Here’s the details of this year’s Sidewise Award Nominees – straight from the organizers:
We are pleased to announce this year’s nominees for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. The winners will be announced at Sasquan, this year’s Worldcon, in Spokane, WA at 2:00 pm Pacific Time on August 21. The Sidewise Awards have been presented annually since 1995 to recognize excellence in alternate historical fiction. This year’s panel of judges was made up of Stephen Baxter, Evelyn Leeper, Jim Rittenhouse, Kurt Sidaway, and Steven H Silver.
- Ken Liu, “The Long Haul” (Clarkesworld, 11/14)
- Igor Ljubuncic, “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair” (Wars to End All Wars: Alternate Tales from the Trenches, Amazon Digital Services)
Robert Reed, “The Principles” (Asimov’s, 4-5/14)
Aaron Rosenberg, “Let No Man Put Asunder” (Europa Universalis IV: What If?, Paradox Interactive)
Lewis Shiner, “The Black Sun” (Subterranean, Summer 2014)
Harry Turtledove, “The More It Changes” (Europa Universalis IV: What If?, Paradox Interactive)
- Alexander M. Grace, Sr., Second Front: The Allied Invasion of France, 1942-1943 (Casemate)
- Kristine Kathryn Rusch, The Enemy Within (WMG Publishing)
Tony Schumacher, The Darkest Hour (William Morrow)
Allen Steele, V-S Day (Ace)
Jo Walton, My Real Children (Tor)
The Sidewise Awards for Alternate History were conceived in late 1995 to honor the best allohistorical genre publications of the year. The first awards were announced in summer 1996 and honored works from 1995. The award takes its name from Murray Leinster’s 1934 short story “Sidewise in Time,” in which a strange storm causes portions of Earth to swap places with their analogs from other timelines.
Congratulations to all the nominees.
For more informationgo to http://www.uchronia.net/sidewise.
Until the end of May 2015 all the eBook back issues for Alt Hist will be on sale – only $3.99 rather than the normal $6.99 price!
Alt Hist Issue 1 is currently a free eBook at most online retailers, so don’t forget to go and grab that for free.
To find links for each issue of Alt Hist simply visit the How to Get Your Alt Hist page or go to Amazon, Kobo, iBooks etc and do a quick search on Alt Hist!
Now is a great time to fill up your collection of Alt Hist back issues – just in time for some Summer reading!
The third Summerhall Historical Fiction Festival began with a simple question: why history? Amiable old trooper Allan Massie – author of rather a lot of good historical fiction – launched this year’s three day festival hosted by Edinburgh’s Summerhall arts centre, with an appreciation of the historical novel’s hybrid nature. Not only is it both fiction and history, he said, it’s also – paraphrasing Robert Louis Stevenson – both “dramatic” (focusing on people’s conduct) and “romantic” (concentrating on the circumstances which affect them).
Some critics see this as an inherent weakness, but for Massie (relaxed, as if delivering a fireside talk – though the venue was sadly lacking the warmth of a real fire) the greatest historical novels simply remind us how events in the past were once the unknowable future, and that the people involved were living beings “of flesh and blood” with desires, beliefs and dreams just as real and valid as our own.
Massie pointed out that writers of historical fiction enjoy one comfort denied most other authors; they don’t have to worry about “what happens next”. Yes, they still have to work hard to create on the printed page the semblance of living, breathing people within what feels an authentic world. They still have to fill in the details, to actually get people from point A to point B. But knowing what the plot has to be can be a relief.
However, Massie also insisted that writers of historical fiction – unlike historians – must necessarily conceal that knowledge as much as possible, if only to help persuade their readers that the characters they’re reading about are just like ourselves, uncertain of what tomorrow will bring and how events will turn out. Almost immediately, however, Robert Fabbri – currently seven published novels into his life of the largely overlooked Roman emperor Vespasian – pointed out that his central character was allegedly aware of certain omens made at his birth. While a cynical historian might suggest that many “omens” were later ad-hoc biographical additions made for propaganda purposes, Fabbri insisted that he had to take into account how his character’s belief in his assured destiny would genuinely influence many of the decisions he would make throughout his lifetime.
Both authors agreed, however, that it was important for historical fiction writers to stick, as much as possible, with the known facts – unless they were quite deliberately writing “counter-factual” narratives. “If a fact doesn’t fit the plot, it’s the wrong plot,” Fabbri insisted. Yet he also conceded that, if he was sure from all his research that there was nothing to suggest something didn’t occur, then all bets were off. For example, with no evidence to the contrary, he just couldn’t resist putting his soldier hero in Roman Britain during the Boudicean Revolt.
Research is important for any writer, but especially that of historical fiction. Douglas Jackson, author of the Hero of Rome novels, explained on Sunday how each new book had been inspired by some fact or idea he’d unearthed while researching its predecessor. But how much research should a writer do? Speaking on Friday, Catherine Czerkawska, currently writing a novel about Joan Armour (the wife of Robert Burns), insisted that an author must eventually stop researching in order to write the fiction, after which they then realise what research they still need to do!
Lucy Ribchester, whose debut novel The Hourglass Factory linked the suffragette movement with the world of circus and music hall, went even further on Sunday afternoon: she said that an author almost had to forget all the research they’d just done in order to “create something else”. That said, she accepted it was “gutting” not be able to get all the facts and information she’d unearthed into her novel – some writing could just be “too history heavy” for its own good, while other ideas would, if lucky, turn up in some of her short stories.
In any case, “there are more important things about historical fiction than getting every single fact and detail right,” Ribchester insisted. Iain Gale, who has written fiction, history and “faction” books about the Battle of Waterloo, would certainly agree: on Saturday he pointed out that factual inaccuracies don’t automatically spoil the effectiveness of a book or film. Yet he does remain concerned when certain deliberate falsehoods – which first appeared in somewhat biased historical fiction – essentially become the most publicly recognised history through their unconsidered repetition.
200 years on, according to Gale, Waterloo remains the most written about battle in history, proof that there are plenty of approaches to any historical subject, whether it’s the Roman Empire or the world of the Tudors. Yet for author and stand-up Robert Newman (whose latest novel, The Trade Secret, is described as “a rollicking Elizabethan yarn”), the main attraction of writing historical fiction remains the opportunities it offers to undermine common assumptions that we all might have about not just the past but also the present day. Yes, the past may be like a foreign country (to paraphrase L. P. Hartley) where people do things differently; it can show us that other lives, and ways of living, were – are – possible.
This might also help explain what the journalist and writer Kaite Welsh described, in a panel with authors Ronald Frame and Laura Macdougall on Saturday morning, as “the recent rise of queer history fiction in the mainstream”; that is, an increased focus by writers of historical fiction on characters who are not white, heterosexual and male. In part, this is simply down to changing social attitudes during the last 50-odd years; authors of all stripes, but especially those who identify either as queer or LGBT, simply feel more confident writing about such aspects of people’s lives, and also have publishers (albeit, not necessarily the biggest publishers in the world) who are willing to get such work out there.
Altogether, this festival proved to be a hive of ideas and experience. It’s just a shame that, for reasons as yet not clear, it failed to attract large crowds.
Paul F Cockburn
Paul is Freelance magazine journalist specialising in arts & culture, equality issues, and popular science. Recent clients include The Herald, BBC Sky at Night, and The Scots Magazine.
The last story in Alt Hist Issue 7 is the wonderful “The Red Vortex” by Priya Sharma. Priya Sharma has contributed a number of stories to Alt Hist in the past. Her last story, “After Mary” from Alt Hist Issue 5, was recently recognized by Ellen Datlow as one of the most notable horror stories of 2013. Her latest piece for Alt Hist, “Red Vortex”, is my favourite of Priya Sharma’s stories so far. “Red Vortex” is a compelling exploration into the psychology of a great figure in history. Priya paints a picture of an early life that is completely believable and fearsome. The “Red Vortex” lifts the lid on the psyche of a monster.
The Red Vortex
by Priya Sharma
There is only red in the vortex. It’s an abyss. A whirlwind. It sucks me in, roaring in my ears, pouring out again from my nose and mouth. Through my fingers. My scribbling is furious, making my fingers bleed. The pencil lead snaps, the pressure tears the paper.
It is a catharsis in crimson. I am in the vortex.
I am the vortex.
I waited for the man who didn’t know he was my father. I’d followed him often, trying to glimpse myself in his face. I’d watch from the café across the street when I had money, sitting there while a skin formed on my milky coffee.
