Worlds That Weren’t

Written by Harry Turtledove Mary Gentle S.M. Stirling Walter Jon Williams
Review by Kelly Cannon

These four alternate-history novellas make an appetite-whetting introduction for the neophyte. In Turtledove’s The Daimon, Socrates looks on in dismay as a great Greek general flouts politically-motivated criminal charges against him and parlays victory in one battle – a battle which, in “real” history, was lost – into a position of unmatched power in Athens. Once on this pedestal, however, Alkibiades resorts to the same murderous tactics used by his old foes.

Gentle’s fifteenth-century heroine in The Logistics of Carthage followed her son to war, discovered that she preferred a soldier’s life to a prostitute’s, and joined a company of European mercenaries. Now, her company finds itself stranded on the coast of North Africa with a corpse they cannot bury because of a religious dispute. During a tense and bloody standoff, Yolande has what she believes are visions, but which are actually glimpses of the future 500 years hence.

Williams’s The Last Ride of German Freddie finds German philosopher Frederich Nietzsche walking the dusty streets of Tombstone, Arizona and trying his hand at some trigger-assisted social engineering at the OK Corral. But is it really social engineering, or merely the vengefulness of a man thwarted in love?

With Shikhari in Galveston, Stirling brings us the most inventive and fully-realized of these four universes: a radically different present-day Earth that, in the nineteenth century, saw her population slashed and much of her land rendered scarcely habitable by a catastrophic heavenly bombardment. The British Empire still reigns – albeit not supremely – over much of what remains. A British officer and his Indian servant travel to the wilds of southern Texas for a hunting expedition, and, rather than hunting for trophies, find themselves fighting for their lives against an adversary unlike any they ever imagined.

Those new to alternate history or not well versed in the real history behind the fiction will benefit from first reading the afterword accompanying each novella.