Sunday, January 31, 2021

Book Review: From the Ashes: An Alternate History Novel, by Sandra Saidak

Here we have another novel, From the Ashes: An Alternate History Novel, by Sandra Saidak, where the Nazis have won the Second World War.  Not only have they taken over Europe, but they have also taken over the world (I wonder what their former Japanese allies would have to say to that).

I’ll come right out and admit it: I don’t like this book very much. I really tried to like it, but there were too many things that got in the way. And that’s too bad because there are some positive points about this novel.

Author Saidak builds from an imaginative standpoint based on the historical fact that had the Nazis won, they had planned to establish museums in the perverse memory of the cultures they obliterated.  It is in one of these museums dedicated to the memory of the Jews,  that a group of young university students of the Reich’s elite gather to explore the shards of Jewish culture.

Okay, so far, so good.

But suddenly, things get out of hand. Both for the characters and the novel they inhabit. Suddenly our chief protagonist Adolf Goebbels (an imaginative name) gets mixed up in a revolution against the Nazis.  Quickly, perhaps too quickly, not only does Adolf become a Rabbi, but he also becomes a leader of the revolution.  Surely, the Ministry of Enforced Irony is working overtime here.

The writing and plot are a lot like that:  forced, plodding, and pedantic. Where the author could use a light touch, she instead hits with a sledgehammer. And where she should be showing, building out a world that has been under the Nazi jackboot for generations, she tells. Showing is the mark of a good storyteller, where all of the physical senses are engaged by showing what the protagonist’s reactions and feelings are to their environment.  Telling is simply that: telling. Unfortunately, in this instance, Saidiak does too much of the latter and not enough of the former.

In summation, a good premise, poorly executed. 

What's Next?

Next month, I'll have another review for you.

In the meantime, you can purchase Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  


Take care of yourselves.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Happy New Year: Looking Ahead

The year 2020 could not have ended too soon.  It was like an unwelcome houseguest that had overstayed its welcome.  From COVID-19, to the continuing sad, sorry saga of Donald Trump and the the civil unrest that gripped much of the world over racial inequality, I think we will be glad to bid good riddance to the year. 

Nevertheless, 2020 is almost over, which is perhaps the best thing that can be said of it.  I believe that 2021 will be a better year and am certainly looking forward to it.  In terms of my reading schedule, I am looking forward to a significant reviewing schedule, including:

  • From the Ashes, by Sandra Saidak, is a novel that takes place roughly a century after the final victory by the Third Reich. I am currently reading this novel, and I will review it next month in this space.
  • Winds of Wrath, by Taylor Anderson, is the final installment in his 15-part epic Destroyermen series that has followed the adventures of Captain Matthew Reddy and the crew of the time lost USS Walker. I’ve been following this hugely enjoyable series since it first appeared and will be looking forward to sharing my thoughts with you.
  • Shadows of Annihilation, by S.M. Stirling, is the latest entry in the author’s action-packed alternate First World War series, furthering the adventures of ace American superspies Luz O’Malley and Ciara Whelan.
  • Finally, expect a review of the second season of For All Mankind, the alternate history of the space race, premiering February 19, 2021, on AppleTV+   Ronald Regan is in the Oval Office and the Cold War is getting hot on the moon. 

Thank you for staying with the blog for the over ten years that I have been writing it.  It has been, to quote the Grateful Dead, a long strange trip. I hope that you will join me in the New Year and that 2021 will be both safe and productive for you all. 

In the meantime, you can purchase Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  


Take care of yourselves.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Book Review: The Oppenheimer Alternative, by Robert J. Sawyer


This is not a perfect book, but nonetheless, I quite enjoyed it. 

The Oppenheimer Alternative is a biographical piece of alternate history, expertly researched and written by author Sawyer. It closely follows the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer as he led the research effort under the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb and the period. He emerges as a fully-fleshed out historical character, warts and all, which is a testament to the author’s storytelling abilities.