On the day I’d chosen to approach him I did my best to look presentable. I rose early so that I could shave, there being a queue at the shelter for hot water. I put on my only suit. Despite this attempt at respectability the mirror revealed a starving, lice ridden creature with sore feet from walking the streets all day in search of work. My hand trembled as I combed this wretch’s hair.
I hurried after him. We passed girls selling violets from baskets. The smell of charred chestnuts rose from a brazier. Bills posted on a wall proclaimed Wagner at the opera house. Only the year before, when I’d been in better circumstances, I’d buy the best seats for myself and August, my roommate. That was before I’d gone home to care for my mother. Before she told me everything.
He turned abruptly.
“How do you know my name?”
He smelt like an artist, all turps, oil and creation.
I’d imagined him as a frail intellectual but I could tell, even at a distance, he was muscular and athletic. I hadn’t expected him to be powerful. I hadn’t expected to admire him. I dithered before him like an idiot. The only thing that galvanised me was the thought of Papa before he died, barking at me to stand up straight. I wanted Ernest Bloch’s first impression of me to be a good one.
“I have a letter of introduction from your brother.”
He took it, examining the handwriting before ripping it open with a snort and pulling out the note with carelessness, not caring if it creased.
He read as he walked. I tried to keep up.
“My dear brother.” Bloch curled his lip. “I don’t hear from him in years and then he sends along some stray for me to take in. Do you know Samuel well?”
“He’s our family doctor.”
He gave me a half look, half smile that was all about his brother and nothing about me. We’d reached the door to his building.
“You’ve five minutes to convince me.”
I lay down red paint in thick, concentric rings. The watercolour paints wash together, the paper’s periphery pale and muted, its centre rich and dense. This duality pleases me. It reflects my own genesis. I am the product of two fathers.
“So, you paint.”
“Art is in my blood.”
No other comment could have earned me more derision. When Ernest finished pasting me with his tongue, he flicked through my portfolio. The sound of paint scarred sheets being sifted was excruciating.
A charcoal nude watched me from his easel. I recognised his style. The flow of her limbs. Her narrowed eyes regarding me with suspicion. Small, high breasts. A coil of hair slid over her delicate shoulder.
The furniture in his apartment was dark and dusty. Books were heaped on the sideboard in untidy heaps. I didn’t like this disorder. My mother was a consummate housekeeper. There were never untidy piles or dust in our home. No portraits of unclothed woman. Even with a maid, my mother still insisted on doing chores. She’d been a maid herself once, a distant cousin of my father, who’d come to work for him. She became his wife when he became a widower. In fact, she still called him Uncle, as she had when she had first arrived to help nurse his first wife. Uncle will be upset if you make too much noise at supper. Uncle is very tired tonight, play quietly.
Ernest picked out two pieces of my work for further scrutiny. One was my most accomplished still life, flowers spilling from an urn in sprays of colour. The other was of the red vortex. I hadn’t meant for him to see that. I should have removed it. I was making a mess of everything.
“This shows all the ability of a proficient schoolboy,” he pointed to the flowers, “it lacks courage.”
He went to the vortex, casting a long shadow over the bright rectangles of afternoon sunshine that marked the wooden floor. “This one is much more interesting.”
I was surprised.
“You daub like a madman. Your passion controls the brush, not you. What is it you want from me?”
I wanted to tell him how the paint clings to the brush, how its smell persuades me to greater daring. How it spreads on the canvas in peaks and valleys. Streaks and stains. Its purity. It is my heart. My stomach. The cancer in Mamma’s breast, boring into her ribcage. My blood spilling on the floor, Papa’s fist still raised.
Instead: “I want to be better.”
“You’ve come all the way to Vienna for that?”
“For excellence. Show me how to be successful like you.”
“I can’t give you that. You have to take it for yourself.”
“You said I’m proficient. That I have passion. Show me how to use them.”
“No one can show you. You have to learn for yourself. Try and the process will show you. You’re in Vienna, surrounded by every type of art. Go and see the Klimt paintings. Look and learn.”
I refrained from spitting on the floor. Gustav Klimt and his ilk were infecting the splendour of Vienna with their gruesome modernism. What critics called sensual was merely corruption.
“No. I am for the traditionalists,” I replied.
“But your heart is not traditional.” He tipped the vortex on its side and stared into it again. “There is nothing traditional here.”
“I want to go to the Royal Academy.”
“Excellence. You went there yourself.”
“Excellence. You like that word. Yes, I was a student there, but I’d still be a painter without it. The Academy can’t teach you desire. Or discipline. And there are important things it can unteach you.”
I had no time for his word play.
“I want them to accept me.”
There was a shift that cast clouds across his eyes.
“You’ve already been rejected?”
“The rector said I’m more architect than artist.”
“Go and be an architect then,” was his retort, understanding my deceit completely.
“That’s not what I want.”
I was losing him. I followed him into the kitchen. He took a loaf of dark rye bread and cut slices with decisive strokes. Then the cheese, dense and yellow, leaving grease marks on the blade. I coveted his little snack.
“I want to be great,” I said, feet blistered, collar frayed and stomach rumbling.
He chewed, considering this.
“I have certain expectations.”
“Anything.” I was relieved that I hadn’t had to play my hand after all.
“You work. You work. You work. You follow orders. You suffer. Greatness requires sacrifice. You struggle.”
“My struggle,” I smiled, enamoured of the idea.
I throw myself in pigments upon the page. Scarlet burns the paper and warms me when I’m cold.
After Papa died there was only Mamma, Paula and Aunt Johanna. Paula was an adoring sister, Aunt Johanna stern but doting. Mamma was the only one who understood me though. She knew I’d be important. She encouraged me in everything.
I watched her ebb away upon the chaise. She called me close, putting a cachexic arm around me.
“My darling boy,” she sighed away another precious breath. “You didn’t want me to know about Vienna, did you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Such a good son. Always thinking of me. I know about the Royal Academy rejecting your application.”
I spluttered mock denials, wondering who’d denounced me.
“How can a mother not know?” Her smile was slight and sweet. “Listen to me. I can help you.”
“Not now. Sleep a while.”
“Listen to me! Dr Bloch has a brother in Vienna, an artist, who went to the Academy himself. I asked Dr Bloch to write a letter of introduction.”
“Don’t talk of Vienna.” I couldn’t think of leaving home again. When that time came it would mean that the unthinkable, inevitable had happened. She would be dead.
“Ernest Bloch can help you.”
“Why should he?” I was nothing to him.
“Because he’s your real father.”
I honoured my father but I loved my mother. I keep her photograph close. I’m no insipid, cowering boy though. I stood my ground, even when Papa flew at me for defying him. Mamma always tried to get between us. His belt buckle cut her. Then he’d kick me until I pissed blood.
When I lifted Mamma up to rearrange her cushions, she weighed less than a child in my arms.
“Please don’t judge me harshly. When baby Otto died I was heartbroken. Ernest was kind to me.”
I set my mouth in a line. I didn’t like the way she said his name. Ernest. I wanted to punish her. She’d been an obedient wife, but not a devoted one. She’d betrayed us.
“It was wicked of me but I have no regrets. Without Ernest there wouldn’t have been you.”
The thin line of my mouth contorted as she kissed my forehead.
“You cured me of all the pain of losing Otto.” She’d had too many of her children die. “You have it in you to be great, my son. One day the whole world will know your name.”
I spent three months with my real father. His insistence that I begin my education again made me impatient. I suffered the indignity of childish exercises and lectures. Sometimes he’d slap the desk, too angry to notice that I didn’t flinch.
“No! Your grasp of form is clumsy. How can you hope to excel without mastering the basics?”
He made me go with him to exhibitions. I despised the squat white building at the top of Naschmarkt, with its ridiculous golden dome that looked like a cabbage. A modern monstrosity. I tapped my feet while he admired it. The art exhibited within was equally ridiculous.
“I’ve no interest in architecture.”
“You mean you have no interest in this.”
He was correct. By contrast, I’d often eulogised about the glorious proportions of the opera house, a building I adored. It was graceful and proper. I didn’t want us to start a debate that ended in an argument today. I was hungry. If he found me tolerable, he’d buy me lunch.
The café had fashionable heavy drapes and marble counters. Cream and chocolate creations flourished under glass domes. The air was full of cigarette smoke and conversation. A waiter brought a tray of coffee and cakes, overlooking my shabby clothes.
