Monday, August 2, 2021

One From My Bookshelves: Alternities, by Michael P. Kube-McDowell

Alternities, by Michael P. Kube-McDowell, is one of my favorite alternate history novels.  It is set across multiple worlds that have split into alternates, all linked by the unworldly maze that connects them. 

The world of the protagonist, Rayne Wallace is remarkably different from our own.  The government of the United States on this world, the accidental discoverer and sole holder of the multiple worlds secret is an impoverished, isolationist, technologically backward country with a president bound and determined to finish matters once and for all with that world’s Soviet Union. Rayne is employed by the government as a “runner” to transit the maze to bring back advanced technologies and medicines. His world, the so-called Home Alternity, maintains a network of gatehouses throughout the different worlds it has color-coded.

I want to talk a bit about world-building here. Readers of this space will know that this is one of what I hold as a hallmark of excellent fiction of any genre.  To hold the reader’s attention, especially their sense of disbelief in a subgenre such as alternate history, the writer needs to be able to build a credible world. To Kube-McDowell’s credit, the author takes great care in showing us the Home Aternity and giving us a feeling of what it is to inhabit that world, as well as the other alternate worlds the story takes us to. This is done by emphasizing the little details such as clippings from newspapers or other things that the author lets us see in passing.

Problems surface when Rayne gets assigned to a more technologically and socially advanced but just as flawed version of the United States, in Alternity Blue (it’s not us, for once; we’re Alternity Orange) which is once again delineated through the smallest of details. He meets and falls for a woman, Shan, who is connected with sort of a national neighborhood watch.  It is this way that he falls into the hands of the Alternity Blue’s authorities.  As authorities go, they are not a bad lot, but I do believe they react realistically and humanely given who and what Rayne represents.

I’m not going to give much more away plot-wise, and how the situation between the United States and the Soviet Union plays out in Rayne’s home alternity, except to say first the ending is satisfying and not altogether unrealistic. Also satisfying is the point of divergence that causes the worlds to split, as is the realization that there may be something else far larger at play here.

Highly recommended and very much worthwhile for the online hunt.

 What’s Next:

I have three new books that I will be reviewing over the next few months:

  • Daggers in Darkness, The fourth entry in S.M. Stirling’s Tales of the Black Chamber Series, featuring the adventures of American Black Chamber super-spies Luz O’Malley Arostegui and Ciara Whelan. It’s ten years later and a new threat to Teddy Roosevelt’s alternate America has emerged;
  • The third book in Peter Tieryas’ United States of Japan series, Cyber Shogun Revolution, where the Axis won World War Two and that means one thing: lots and lots of mechas, and, finally;
  • Dixie Curtain, by Mark Ciccone, an intriguing look at a world where the South won the Civil War and North America is divided a Berlin War, writ large. Peace talks are in the offing between the Union and Southern leaders, but will they happen?

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 (both 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.

Until then, please take care of  yourselves.