short stories, twelve in all, that give a nice overview of the types of stories he is known for. Three of the stories in the book stand out to me.
The first was the short storie The Daimon. Its main character is the celebrated philosopher Sokrates. In this story he helps in the war against Sicilian City-States for his native Athens. He influences the supremem commander of the Athenian forces who goes on to win in Sicily and ends up invading Sparta on the way home. After beating Sparta the general goes on to make Athens a dictatorship again and to found an earlier Greek Empire long before the rise of Macedonia. Sokrates goes on to become a martyr for democracy being killed by the general for standing up to his obvious dictatorial ambitions.
The second story that stands out to me us the story entitled Occupation Duty. This story imagines what the modern world would look like if Goliath had actually beaten David in that biblical battle we all know so well. Because of his victory the Philistines never died out and became the dominant force in what we know as Israel. They, much like the Israel we know today, is going through the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. They’re hated by the occupied, a Jewish race that we would not recognize. While they are just as modern as can be expected from an occupied people they have a more primitive form of the Jewish Faith. The scenes of APCs and Novogrodian (Russian) machine guns that the occupied use are all very recognizable to us today. It begs the question of if the situation in Israel where under different circumstances would it be any different?
The third story is a wonderful fantasy story. The Horse of Bronze takes us to an Earth that is easily recognizable despite the changed names of places (England is called the Tin Island) and the “people” who inhabit them. THe main characters are a group of Centaurs from Greece, who in their war against the Sphinxes of Egypt must find a new source of tin to make stronger metals for their weapons. In this world the regions we know today are inhabited by creatures from that regions’s mythology rather than men. Romania has vampires and the islands of the Mediterranean are inhabited by fawns and saytrs. Eventually our group of centaurs make it to “the Tin Island” only to find it deserted of it’s original inhabitants, strange mole like creatures called Nuggies. Eventually They come across Stonehedge and the humans who built it. This leads to a rather unfortunate result.This books was a pleasure to read and I highly recommend it. the other stories are just as good as the three I mentioned above, but I felt that these three needed special attention. If you enjoy a mixture of fantasy and history I am more than certain that you will enjoy this book.