A crowd was on the street outside, bodies jostling against the café window. There were chants and banners. They were Mayor Lueger’s men, drumming up support for his manifesto on crime. I commented that I admired his ability to make decisions that were unpopular but necessary.
“So you agree with Lueger’s policies?” Ernest raised his chin, his way when questioning me.
“If he is to reduce unemployment, he must consider the Viennese first, not immigrants.”
“You’re an immigrant.”
“One day our countries will be reunited.” My home was on the border.
“And not all immigrants are useless layabouts,” he looked at me pointedly. “Many are physicians, surgeons, tailors, carpenters …”
“Money lenders,” I said without thinking.
“So, we are at the nub of it. The Jewish problem.”
I squirmed in my seat.
“All I’m saying is that the native Austrian should get priority …”
“So it’s not possible to be Austrian and Jewish?”
“Most Jews are Jewish first and Austrian second …”
“And all of them hard working taxpayers. So you agree with Lueger that I should be stripped of all assets and sent packing, along with every other Jew in Vienna?”
My cup rattled on the saucer. I’d gone too far. I muttered something about him being a good sort.
“Less orthodox?” Ernest sneered. “More palatable?”
Had this gone on our relationship might have ended there but Ernest turned to see who’d tapped his shoulder. I recognised my saviour as the girl in charcoal sketch. A slight creature, she slid into the empty chair beside us.
“You’ve cut your hair.” Ernest sounded petulant.
“You’re crabby today.” She kissed his cheek. At first I thought her no more than seventeen, but when she spoke I realised she was older.
“I’m in the middle of a painting. I need your hair long.”
“I shall have to get a wig then, shan’t I?”
“And I shall have to get a new model.”
Unruffled, she dismissed him and I felt her full attention. After a long look she tipped her head at Ernest as if to say, Well?
Ernest flicked the end of his cigarette into the ashtray. She’d diffused his anger, leaving exasperation.
“This is Liselle,” he said with a flick of the hand in her direction.
“Does he have a name?” Liselle asked.
“Nothing he’s earned yet,” he replied.
I told her my name. My cheeks burned as she laid a hand on Ernest’s arm. “He’s charming. He sounds like he’s reporting for duty. Why have you kept him hidden?”
Her boldness made me uncomfortable.
“He’s my new pupil.”
“A protégé! How exciting!”
“Liselle talks far too much for a model.” As Ernest spoke, she leant over and took his earlobe between her teeth. “Unusually she does see more than most prattling women. What do you make of my friend here?”
He jerked his head away from her. Liselle sighed and looked at me, sliding her hand up his thigh. Ernest’s charcoal sketch didn’t convey her colour. Skin like a pale apricot. Dark blonde curls. Yellow flecks around her pupil that made the blue of her eyes look stitched on. Clear eyes, like Mamma’s.
The appraisal was mutual.
“He has his destination fixed so firmly in his mind that he ignores all the possibilities of the journey,” she said. “He’s not open. He doesn’t understand that’s the only way to feel alive.”
I felt put down. She imagined herself the more sophisticated of us two because she was sleeping with Ernest.
“Shall we go?” Liselle asked. She clung to Ernest as he found his feet. Thankfully he’d thrown down money for the bill.
All that remained on the plates were crumbs and cream. I finished them after they’d gone.
END OF FREE EXTRACT
Don’t forget to order your copy of Alt Hist Issue 7 to read the rest of this story and others.
The second Battalion 202 piece in Alt Hist Issue 7 takes the form of a collection of diary entries and other sources that fill in some of the background for Jonathan Doering’s alternate history of the Nazi invasion of Great Britain.
Battalion 202: Set Britain Ablaze
by Jonathan Doering
Introduction: The following is a series of extracts from the Local History Archive in Pontefract Library, gathered together by local A-Level History teacher, Amy Storey, as part of her personal research project to offer a wider historical context for the Resistance activities which took place in the area. Editor’s notes and footnotes appear at various stages in this document. The extracts presented here deal with events on the first day of the Nazi Occupation of Britain.
Extract from the personal war-time diary of Major-General Colin Gubbins, MC and bar, CMG, BRC, BLC, Head of Special Operations Executive ‘A’ Branch (the department concerned with directing and mounting resistance activities within the British Isles), released to public scrutiny in 1995 under the Fifty Year Rule.
Editor’s Note: Gubbins had been ordered, against his own wishes, to accompany the retreating Government party north of the Border rather than, as he had requested, be left to direct unfolding Resistance activities within the Greater London area. Prime Minister Churchill required Gubbins to attend the top secret ‘Achnacarry Summit’ in the Scottish Highlands, where Cabinet and other governmental and military responsibilities were hastily assigned prior to the Government’s retreat. The following extract details some of the events at Achnacarry before Gubbins was permitted to lead a Commando team south of the Border to begin the first major action of the Occupation, codenamed ‘Bonfire’.
A bitter day. I have a strange sense of returning home1, but it is with neither delight nor relief. Owing to Achnacarry’s position in the far North of Scotland and its status as the training centre for Army Special Forces, with admirable originality the government has designated it as the centre for the British Resistance Organisation.2 The War Cabinet is convening here before dividing between those who will remain to direct operations on the ground and those who will transfer to ‘Britannia House’—the makeshift British HQ the Canadians have agreed to organise in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Certain regiments and naval formations will shortly be hived off from the final action in Britain to rendezvous in Canada. Hopefully they will be able to recoup their strength & prepare for a counter attack from Canadian soil, as well as hopefully attracting Canadian (and American?!) military, naval & aerial support. The Cabinet thinks that Achnacarry will continue to serve as some sort of training depot, as well as the nerve centre for the British resistance effort: analysing intelligence, developing tactics and strategy, and sending and directing equipment and fighters to points of particular need. Whether it will be able to remain in contact with the rest of Britain remains to be seen. German Intelligence may very well become aware of its role, and direct the Luftwaffe to extirpate it. I write this overlooking Loch Arkaig, where commando trainees have been put through their paces over the last few months, waiting for the politicians to finish dividing the spoils, slicing the cake up. If ever there was a British analogy to Nero with his bloody fiddle it’s the Bulldog3 and the rest of them, sitting around a table up in the castle gassing about spheres of responsibility.
The Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties have agreed that for the duration of the conflict, they will merge into the United Liberation Party. Portfolios are being doled out like playing cards as I write. “That one for your lot, this one for us—but of course we’re all one party for now!” Just get on & slice the bloody cake!
Extract from Volume II of Sir Winston Churchill’s Autobiography (Published by Penguin Books, 1954).
Editor’s Note: Churchill describes here some of the key decisions taken by government at the Achnacarry Summit, and his personal feelings of guilt at being obliged by colleagues to leave the British Isles. Painful though this decision must have been to take (Churchill had often declared that he would prefer to be mown down by the Nazis on the steps of the Palace of Westminster) it would have been unthinkable for the Nazis to either capture or kill him. Besides the need to avoid a damaging German propaganda coup, his original strategic thinking and indefatigable energy were needed for the exodus to ‘Britannia House’ in order to provide the momentum needed for the British Forces remnant escaping there to feel that there was any reason to fight on.
In many respects the War Cabinet’s Summit at Achnacarry resembles in my mind the Yalta Conference in importance. At a moment of national pain and grief a handful of ministers and civil servants, soldiers, pilots and sailors, gathered speedily to accomplish the reorganisation of our sovereign system of governance that had guided Britain through centuries of strife and bloodshed. Many of our colleagues and friends from government and Parliament had requested—or had been requested—to remain at their posts. The British people would need steady hands and stout hearts to gird and guide them through the dark days now looming over our nation. I have reflected a thousand times at the cruel ironies of conflict. Had the Nazi offensive been launched twelve months earlier, I myself would have been one of those remaining in London. Perhaps then I would have been able to avail myself of a Thompson machine gun and a Smith and Webley revolver, and made a final stand before the Mother of all Parliaments? The question must of course remain rhetorical. Sharp though the bane tasted, we all were required to bend our shoulders to whichever yoke circumstance laid upon us.
