As some of you may know, I am serving as a Sidewise Awards for Alternate History judge for the 2015 reading period. From now until the next Worldcon, I will be reading and reviewing alternate history stories published in 2015 to help pick the best novel and short story of said year. The first short story to be recommended to me as a potential candidate for the Sidewise Award is “Samson’s Delight” by Josh Weiss, originally published last week at New Voices. So what did I think of “Samson’s Delight”?
In August of 1945, two gentleman from the American auto industry, Henry and Gerry, are meeting with Harold Bernstein, a wealthy Jewish businessman, in an effort to come to solution about what to do about cheap Japanese cars flooding the market after the war. Tensions are high because even though the Nazis and the Japanese are on the verge of defeat, it was partly brought on by a massive Jewish revolt from within the concentration camps believed to have been orchestrated by Harold himself. In a bizarre twist, this has led to a rise of antisemitism in America, especially now that Harold is also running for president in the next election. Henry is fully opposed to seeking Harold’s help, while Gerry just wants to ensure a profitable future for everyone. Harold, on the other hand, has a compromise that could make everyone happy and it has something to do with his gigantic and silent companion, Samson, and how his kin can be the answer for America’s labor problem.
The exact point of divergence of this world seems to center on the Nazis archaeologists actually discovering some supernatural weapon, but were blinded by their racial ideology to actually put it to use. Instead, this fell into Harold’s hands, making him not only rich (I’m guessing here, since I think this “Harold” is fictional), but powerful enough to even finance the destruction of the rail lines leading to the concentration camps. Exactly how he did that I’m not sure. Did he order the military around or hired mercenaries to do it? Regardless, the changes to history leads also to the assassination of Churchill, Truman resigning as vice president, an invasion of mainland Japan (since nuclear weapons were not used) and FDR seeking a fifth term.
To be honest, the parts about FDR and Truman don’t add up. As vice president, Truman had little to no contact with FDR and was kept in the dark about a lot of issues, including the Manhattan Project. So the thought that they would have an argument over the use of the bomb is unlikely, but what is even more unlikely is FDR not using it against Japan considering he was the one that initiated the massive program to create the weapon and the same reasons for using it would still exist if he somehow lived long enough to be given the choice (which is also doubtful considering his health was terrible in 1945).
So the history is rather weak and is squarely in alien space bat country, but how is “Samson’s Delight” as a story? Well it is competently written and you can probably guess from the hints I guessed who “Henry” is, which was an interesting cameo and it encouraged me to do some extra research (which by that I mean I typed some keywords in Google). There was a “As you know, Bob”, but it wasn’t annoyingly obvious. How the alternate history I mentioned above was presented could have been done better, but in the end the story kept me reading until the end and there have been plenty of stories and books that couldn’t accomplish that in the past.
Does “Samson’s Delight” deserve to win the short-form Sidewise Award? Well its too early to tell at this point and while I did like the concept of Jewish rebels overthrowing the Nazis (much like how Yugoslav partisans drove out Axis forces from their country), the alternate history itself could have been better. Still its not a bad story and hopefully we will see more from Josh in the future.