Technical problems have kept me away for a while but now I’m back I can share my thoughts on the Sideways in Crime anthology of 15 ‘alternate history mystery’ stories, edited by Lou Anders (Solaris, 2008). Interestingly it was filed under crime fiction in my local library (I was looking for Robert B Parker novels when it caught my eye) but I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t also browse the sci-fi/fantasy shelves taking a chance on it (there are a couple of uses of ‘twins’ in the form of clones or alternate universe duplicates that wouldn’t go down well). A couple of the stories struck me as being a bit more alternate universe than alternate history, though in a sense they could be seen as the same thing – what I mean is, those stories overtly used the existence of more than one universe, whereas the others all implied that this was our universe but one key moment had been different. It was a varied collection, but maybe not varied enough: 5 set in the UK, 8 in the USA (one isn’t actually specified but names, slang etc point to it), one in Aztec-ruled territory and one in a kind of inter-universe buffer (from a very quick web-search it looks like 11 were written by US authors, 3 British, 1 Caribbean). Featured empires include Roman, British, and Aztec.
The stand-out story for me was G-Men by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, which was also probably the only story I could see a hardened mystery fan approaching without trepidation; it was closer to the kind of political thriller you might get in the mainstream, asking one big what-if but leaving pretty much everything else alone. It was gripping, well-written, and very different from the only book of hers I’ve ever read (The Fey: Changeling), which was also enjoyable but far-removed in style.
Another worth mentioning is Murder in Geektopia by Paul Di Filippo, where a pacifist newspaper proprietor enlisted the ‘funny papers’ to his cause at the turn of the 20th century, and by 1975 geeks dominate the world, with live-action role-playing the sport of choice. It was a fun story, full of in-jokes for comic-loving geeks but if you scratch the surface you do start asking questions like ‘would that film have been made, or that comic character created if the cold war/world wars hadn’t happened?’.
Via Vortex by John Meaney was an interesting one, thought-provoking and not what it first seems, it also sends you in the wrong direction along the way about a couple of aspects (or it did me, at least).
A Murder in Eddsford by SM Stirling felt like part of a larger work, if only because one of the key points (the Change, followed by the Resettlement) was never really explained. That said, I did enjoy it, set in a southern England which is an interesting re-emergent rural idyll which has kept some of its 20th century innovations.
This is the one of the few anthologies in the last year that I’ve read from start to finish (though I did only skim-read Conspiracies: A Very Condensed 937-Page Novel by Mike Resnick and Eric Flint) so that must say something good about it – it helps that I like both speculative fiction and detective stories. I think lovers of steampunk, alternate universe and urban/contemporary fantasy will each find something to interest them here as well as those who enjoy their speculative fiction in mixed sub-genre magazines/anthologies.