Having formally agreed to dissolve our constituent political parties for the duration of hostilities and establish a Party of National Liberation, we then confirmed membership of the War Cabinet as well as which ministers would remain in Britain, and which would reluctantly have to leave. It was agreed that I would continue to serve in the capacity of Prime Minister and also become Minister for the Liberation of the British Isles. Clement Attlee, one of the most capable leaders of the Labour Party movement, would become Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Resistance, Information and Intelligence, and effectively the daily face of the Government-in-exile within Britain’s borders. He would also take responsibility for propaganda and all resistance actions aimed at ridding Britain of the detested Nazi blight. Harold MacMillan would remain alongside Attlee as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Minister of Supply, providing a Conservative voice within this Resistance Cabinet, and vital financial and logistical planning. He would be supported by Anthony Eden as Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, maintaining links with Britannia House and the other Allied Governments-in-Exile. I realise that some have accused me of politically wrong-footing poor Anthony, by abandoning him in the Northern wastes of the Highlands for the duration of the conflict. However, I would remind those critics that Attlee’s record of service in the same time and place failed to handicap his own and his party’s electoral fortunes after the War. To this triumvirate was added the doughty Ernest Bevin as Minister of Labour, to employ his titanic gifts for organisation and direction of the labour force to frustrate and obstruct the Enemy’s plans wherever and however possible. It was felt that a balance between the two main political persuasions would be advisable for day to day management, although in the case of any tied votes, Attlee would have the deciding vote.
Alongside myself there were several other ministers and civil servants removing to Halifax. Of Cabinet rank, General Sir Alan Brooke had accepted the post of Secretary of State for War and Chief of Staff of British Forces-in-Exile and Lord Halifax as Foreign Secretary, whilst the inestimable Liberal Sir Henry Beveridge had agreed to serve as Minister for Health, Education and Welfare, and would maintain a ceaseless watching brief over the conduct of British affairs by the Nazis and their collaborators—both actual and supposed4.
Leave takings under such pressures are never measured affairs. We were a handful of the government of the country at Achnacarry; and we were shortly to voluntarily split into two smaller handfuls. I had hardly had time to come to rest in this berth, but still one or two mementoes had found their way out of my document case and onto the desk before me: a small watercolour of Chartwell; of course, the composition was idiosyncratic and the colouring slapdash, as it was my own effort. Nevertheless, as I picked it up and laid it back in the case, it was sufficiently like my Essex home to lead me to ponder if I would ever enter through her doors again. Also, two framed photographs: one of my beloved family—for whom do we fight, ultimately? The other was of my esteemed counterpart, Das Reichsführer, Adolf Hitler.
It had been brought to me courtesy of the Secret Intelligence Service. For the duration of the war SIS was tasked amongst so many other duties with bringing me every single fact concerning the lifestyle, habits, whereabouts, and actions of Hitler. If I was to defeat this madman I required every scrap of knowledge it was possible to discover about him. That photograph accompanied me across the Atlantic, and confronted me every instant that I raised my eyes from the papers upon my desk in Britannia House. The eyes were hollow, yet magnetic; the lowering gaze always said the same thing to me: I am determined to perform every action within my power to destroy you and all that you stand for. What are you determined to do?
It was a question that haunted me through the War and haunts me still.
Extract from A Sheep in Sheep’s Clothing: The Biography of Clement Attlee by N. S. E. Legge (Penguin Books, 1993).
If there was a single moment when Britain shifted from a regular war-time footing to that of an occupied, insurgent nation, then it was the Achnacarry Summit. Churchill and Attlee, politically-speaking classic opponents, and yet in so many ways men of a similar, if not identical mind, had to perform so many tasks that day that had hitherto been considered unthinkable. These included the dissolution of the Conservative and Labour parties, formally making the remnants of their parties left behind in London unofficial bodies; the creation of the United Liberation Party, an obvious political manoeuvre which, although highly effective in channelling the considerable abilities from both major parties towards a common cause, still opened the way in the course of the War to much Machiavellian manoeuvrings by such Party figures as Dalton and Morrison, Eden and Halifax; and the acknowledgement that in day-to-day terms the men who had until the very day before borne full responsibility for the correct government of the United Kingdom, in some respects no longer bore that responsibility.
To all intents and purposes the nitty-gritty of daily government would necessarily be discharged by a caretaker administration, overseen by the Nazi occupiers. The Government-in-Exile would now be managing the resistance effort, as well as offering a coherent analysis of the actions of the Collaborationist government, and offering its own policies in competition to them. Not for the first time, there were malicious whispers against Attlee, suggesting that as an apparently diffident man, he lacked Churchill’s spark and charisma, thus disqualifying him for the job of leading the Resistance Cabinet. Certainly MacMillan was not the only minister who later wondered aloud if “Winston was trying to hobble Clem before the 1945 electioneering had had a chance to officially start”.
Churchill himself, although claiming the utmost respect for his Labour counterpart, is said to have introduced Attlee to Major-General Colin Gubbins, the Head of SOE’s ‘A’ Branch and mastermind of the military insurgency against the Nazis, with the words, “May I present Mr Attlee to you, Major-General. A most remarkable man. Every word of praise you have heard about him is absolutely true. All three of them.” History does not record Attlee’s response, if indeed he bothered to reply to Churchill’s needling. Time reveals all, and if Churchill proved himself to be a divisive but also determined and inspirational figure at Britannia House, so Attlee, the ‘sheep in sheep’s clothing’ in time revealed himself to be a man of quiet authority well capable of keeping the staff working with him focused and driven towards the common goal.
END OF FREE EXTRACT
Don’t forget to order your copy of Alt Hist Issue 7 to read the rest of this story and others.
Hope you all had a good Easter! Here’s another extract from one of the stories in Alt Hist Issue 7.
Battalion 202 returns with two new stories written by Jonathan Doering. Battalion 202, for those who haven’t read recent issues of Alt Hist, is the what-if tale of British resistance to a Nazi invasion in WW2. The first story in this issue, “The Sheep and the Goats”, takes us back to Harold Storey, a local policeman in Pontefract who is forced to work with the occupying Gestapo. Will Sergeant Storey risk his own life to aid the British resistance? “Set Britain Ablaze” reveals a significant part of the back-story to the Battalion 202 series through a variety of personal records of figures such as Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill and the Head of the SOE, Major General Gubbins. You can read in their own words, how these historical figures might have responded to a Nazi occupation of Britain. We anticipate that there will be another four stories in the Battalion 202 series and that will be published in the next few issues of Alt Hist, concluding with the finale in Alt Hist Issue 10.
Here’s an extract from the first of this issue’s Battalion 202 stories: “The Sheep and the Goats”.
Author’s Note: Battalion 202 has previously told the story of a local police officer, Harold Storey, who witnesses the gradual moral depredations of Nazi occupation. Following the killing of the German military commander for the area in an accident caused by another German officer disgusted by the corruption of his own side, Pontefract Gestapo Lieutenant Kürten threatens reprisals. At this point a message from a member of the Resistance Operational Patrol arrives, offering to betray the OP. ”The Sheep and the Goats” now follows Storey over the following hours as plans and preparations are made for an assault on the Operational Base of the local Resistance, and the events that follow.
For I was hungered and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger and ye took me in …
The Gospel of St. Matthew, 25 v. 35
The Third Day of the Occupation …
Whispers ran around the room: The Major’s car has crashed … The Major is dead … The Lieutenant driving the car has also been killed …
Kürten was shouting alternately in German and English:
“Wie? How? Finden Sie die Täter. Find the men responsible!”
The Fifth Day of the Occupation …
A door at the end of a corridor outside of the prisoner’s cell is thrown open, echoing. The prisoner, who had finally, blessedly, slipped into unconsciousness, starts awake, as if this echo is another blow landing on his already bruised body.
He coughs, and every cough wrenches through him; the tip of each rib shrieks with pain. With each cough he wonders feebly if he will have enough energy to cough again, to breathe again.
Perhaps they will bring a little food today. Perhaps he will be able to eat it if they do.
The heavy sound of boots moves inexorably along the corridor. The prisoner’s ear drums wince with each dull thud, receding further and further inside of his skull. Nerves flinch within his skin, his frame retreats beneath the flimsy blanket, desperately seeking any camouflage. Every muscle, every tendon jars as the thuds grow nearer.
The Second Day of the Occupation …
Internal Gestapo Memo #A907
Date: 16th October, 1940
From: Lt. Col. Dr. Franz Six, Commander of German Security and Intelligence Operations in British Territories, Gestapo H.Q., London (A).
To: The Regional Heads of Gestapo Einsatzgruppen in Birmingham (B), Cardiff (C), Bristol (D), Leeds (E), Liverpool (F), Newcastle (G), and Edinburgh (H).
I congratulate you on your swift and efficient institution of the agreed policy of discreet introduction of Gestapo policy into British society. In terms of intelligence gathering, recruitment of informers and collaborators, processing of suspects, and in all other particulars you have proved yourselves admirably capable of the task in hand. The next stage of our work can now begin.