It’s something of a slow burn to get the meat of the novel and the point where our history spits from that of the novel. Much of the early part of the novel is spent in the careful building of relationships (and conflicts) with historical personages such as General Leslie Groves, Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller, Richard Feynman, and many others. 

When the point of divergence comes it’s a big one.  While researching the atom bomb, the Manhattan Project team uncovers that all life on earth is doomed in 2030, when a massive solar coronal mass eruption one astronomical unit in diameter (the orbit of the earth around the sun) that they dub the solar purge will occur.

Wanting to avoid a panic, Oppenheimer assembles a dream team that grows to include some of the major scientific luminaries of the mid-20th Century, including Albert Einstein, Wernher von Bruan, and Jon von Neumann, as well as a great many of his Manhattan Project colleagues. The group named the Arbor Project works in secret even as the Cold War dawns and the Red Scare takes hold, which eventually brings about Oppenheimer’s fall from grace. The goal of Project Arbor is no less than the relocation of the human race to Mars, which falls outside the radius of the solar purge.

Here be spoilers:

Unfortunately for our heroes and the rest of the human race as it seems, Mars is not what it seems to be. Instead of the world with water flowing through the canals of Percival Lowell they had expected, they face the reality of a cratered, desert world presented to them by the images from the first space probe to reach Mars, Mariner 4, in 1965. This is almost a terminal disappointment.

Almost.  What comes next is almost – almost – out of left field. Sawyer does foreshadow what’s to come in a blink and you’ll miss it a moment, just so much that the resolution doesn’t drop out of the sky, all dues et machina when it finally happens. And that just doesn’t ring particularly true for me, which is unfortunate. 

Ultimately, with that single but significant proviso, The Oppenheimer Alternative succeeds as an alternate history story. It's much better, more demanding reading than the good half-dozen usual "what-if-the-Nazis-won" alternate history novels circulating out there I could name. 

Recommended.

 What's Next?

I have several novels I'm looking forward to reviewing over the next few months. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, you can purchase Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  


Take care of yourselves.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Book Review: Pass of Fire by Taylor Anderson


The latest entry in paperback in author Taylor Anderson’s Destroyermen series, is Pass of Fire. It’s the 14th  and penultimate entry in the series, which begins the set up for the events to come in the final novel, Winds of Wrath.

For newcomers to the space, the Destroymen series tells the story of the captain and crew and the crew of the aging “tin-can” World War Two destroyer USS Walker, thrust into a parallel earth, where the asteroid strike that wiped the dinosaurs never occurred.  Throughout the series Captain Matthew Reddy and his crew allied themselves with friendly Lemurians who  against the reptilian Grik, who have allied themselves with the crew of a Japanese battlecruiser, Amagi, commanded by Captain Kurokawa, whom the transition between realities has been too much who has become insane.

The series can be best seen and digested as occurring in a series of cycles that first see Reddy and his allies (who grow to include various groups of descendants of other time-lost humans) stop the Grik and then ultimately start to push them back. Other cycles introduce newer enemies including the bloodily theocratic Holy Dominion and most recently, the more technologically-advanced  fascist League of Tripoli, the latter who come from an alternate second world war.

Spoilers ahead

I’ll be upfront here. Pass of Fire is all about clearing the decks for the action to come in the concluding volume of the series. By the end of this installment, the Grik have been all but defeated, except for a small remnant commanded by General Esshek. Reddy and his allies have taken the Grik capital, and not only capturing their queen, the Celestial Mother, but making them allies as well.

But now the emphasis shifts solidly on what’s to come. News comes that the League of Tripoli has sortied its battlefleet of modern battleships, cruisers, and destroyers, in aid of its ally, the Holy Dominion.  The odds are against Reddy and the Allies who are scrambling to develop modern warships of their own.  He must gather together his scratch force which is both smaller presumably smaller in size and quality. 

For fans of the series, like myself, this and the next book will be required reading. Throughout the series and into this book, author Anderson maintained a steady narrative drumbeat. Characters continue to be refined and developed – although how much can do be done with a cast this large – is debatable, but this is a natural outcome of epic series like this. 

