I like reading anthologies. Even if I don’t like one story, there are probably a dozen more contained within an anthology that more than make up for it. At least that is usually how it works, but unfortunately I found an exception with Altered Europa edited by Martin T. Ingham, a spiritual sequel to Martinus Publishing’s Altered America.
Let’s begin by covering those stories I thought stood out, for better or worse, in the order of their appearance:
“Fenians” by Dan Gainor: 1861 Slaver Rebellion general George McClellan is vacationing with his family in Ireland when a riot injures his wife and kills his children. Blaming the British for turning a peaceful protest into a catastrophe, McClellan decides to help the Irish rebels kick the British off their island.
I like this story because it sort of rehabilitated the image of McClellan in my mind. In the fiction I have read McClellan has either been portrayed as incompetent or as a would-be dictator, so it was good to see a more sympathetic portrayal of him. That said, the dialogue was rather stilted, but if you can get around that, you may enjoy an alternate history centering around the time Ireland invaded Canada.
“N’oublions Jamais” by Tom Anderson & Bruno Lombardi: This story features two different soldiers fighting in World War I: a fresh French Canadian recruit heading to the Western Front and a grizzled French veteran who has already seen his fair share of carnage. At first the story reads like straight historical fiction, but that thought is completely upended by a twist halfway through that I am not ashamed to admit I did not see coming. In fact, once I realized what happened I even went back and reread several pages to see the clues that I missed.
I don’t want to give too much away because I don’t want to spoil what’s different about this timeline, but this is probably the best story in the entire anthology. Heck, it may even be the best short story I read this year. Tom and Bruno did an amazing job presenting the reader on how this world was different without falling into the classic “As you know, Bob” mistake. Definitely check this story out if you ever get a chance to see the right way to show the reader the point of divergence.
“A Damn Foolish Thing” by Cyrus P. Underwood: If “N’oublions Jamais” did everything right about presenting the reader with the point of divergence, “A Damn Foolish Thing” did everything wrong. The story itself focuses on a couple vacationing in France and talking about all of the important events of their alternate 20th century…and that’s it! The story is only four pages long and its just one big “As you know, Bob”. There is no plot and I don’t really know anything about the characters other than they like to talk about historical events that both should already know about.
I’m honestly perplexed about why this story was included in the anthology in the first place and the fact that it came right after “N’oublions Jamais” in the anthology was incredibly bad placement by the editor. Read this story only if you need an example of what not to do when writing an alternate history.
“A.E.I.O.U.” by Dr. Tom Anderson: Through a series of historical interludes, we witness the House of Habsburg become the dominant force in the world after the early death of Frederick II of Prussia (a.k.a. Frederick the Great). By the present day, their only challenger is the United States of America, the slaveocracy that dominates the Americas and is the example to the rest of the world of the dangers of unchecked democracy. Anyone who read Decades of Darkness will probably see that work’s influence on this story.
While at times the story does spend too much time telling the reader how history changed rather than showing it, I think it is still worth a read, especially if you spend a lot of time (like me) hanging around alternate history forums.
“The Archers” by DJ Tyrer: From the point of view of the Archers, we learn what happens to Britain after Able Archer 83 caused WWIII to break out. First there is chaos, but out of the ashes of nuclear war, Britain returns to a steam-powered society on the verge of global dominance again…which may sound nice for some. As for me, I couldn’t help but feel that the story seemed to promote an anti-democracy stance, especially when one of the characters uncovers the military’s plan to prevent a full return to democracy and yet is easily convinced how much better things would be if that happens (which it does).
Maybe that wasn’t the author’s intention, but the story made me feel uncomfortable in the wrong kind of way. Read at your own risk.
“Ave, Caesarion” by Deborah L. Davitt: In this story, Caesar isn’t assassinated and reigns as the first Emperor of Rome with his wife and empress, Cleopatra. They even have children and when Caesar finds himself on his deathbed, the young Caesarion has to enter to brutal world of Roman politics to succeed his father. Unfortunately, there are factions within Rome who want someone other than Caesarion to become the next Emperor.
Oh yeah and there is magic. It just came out of nowhere halfway through the story. At first when characters were talking about magic I took it as just a part of what they would believe in the first century AD, but then we see Cleopatra with an invisible snake spirit she can use to poison people. It was really unnecessary and ruined the dramatic death of one of the characters at the end of the story. Without the magic it could have made for an interesting political thriller set in an alternate Roman Empire. Instead we just get this weird historical fantasy. Not exactly bad, but it could have been so much better.
“Timeshift without an Arc” by Martin T. Ingham: A friend of mine once said his least favorite Lord of the Rings film was The Two Towers because it was in his words: all middle. And that is how I feel about this story. We see our hero as part of an organization tasked with maintaining the timeline, except the timeline is a mess because of one traveler mucking with time that they can’t seem to catch. We see him and his allies almost track down the original divergence, but they are attacked by the rogue time traveler…and that’s it. We end there with no conclusion and we don’t even get to see how time got mucked up in the first place. We don’t see the beginning and we don’t see the end. We just get the middle.
This story read more like an excerpt from a larger work than an actual story. Which just made it more confusing than interesting.
“Voyage” by Murray Braun: Speaking of confusing, we get our next short story. As far as I can tell, “Voyage” is about an alternate Spanish expedition to sail west in 1492 led by Spanish Jews who are hoping to find a new home for their people. The problem is that the story jumps around so often across time-frames and point of view characters that I just got annoyed and skipped to the next story. So not much to say about this one.
“The Forbidden Fuel” by Sergio Palumbo: Not much to say about this one either. Got increasingly bored by the seemingly endless description of an alternate Bristol that I just jumped to the next story again.
“The Battle of Tim Hortons” by Bruno Lombardi & Ben Prewitt: In this tale we see what happened to one luckless Canadian soldier who got caught saying the F-word on live television while stationed in Germany during the outbreak of WWII . This was the funniest story in the anthology and to be honest its hard to make alternate history funny since history itself is often a humorless topic (unless you enjoy dark comedies). The characters were also realistic and likable. Certainly worth a read…
…but I’m not sure I can say the same thing for the Altered Europa as a whole. While there are a couple good stories, most are either forgettable or just plain bad. I hate to say it because I know a few of the authors in this collection, but I don’t think I can honestly recommend Altered Europa. If you get a chance, definitely check out the stories I recommended above if you can find them elsewhere, but otherwise I would save your money.