I refer to the full scale imprisonment and processing of all enemies of the Reich. These criminal minorities must be removed with ultimate force in all haste but, wherever possible, with the utmost caution and discretion. The dog will not feel the rub of the leash when its ears are tickled. These criminal minorities fall into two broad categories:
Nationalistic resistance movements;
Various sub-human groups such as Jews, homosexuals, Roma, Freemasons, and so on, who must be stopped from spreading their poison through society any further than they have already done so.
It is of paramount importance that this next phase of Operation Sea Lion be conducted in co-operation with willing local citizens who are clear-sighted enough to understand Nazi policies in these areas. It is therefore of the utmost importance that we review and update not only our Black Lists of undesirables, but also White Lists of favourable individuals and groups. It may also be useful to draw up a Grey List of individuals and groups of whom there has not as yet been sufficient evidence gathered to make an informed decision as to their support for the Occupation.
As to our new friends and collaborators, I suggest that they be given the paraphernalia of office and the dignity that goes with it. It will also serve us well for Britons to consider that the unpleasant but necessary work of processing minorities is being conducted mainly by their own citizens rather than by us. Perhaps we can now appropriate the title of the British ‘Special Branch’ for this group of people, which strikes me as having a pleasingly descriptive ring to it, whilst being somewhat different to our own Gestapo?
You will, as ever, keep me fully informed of your work. I commend you to the successful discharge of your duties in Stage Two of Operation Sea Lion.
The Third Day of the Occupation …
Internal Gestapo Memo #E379
Date: 17th October, 1940
From: Major Heinrich Schmitt, Commander, Leeds Area Einsatzgruppe.
To: Captain Bernhard Schlimm, Commander, Wakefield Sub-Area Office.
Thus far the security situation in the Wakefield Sub-Area has been highly satisfactory and you are to be congratulated. However, your communiqué this morning regarding the unexplained deaths of Major Svartelheim and Lieutenant Weiss, alongside reports of increasing terrorist activity in your area, lead me to exhort you to take firm and immediate action. Lieutenant Kürten, Pontefract District Gestapo Officer, as you know, is an exemplary man. He distinguished himself well in the initial processing in Poland following our successful regaining of our stolen territories, and I am sure that he will bring his experience, expertise and enthusiasm to the job in hand. Of all of the smaller towns in the West Yorkshire region, I am particularly concerned to see Pontefract brought smartly to heel. Its central geographical position, coupled with rail and road links, as well as the plentiful coal fields, agriculture and proximity to both Wakefield and Leeds, make it a test case for smaller communities. It could prove to be a cradle for incipient terrorist activities if mishandled. However, should we successfully pacify local residents, it will not only serve as a positive early success but also stand as an example to other communities unsure of their response to Occupation. Let us leave them in no doubt as to which course of action represents their better interests.
Our previous orders were for a concerted but highly discreet presence in locales. As of this instant you may consider this order rescinded; employ as much force as required in order to quell rebellion in this town and pacify any growing discontent amongst the locals. You may requisition whatever manpower, equipment and financial support you need from Leeds Einsatzgruppe.
Kindly inform me of all developments.
Internal Gestapo Memo #E380
Date: 17th October, 1940
From: Captain Bernhard Schlimm, Commander, Wakefield Sub-Area Office.
To: Lieutenant Kürten, District Officer, Pontefract.
The Second Stage of Sea Lion is to be implemented, effective immediately. The gloves may be removed, my friend. Locate the local Resistance hideout with all haste and destroy with ultimate force. Locate any other individuals involved in the terrorist murders of Svartelheim and Weiss, and treat appropriately. Any requirements you may have will be fully supported by Wakefield H.Q.
Storey attended Confession on his way home that evening, knowing in his heart that soon he would need to find alternative ways of speaking with Father Mackintosh.
St. Joseph’s Church was empty. A trusted cleaning volunteer was sweeping by the door, ready to raise the alarm if anyone entered. Storey drew back the curtain in the booth. “Forgive me, father, for I have sinned and may sin again very soon. It has been one day since my last confession.”
There was a slow sigh from the other side of the screen.
“Never mind the dramatics, Harry, just tell me what’s happening.”
After the crash had been reported, Kürten was a man possessed.
“There will be immediate reprisals!”
Storey handed across the note that had been sent into the police.
What else could I do?
Kürten was screaming blue murder, and eyes were looking everywhere, constantly searching out any clue that could be reported. He had the sheet of paper in his hand—it had been seen by at least one other person.
What else could I do?
Kürten snatched it from him, studied it. Then …
“I require all senior police personnel to attend a conference in my office immediately.”
Storey prayed that Inspector Knight would go and that would be that. Or if not, then let Balks go and poke his nose up an arsehole if he wanted to. But Knight said, “All Acting Sergeants to accompany me, please.”
Upstairs the immediate conference was ten minutes in the preparation, as the British police stood kicking their heels in the corridor whilst staccato German conversation rattled back and forth behind the closed door. Then the door snapped open. “Enter, gentlemen.”
As they filed in like boys going for a caning in the headmaster’s office, Storey noted that Kürten and four colleagues were seated in a half crescent on the far side of his desk. There were no chairs laid out for them. Kürten was slightly calmer, or at least appeared so. Without looking up from the note that was spread out in front of him on his desk he muttered in a parody of hospitality, gesturing to the space in front of his desk with his letter knife: “Thank you for joining us, gentlemen. Please do come in.” The British group stood half to attention, shifting slightly this way and that, as Kürten stared at the scribbled sheet, poking at it now and again with his knife.
“Fate has a sense of irony, perhaps.” Kürten said this without looking up. Storey felt an exquisite tension between hanging on the man’s every word and the urge to step forward and strike him out of his stuffed leather chair. An instant passed, and then Knight cleared his throat. “How so, Lieutenant?”
Kürten looked up and leaned back at the same time. “Because we have lost two outstanding officers in one morning, in the middle of a region that ought to pose little if any threat. And yet now, apparently, a member of the local Resistance network offers us the opportunity to eradicate armed terrorism from the Pontefract district at a single stroke.”
“Does the … contact make any demands?”
Kürten looked at them, his head swaying slightly; he appeared to catch sight of Knight only gradually, then offered an alligator smile, sliding the note across the desk with the point of his letter knife, “Please, Inspector, read the message.”
Knight stepped forward, the flesh on the back of his neck glowing red, hands clasped behind his back, craning his neck to read without touching. Storey had already read the note twice, and noticed Balks’ involuntary shift forwards, wishing to be taken into the Nazis’ confidence. Knight stepped back again.
“So, there is a traitor in the organisation…”
“Traitor? A sensible individual who has realised that his best interests coincide with ours, surely?”
Knight’s neck glowed redder. “Clearly he does think that, Lieutenant. Will you attempt to make contact?”
Kürten again gave that lazy alligator smile, then pursed his lips and shrugged. “What else is there to do? Other than institute a house-to-house search for all people likely to be involved?” No one spoke for a moment, then the Gestapo officer led a brittle chorus of laughter from the German side of the desk.
“Please, gentlemen, we are not tiere, animals. We understand that the majority of Pontefract’s citizens are reasonable people. And the assistance that you have given us already in identifying those who are not can now be utilised in deciding who to remove.”
Storey felt himself sway dizzyingly but caught his body back. Knight didn’t turn to look at his men, but brought his hands from behind his back to clasp them in front of him.
“Lieutenant, we still don’t know how the officers died. The car careered off the road, nothing has been found near or inside the car to suggest—”
“You suggest that it was an accident?” Kürten exploded. “You are presented with the most professional, highly-trained and capable army in the World and you suggest that a German officer simply drove off the road by mistake? Well?”
If only you knew, Lieutenant.
When Knight spoke it sounded as if he was a mile away, but at least he spoke up. “Lieutenant, you cannot throw hundreds of people in prison because of what might be a tragic traffic accident.”
Kürten sprang up from his chair, knocking it backwards. The officers flanking him didn’t even flinch. Storey wondered if they had rehearsed this. The Gestapo officer threw his hands down on Superintendent Fredrickson’s and leaned across the desk as he shouted.
“Cannot? Cannot? We are not in your country as subjects of your rotten empire! We are here as victors! We are entitled to take what we wish, to do what we wish, when we wish to whomever we wish! Is that clear, Inspector? Who will stop us? You?”