Strongly recommended not only for fans of the series, but for fans of the genre. If you haven’t picked up the series yet, or have put it down along the way, there’s still time for one massive binge-read.

Mea Culpa

I must apologize for missing last month’s post. I seem to be getting sloppy. I have been struggling a little bit as of late, and sometimes things do slip. I hope all of you are well and are managing in the current situation. 

What's Next?

Up next, I have a novel by Robert J. Sawyer, The Oppenheimer Alternative, which retells the story of one of the 20th century’s most influential scientists in a different light. 

In the meantime, you can purchase Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  

Take care of yourselves.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Apple TV+ Previews the Season Two of For All Mankind

Apple TV+ has finally dropped a teaser trailer for the long-awaited second season to For All Mankind.

If you’ll remember, For All Mankind is an alternate history story that asks what if the Soviets beat the Americans to the moon in 1969. In season one, showrunner Ronald D. Moore -  producer of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica – did an excellent job in exploring the implications of this question.


Now with season two in the offing we see that Ronald Reagan is in the Oval Office and Cold War tensions are ramping up. There are astronauts on the moon carrying assault rifles and the world seems to be dancing on the knife edge. For anyone like me who lived during those times, the images brought back the feelings of low-level fear immediately. It seems all very real.

One scene that I must nit-pick is that we a space shuttle apparently returning to earth from the moon. I don’t know how that would work and even YouTube space guy Scott Manley has problems with it.  I just hope it’s not  a sign of bad things.

In the meantime, you can purchase Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.   

Monday, July 6, 2020

From my bookshelf: Circumpolar! and Countersolar! by Richard A. Lupoff


Honestly, this is a pair of zany alternate history books I’ve been wanting to review for a very long time.  The Twin Planets Novels by Richard A. Lupoff - Circumpolar! and Countersolar! -take place in a universe that is very different from our own. And I mean that in a very definite way. Not only is our history different with something resembling a mercifully truncated Great War that ends in a sound Prussian defeat, but there is also “an Emperor of Australia and a President of Japan.”

Pretty good stuff, because I wouldn’t well, uh… the earth they live on is flat. As in like a pancake. And it has a hole in the centre which kind of makes it look like a giant record, with a giant ice wall at the rim.

Well, at the least the flat earthers got something right.

It’s into this familiar but out-of-joint backdrop that we are introduced to Circumpolar!, which tells the story of a Roaring Twenties around-the-world race staged between Charles Lindbergh, Howard Hughes, and Amelia Earhart against a group of suitably dastardly Prussians including the Red Baron, Manfred von Richtofen and his brother, Lothar.  The air race takes the competitors across their side of the world, over the ice wall, and onto the other side where they encounter the mysterious ancient civilizations of the other side of the flat earth and back up through the north polar hole.  There’s a lot of fun and action to be had, including an amazing aerial sequence involving flying mechanical horses.

The sequel, Countersolar! takes place a few years later.  It’s 1942 and the world is at peace. While the world is at peace, there are underlying between Prussian revanchists and their backers in Peronist Argentina and the rest of the world that threaten to explode when a faint but urgent distress signal is picked up from an undiscovered counter-earth, orbiting on the far side of the sun. If you’ve accepted the concept of a flat earth at this point, the appearance of the counter-earth is one more violation of orbital mechanics that is briskly disposed of as the plot moves along. …and did I mention that the Titanic was still afloat? Lupoff takes the reader through a guided tour of the solar system, winding up on Counter-Earth, where their version of America is under threat from homegrown fascists.

Both Circumpolar! and Countersolar! are well-researched period pieces, with their backdrops and protagonists and antagonists, fictional and otherwise, finely drawn, all in the name of good fun. Lupoff invites just enough suspension of disbelief, which is the mark of a great storyteller, greater still that we get so deeply immersed in his flat-earth alternate-reality that we forget the finer things such as science.

Highly recommended. Go looking for the books online or in your local bookshop. They’re well worth your effort.