“We were assured that the Law would be observed. The Law does not make provision for people to be locked up without clear evidence.”
“Two officers dead. And this on top of a constant wave of insurrection across the town. Graffitti. Resistance newspapers. Sabotage of vehicles, cutting of telephone wires, a constant accumulation of animosity against the rightful victors of a necessary war… Your laws ultimately now are subjugated to Occupation Law. Pontefract must learn who is now in charge!”
Kürten made to sit down again and one of his impassive colleagues retrieved his chair from the ground as he did so. Storey had to fight the urge to clap at the performance. Kürten picked up a glass of water from the desk and took a sip, replacing it softly. He stared into the mid-distance before speaking again.
“You ought to know that we have a directive to remove all able-bodied men between the ages of seventeen and sixty-five from the area.”
As the automatic gasp escaped from Storey, and, to his relief, from all of his colleagues, the Gestapo officer raised his hand in a half salute. “Please, gentlemen, that directive is completely unworkable. We do not want to tear the heart of this place. Which the loss of so many men would undoubtedly bring about. This order has not been obeyed in any other occupied territory either, thus far.” At this, the German allowed himself a conspiratorial smile. Storey half-expected him to wink. “But the resentment and frustrations of the local populace are coming to the surface now. We are entitled to remove all men who would be able to offer any resistance to our presence. But as I said, we are not animals. This we shall not do. But some must go. And the lists you have been kind enough to provide us with offer us the best source of information as to who should be selected.” He raised a finger. “Please do not trouble yourself about this. We shall organise and oversee that operation. You have already provided sufficient assistance in terms of the intelligence given.” He allowed the implication of those words to sit in the air before continuing. “The resistance operation, however, is another matter.”
Storey felt as if he was floating just below the ceiling, watching the interview whilst being in the centre of it, being addressed by this monster. He had to admit, objectively, it was brilliant. Kürten was offering them the chance to keep their hands clean of any deportations, whilst reminding them that the deportations could only occur thanks to their information on criminal affiliations and behaviour, membership of organisations and groups, that had been requested of them over the previous days, whilst driving home the message that in return for this kindness, they would have to assist the Germans in removing Pontefract’s Resistance.
Kürten leaned back, like a businessman satisfied by a successful negotiation. It crossed Storey’s mind that that might have been what he had been, before all of this. A ruthlessly strategic businessman.
“The note requests that we arrange for an aeroplane to fly over the town at a certain time this afternoon. Clever. This will be visible from many locations, ensuring that we still do not know the hideout of the group. We will be reliant on his next communication, promised during the night. We shall organise the flyover, and the commandoes who will then storm the hideout. However, gentlemen, we do expect that you assist us in … processing these criminals after they have been taken into custody.”
“If they are taken into custody.” The words were out of Storey’s mouth before he could stop them. All eyes turned to him, and he felt the blood rise in his ears. After a moment, Lieutenant Kürten stretched his lips back in a thin smile and nodded. “Yes, Sergeant … Storey is it? If we take them into custody. However, we have men stationed here who have fought against the finest troops offered by half a dozen countries. A ramshackle gang of thugs should not, I hope, prove a match for them. Thank you, gentlemen. Please return to your duties. I will contact you as and when we need to consult further.”
END OF FREE EXTRACT
Don’t forget to order your copy of Alt Hist Issue 7 to read the rest of this story and others.
The fourth story from Alt Hist Issue 7 gets a free extract on the site this week.
“Heff in Dearborn” by Michael Fertik is an unusual tale that brings together a figure from Greek mythology and the champion of modern factory assembly lines, Henry T. Ford. Hephaistos, ancient Greek god of the forge, now living in contemporary Los Angeles recounts a key incident in his life. The incident took place in early 20th century America, when Hephaistos, disguised as a man named Heff, met Henry Ford. It was the dawn of the automobile; cars were still being made by hand. Hephaistos and Ford race their hand made cars on the famous racing beach in Daytona. Hephaistos wins handily, embarrassing Ford. Ford, secretly suspecting his opponent’s real identity, decides to invent a new process, a new way of manufacture that will kill the old ways once and for all.
Michael recently hit the New York Times Bestseller list with his book The Reputation Economy: How to Optimize Your Digital Footprint in a World Where Your Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset.
You can buy the book on Amazon and at other good booksellers.
Heff in Dearborn
by Michael Fertik
Much of what you’ve read about me isn’t true. I am unvulgar, actually quite neat in my habits. I’ve never even been to Lemnos. I am not lame. I can do every yoga pose. I do not carry a “pocket forge”. What a dumb idea that would be. What idiot would carry a pocket forge? A pocket forge would be huge.
When I moved to SoCal a few years ago, I had to start calling myself by a different name. Introducing yourself as “Heff” in LA makes people think that you suffer from delusions of grandeur.
But I was Heff in Detroit. I met Henry Ford on the beach at Daytona in Florida. He raced his Pirate and I was in my own handmade chariot. There were other guys. Ford bombed past most everyone except me, because I knew how beach sand affected wheel speed, and I had some other advantages, besides.
Ford was a hater. He lived big, everybody knows that. He liked machines, money, cars, women, planes, plantations, politics, and Nazis. He liked efficiency. That’s the Wikipedia version. They know he didn’t like Moses’ people. But that was only part of it. He was filled to the brim with hate for everything he couldn’t own or humiliate.
I remember meeting him. So much of my life since then has been an echo of that encounter that I couldn’t help it.
I’d just beaten the pants off him on the Daytona beach. He’d left the field behind in his noisy, spewing wake as he took off for the finish line, right out of the gate. I hung back to watch him go, admiring the lines and acceleration of his car. He drove his Pirate, curved like a hip and shaking like a boulder hurtling down a hill. The workmanship was fine. Whoever designed the car understood the poetry of symmetry and the essential virtue of echoing an object’s purpose in its contour, that how it looks is the spirit in which it will perform. It is enjoyable to see the divine inspiration appearing in people’s work that way. There were details, too. Ford had taken the time to etch long, parallel grooves into the chassis to emphasize the speed of his car, and I perceived the idea of some flares shooting backwards on the surfaces toward the rear. The automobile was black—he was famous for that before he was famous for that—but he betrayed a feeling for flair in spots with sharp chrome and rounded glass. He even stood in the cabin at times as he rushed forward, like it was a motorcycle. He bared his teeth in what appeared like a smile.
I watched him race. Even though he was lengths ahead of the field, pulling away, he kept the accelerator down and looked back at us to see if anyone was catching up. He would lean ahead, as if to egg on his car. He was admirable. You don’t see true desperation and talent bundled together that often. He raced like a starving leopard. I thought about composing a few lines.
I waited until the three quarters mark, and then I stoked my chariot. Passing Ford wasn’t difficult, all things considered, but for the sake of drama and to encourage the hero and our competitors, I left it to the last stretch to overtake him. There was a great deal of backslapping, and everyone looked pleased, except for Ford, whose smile could have been chiseled from rough stone. After the champagne had died down, he came over to me and shook hands.
“Hello, I’m Henry Ford.” He crinked his head left to right to loosen something. Ford wasn’t very tall, and he was skinny as a wraith. He had close-cropped hair and blue eyes set in deep, arched sockets. His nose, while aquiline, was made for a skull 20% larger than his, as was his forehead. He was what Life Magazine would have called a fine looking man. When I met him he must have been about forty.
“Hello, I’m Heff! Ha ha ha!” I shook his hand vigorously and decided to take the course of the jolly friend. No use rubbing in the victory. “A good race! You have a fine automobile there! Ho ho!” I slapped his back and beamed conviviality at him.
To put it straightforwardly, my kind of emotional energy isn’t easy to resist. But it seemed to me he deflected it without effort. He wore a grin that would make it look to the fellows around that Number One and Runner Up were having a good motoring chat. But his eyes burned with hate. He hated my guts for passing him.
“Where did you get that rig? It’s an unusual design.”
“Oh, ha ha, just something I made myself.”
“Maybe you could show me how it works.”
“Hee hee, yes, you are a good sport and a card! I’ve heard, ha ha!” I tried in vain to keep it light. “I hear you are quite an inventor, too, and by the looks of your car, it’s true!”
“More of a tinkerer. I’m a farmer’s son, Heff. You?” There was a twinkle in his eye as he started to work something out. It made me uneasy.
“I’m a tinkerer, too.” I said, feeling clever about my minor dodge.
For some reason I wanted him to like me. I probably looked younger than he did, though not young enough to be his son, but father figures have always been a weakness for me.
He tapped my shoulder, more familiar now. “Well, now, anyway, a good race, and congratulations to the winner.” He turned around and led the fellows in a cheer. “Let’s get some food,” he said, and we walked toward the barbecue.
We ate brisket and corn at a picnic table some feet from the others. “You like working with tools? Enjoy working with your hands?” He smiled at me, and the glimmer in his eye grew bigger. “I’ve got a huge warehouse full of the greatest variety of tools a man’s ever seen. You might enjoy visiting.”
I had a feeling Ford knew who I was. Watching him pick his food birdlike as the sun set and colored the sea coral, observing the slight arch in his back and the vague triangle shape to his head, looking hard at his eyes, I wondered for a second if I recognized him, too. Is that you, Scamander, come to take your vengeance? Promo, is it you, come to take vengeance on my vengeance? Or Kratos, you piece of shit, come just to be nasty somewhere new?
It happens from time to time. I saw Typhon in Venice Beach three years ago. He was hideous, his stench emanated for blocks, and when I finally saw him, having followed the scent, he was committing the foulest acts on two young corpses he had no doubt freshly killed. He sensed me and looked up and immediately bristled. I posed for a fight. These instincts run deep. But like the rest of us, he was much diminished from his former self, and it seemed neither of us wanted to battle. I made as if I had been distracted by something to my left and out of his view, and I stepped away and reset my countenance so that we both might pretend he hadn’t recognized me, though it was clear he had. He was fearsome but nothing like before, an acorn compared to the oak. It is true I was afraid of him still, but more afraid, I think, for him, something so perfectly powerful and evil, reduced to a mangy shadow. Our fight would have no stanzas, just a wrestle and a brain-bashing either way, nothing to recount, and no matter the outcome, he would be even more miserable. I didn’t have the heart to win or lose. Since that day, I have avoided that section of Venice.
But it wasn’t that. Ford didn’t recognize me from before. He was Henry Ford, as advertised. Still, as we sat there talking, our plates only barely touched and the revels of our meet-mates gaining volume, as the flames from the night torches danced across our faces and cast long shadows into the dunes, I believed he knew who I was. Sometimes people who are gifted can tell.
“Yes, you’re right, I do like working with my hands. My machine—I built it ground up. Ha ha!” I tried laughing again but found myself losing my footing. “Where is your warehouse?”
“Michigan. Let me invite you to visit and see what we’re doing there. I would love your opinion.”
He told me about his company. They were building cars, obviously. It was early days. A few guys in a cavernous building cobbling together new automobiles, handcrafting style and moving parts and engines, working hard and watching the fruits of their inspiration spring to life. Exactly my style. Ford was animated. He knew engineering, design, physical properties, metals, rubbers, combustion, gears, fuels. He was building a team that would fulfill a vision of the future in which every person could drive around in a car. When he mentioned the other guys around the US and Europe who were trying to do similar things, you could see the hate reappear in a flash. He hated the competition. If he could snuff out their lives completely, he would. His passion was infectious. That, and his invitations to “come up to Michigan immediately, no delay” were persistent and flattering. It’s nice to be wanted. I had nothing else in particular I was doing, so why not?
That, again, and something else. As he talked, he looked straight in my eye, as if to say, “yes, I know you, and you know that I know you”. He never said anything, but I had a stronger and stronger impression, and there was something about continuing this cat and mouse game with a man of his caliber that appealed to me. How long could we keep up the charade? Was I going to learn that he had no idea all along? What would it be like to appear to take his lure and then beat him at his own game, as I had done on the beach that afternoon? This was a fun diversion, and in the course of it, I could fashion new tools, new machines, and new instruments with my hands and heat. I could direct teams of men in the ways of founding and developing a whole new tradition. There had of course been no discussion yet of my actually coming to work with Ford. It had all been about “visiting the warehouse in Michigan”. But we both knew where this was heading.
Six weeks later I was standing with about one hundred other fellows and Henry Ford up there in Dearborn inside the chilly warehouse. We stamped our feet to keep out the cold. The fellows stuffed their hands in their denim jacket pockets and pulled down their wool caps. Only Ford wore no hat at all.
“You’ve all gotten to know Heff this past while,” he said, “and I don’t have to tell you how likeable and useful he is.” Though I say so myself, he was getting at something true. I had done what I could to charm the men already working there, and they seemed to respond favorably. In that context, only two kinds of men can be found: those who want you to acknowledge their status as having been there first, and those who want your ideas to be right. In this case, it wasn’t so hard to do both, if only I gave the attention necessary to standing.
Ford continued. “He’s got some fine ideas on how to make our products better. I’m sure you’ve heard a few of those already.” There was a murmur around the gang, and one especially jovial fellow, a team captain named Cunningham, shouted “attaboy, Heff!” and the men murmured approval. Ford smiled and raised his hands overhead for quiet. “You’ve also probably heard his ideas for improving how to make our cars. He has some proposals for training and workmanship that can make our automobiles more quickly and even better looking!” He shouted the last part and got some praise back. Turning to me, “Well, Heff and I haven’t been working out just exactly how much faster we can make a car using his new ideas versus our existing ones. We’ve sorted it out that one fellow, working by himself, might just be able to go faster than the regular crew of five who build a car together.” The crowd shifted and said something quietly like “it’s not possible” and “well let’s try it”. I hadn’t ever said it to Ford that way, but what was I going to say then?
“I figure we should put this into action and invite Heff to stay with us a little while longer before leaving on his travels, so we can run a contest between our best team of five—Cunningham’s crew—and Heff to see who finishes first and what the final product looks like.”
There were some raised eyebrows and stamped feet, but pretty soon the good-hearted fellows said “sounds good” and “whaddya say” and “how ‘bout it, Heff?” Cunningham, who was well liked because he was very strong, very funny, and very generous, shouted “Alright, Heff, you’re on, you old Devil, we’ll beat you into shortpants!” The gang erupted with laughter, and I couldn’t help but smile and nod, and then the fellows clapped my back. All except for Ford, who put his hand on my shoulder and said just “good thing, good”. He wore that marble smile again. His eyes were ablaze with hate, hate spilling out into his deep, broad eye sockets, hate at something, maybe me, but I could not tell.
So it was that I faced off against Cunningham and his top four men to build a car faster and better.
It wasn’t hard to win. Even then, even now, it’s not a fair contest. I knew all the best ways to heat and hammer a piece of metal just so, so that only a few strikes would bend it correctly into the proper shape. I possessed special experience in working materials so that a single effort would both mold and beautify the object. In an instant I could grasp the import of any tool I handled. And I could stoke the heat of a furnace to precisely the correct temperature for each bolt, rivet, or handle I was building. Then there was the other thing. I was just faster, stronger, and more accurate than Cunningham’s boys. The biggest worry bead for me in this contest was to avoid winning it by so much as I could. It took nearly a week for a team to build a car. I had to pace myself so as not to embarrass anyone or arouse suspicion. Anyone with a long life can tell you that people will admire and praise what they see as excellence, until it becomes so superb that it is beyond their scope of comparison, at which point they must fear it, contemn it, or revere it. None of those outcomes would have been good. I could sense old Ford watching closely, gauging, observing, measuring, even timing me on his stopwatch as my fingers deftly maneuvered tongs and anvil, hammer and steel. What I could have easily completed in seventy hours took me almost five days, with stoppage along the way to show fatigue, frustration, and fear of losing. I would utter quips crediting my speed to process and the good luck of broad training across tools and heat levels. The fellows looked on in astonishment as I kept pace and then exceeded the Cunningham crew. At first they were excited for the early returns and encouraged us in good sport. Then I could hear them grow incredulous as it became clear that I was at least keeping up. “Could he really beat them?” they quietly murmured. They gathered at lunch and in the evenings to place small bets on who would finish the engine block first and then whether I would slow to a crawl when it came time to lift and fasten the larger pieces together. Then they grew hushed again as I fashioned my own simple and reusable pulley system. I made sure to reveal enough devices and how they worked so that the men would feel they could eventually manage what I was doing. As their confidence in the new processes grew, and as they became convinced that they could manage this themselves one day, they began to see me as a hero for their future and not a threat. They loved Cunningham, but they admired me. They felt somehow that I was there to improve their lives. Cunningham and his team felt the same. As we locked down piece after piece of the cars with joiners and welding, the fellows would cheer the final rivets and sparks. Cunningham’s crew would whoop for me, and I would strike my foot hard on the floor for theirs.