What’s Next?
First, apologies for being late with this blog.  Unfortunately, my laptop had an unplanned meeting with the floor which resulted in a  highly predictable outcome. However, the good news is that the computer has been repaired and that I am good to go again.

In terms of what’s on my review list, I have two books coming up. First, the latest novel in Taylor Anderson’s long-running Destroyermen series, Pass of Fire, and then a novel by Robert J. Sawyer, The Oppenheimer Alternative, which retells the story of one of the 20th century’s most influential scientists in a different light. 



In the meantime, you can purchase Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  

Take care of yourselves.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Reviewing HBO’s The Plot Against America

First, I’ll come out and say that I liked HBO’s  The Plot Against America.  The six-part miniseries based on Philip J. Roth’s 2004 alternate history novel of the same name, follows the life of a working-class Jewish family, the Levins, in Newark, New Jersey in the early 1940s as they witness the rise of Charles A.  Lindbergh to the Presidency of the United States of America.


The real Charles Lindbergh speaking at an America First Rally
The character of Charles Lindbergh is a very complex one. In our history, he was one of the leaders of the isolationist America First movement which sought to keep America out of the Second World War. It is also true he also travelled to Nazi Germany in 1938 and met with high-ranking officials of the Reich. He also upon numerous occasions had expressed anti-Semitic remarks. Historians have since come to see Lindbergh as a well-intentioned but bigoted Nazi sympathizer.  In the alternate history world, Roth and the creators of the miniseries, have not far to go in getting their man.


The Levins in an uncomfortable moment.
Like most Americans the Levins (who are modelled loosely on the author Roth’s own family),  both husband Herman (Morgan Spector) and wife Evelyn (Winona Ryder) find themselves curiously attracted to the great aviator Lindberg, because as he says on one of his stump speeches when he flies the Spirit of St. Louis to Newark, “It isn’t a choice between Lindberg and Roosevelt; it’s a choice between Lindberg and war.” 

It’s a theme that resonates enough to bring Lindberg, played by Ben Cole, into the White House.  The changes they see, the petty slights and discrimination is incremental at first and but then it begins to build: it’s almost like the story of the frog in the pot of water that is slowly brought to boil, by the time the Levins realize the trouble they’re in, it’s almost too late. 

The President and the Rabbi
The series features many strong performances by a strong cast. But one of the standout performances of the series by John Turturro who plays Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf, who sells his soul to get in good with the new administration. He conceives of a plan to resettle Jewish families. Curiously, he is blind to see the monumentality of his betrayal until he finds ultimately himself betrayed. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Herman’s nephew Alvin (Anthony Boyle), who joins the Canadian Army in violation of neutrality laws, only to come home wounded to a country that has changed. Although the story is told from the point of view of the extended Levin family, we still get telling glimpses of the changed world around them, with newsreel footage of Lindbergh shaking hands with Hitler in a secret meeting in Iceland, signing a non-aggression pact, which is a twisted fun-house version of the Roosevelt -Churchill meeting and the signing of the Atlantic Charter.

Without giving away too much, the ending is left in doubt, which is a departure from the source novel. It’s not too much to say that the show’s producers intended the series to be a reflection of the current situation in the United States, which has seen a resurgence of isolationism,  anti-Semitism and with the rise of the so-called alt-right, fascism. Perhaps recent years have stripped away the thin veneer and have revealed what had been lying there all along, under the surface. In the alternate history of the series, it takes a man like Charles Lindbergh to bring out the worst in people; in our world, all it took was the election of Donald Trump.

Alternate history in its best form, raises an interrogative mirror to our world  and allows us to not only ask what if, but also, if this goes on. The Plot Against America holds such a mirror to our uncertain times and allows us to ask not only these questions, but more. 

Highly recommended viewing.

What’s next?
I apologize with lateness of this blog post. Like many people with onset of COVID-19, I am now working from home.  I found have found it difficult to manage and deal with the circumstances around us.

Next month, I’ll be back with another post. Until that time, please look after each other and yourselves.

In the meantime, you can purchase Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  Thanks.