By the end it was clear I would win and that I was probably slowing down to be fair. The men only loved that more. In the reflection of the windshield glass, I spotted Ford drop his stopwatch with a smirk as he figured out what I was doing. I felt a shot of embarrassment.
I popped in the hood ornament and wiped it with a clean rag as the piece de resistance, and the fellows shouted “well done, Heff!” Despite the cold, we dripped sweat. Cunningham’s boys were a solid four hours behind. I bought a crate of pop and passed them around to the men as we sat and encouraged them to finish with style.
Beer and sandwiches appeared. We spent the afternoon retelling the race. I hadn’t had that much fun in years.
END OF FREE EXTRACT
Don’t forget to order your copy of Alt Hist Issue 7 to read the rest of this story and others.
Today we have for you another free extract of a story in Alt Hist Issue 7. Enjoy!
“Independence Day” by Pavel Nikiforovitch is an alternate history set in a present day when celebration of the 4th July in America is very much a minority activity. Most Americans aren’t patriots. One man struggles to celebrate the most important day in his country’s history. The main things he has to fight against are the indifference of his own family and neighbours—in this reality, the USA barely exists as a political entity. The cover of this issue of Alt Hist pays homage to a reference in “Independence Day”.
The Independence Day
by Pavel Nikiforovitch
“C’mon … Faster … Please …” Silas Smith was shaking with impatience and looking at the wall clock again and again.
“Silas, why don’t you just go to bed?” His wife shook her head. “Then you’ll just get up in the morning—and won’t have to wait.”
“Ah, Debbie, do you have any idea what you’re saying?” Silas waved his spouse off. “How can you even sleep on a night like this?”
Actually, he couldn’t sit on the couch anymore either. Silas got up and started pacing back and forth still throwing a glance at the clock every other second. According to the dial there were just five minutes left to midnight.
“Well, it’s not the New Year …” Debbie shrugged.
“It’s way more important!” Silas exclaimed, barely able to suppress his desire to turn the clock hands forward. Actually, the clock was electronic anyway.
“Fine. Do whatever you want,” his wife said in a decisive tone. “But I am going to bed.”
“Goodnight,” Silas replied indifferently.
Several minutes later he realized that the clock was not really necessary.
Because exactly at twelve he heard noise, thunder and explosions from outside. Just as American tradition dictates, tens of local amateur pyromaniacs deafened the whole of Charleston by their fireworks.
“Oh yeah!” Silas howled, not in the least afraid to wake his wife and son up.
After that he ran down the stairs into the basement. Not even fifteen seconds later, he flew up the same stairs, opened the front door and ran to the street. While doing this, Silas was carefully holding a stick with an attached piece of cloth in his hands.
When Silas reached his garage, he inserted the stick into a previously prepared hole, took a flashlight out of his pocket, turned it on—and admired his deed with a sense of earned pride. Now his garage was adorned with Stars and Stripes—the flag of the United States of America. Just like it should have been on an important day like this.
The Fourth of July—the Independence Day—had come.
After opening his bedroom door, Silas unceremoniously turned the light on.
“Silas!” Debbie said reproachingly. “It’s 1 am!”
“Ah, who cares?” Silas waved her off. “You ain’t sleeping anyway.”
“Of course I am not sleeping!” his wife replied with outrage. “How can I sleep when you’re making all that noise outside? Was it really so difficult to raise that darn flag?”
“Flag ain’t enough,” Silas said importantly. “On a day like this all of the façade should be adorned, right? But it sure ain’t so easy to work in the dark. So that’s why it took so long. And, yeah, there was some noise—why did you expect there not to be any? I hammered the nails, and I tripped and fell a couple of times, and I fell off the ladder once …”
“And you swore like a sailor, too,” Debbie added, thinning her lips in disapproval.
“Yes, I did swear.” Silas sighed. “Especially that time when I hit my index finger hard with the hammer. But it’s fine, honey, since now you can finally get some sleep.”
“And you?” Debbie asked, clearly surprised. Only now she realized that her husband’s late-night activities were not over yet.
“And I’ll change clothes and go to Murphy’s.”
“To a bar? In the middle of the night? How can you do it, Silas?”
“Oh, yes, I can!” Silas answered with a smug smirk. “I couldn’t do it yesterday, I won’t be able to do it tomorrow, but today—oh, yes, I can. I’d say I even ought to.”
“Silas!” His wife clasped her hands melodramatically. “Why do you always do stupid things just because you can? If, say, it were legal to run out into the street, would you jump in front of a Rolls Royce?”
“No, I wouldn’t,” Silas answered in an irritated tone, while taking a dirty shirt off and getting a clean yellow one from the closet. “But, if they issued a law that lets husbands put muzzles on wives who nag too much, I would run to the pet store right away.”
Instead of a response, Debbie just hopelessly waved her hand and turned away.
When Silas came back from Murphy’s early in the morning, he saw that Debbie was already up and waiting for him in the kitchen.
“Hi, honey.” Silas smiled.
“Hi yourself.” His wife sighed, adjusting one of the sleeves of her raspberry-colored robe. “I have never understood how anyone can spend five whole hours in a bar. How much have you had to drink?”
“Not that much.” Silas shrugged. “Five or six pitchers of Guinness, not more than that. We weren’t drinking that much there, anyway. Mostly we were singing.”
“And what were you singing?” Debbie asked suspiciously. “Probably, some filthy …”
“No, not at all!” Silas sounded quite insulted. “We sang the anthem, and then all sorts of other patriotic songs. ’Course, we talked a lot, too. Oh, and I saw Ben Hunter there, your friend’s husband.”
“Oh, really?” his wife said in a less indignant voice. “So, will he and Linda come over tonight?”
“Sure thing, ’course.” Silas nodded. “There ain’t no way the Hunters wouldn’t come to our party. We’ll have so much fun! Have you bought everything?” asked he in a concerned voice.
“Almost everything,” Debbie said, which calmed him down. “I still have to go to the bakery today. When I come back, I’ll start cooking. And you, Silas, go to bed. There is still enough time until the evening, so you’ll have no problem catching up on your sleep.”
“Oh no, no way!” Silas shook his head. “What I ain’t gonna do today is sleeping!”
“Silas! Don’t you understand that you can’t do that?”
“On a day like that, I sure can!”
“But your body has no idea what day is today. It does need rest.”
After eyeing his wife with suspicion, Silas did some thinking. Even though Debbie was a geography teacher and not a medical doctor, her knowledge in various sciences was noticeably higher than that of Silas. After all, he was just an electrician, not a college graduate like his wife.
“Well, in that case …” Silas finally broke the silence. “In that case, my body will have to make do with this.”
And he reached for the coffee pot.
“Don’t you realize how dangerous this is?” His wife looked at him with reproach. “In order to overcome your urge to sleep, you’ll have to drink a lot of it. Do you want a heart attack?”
“Oh, c’mon, a heart attack right away?” Silas scoffed suspiciously, pouring his coffee into the biggest cup.
“Well, maybe not right away.” Debbie shrugged. “But after a while.”
“Then I ain’t scared at all.” Silas snorted, picking up the cup. “If, say, I were to fall into a coma tomorrow—ain’t no big deal, nothing to worry about. As long as I get back out of it by the next Fourth of July.”
And he drank the whole cup in one gulp.
After walking outside and smiling to the morning sun, Silas noticed with much satisfaction that he was not the only patriot on his street. While looking left and right, Silas counted the total of five flags including his own.
And then Silas admired the adorned façade of his house. Of course the “USA ALL THE WAY!!!” banner over the porch was a bit crooked, and the “PROUD TO BE AMERICAN” poster, which was covering the kitchen window, was barely holding on a single nail. And all the red, white and blue ribbons on the roof were entangled so much that they somewhat resembled the proverbial Gordian knot. But, overall, the masterpiece was nearly perfect. After all, the lack of precision displayed by the homeowner/decorator was more than compensated by the abundance of his patriotism. And the most special achievement of Silas was undoubtedly the collage that combined the American Presidents’ portraits—all forty of them, starting with John Adams.
“Beautiful, ain’t it?” Silas whispered lovingly. “Bet you won’t find anything better than that in all of Charleston. And maybe in all of South Carolina. And maybe …”
“Good morning, Mr. Smith,” a familiar unpleasant voice interrupted Silas’ proud ramblings.
“Howdy,” Silas grunted, turning his head.
He already knew who was interrupting his process of self-admiration. In front of Silas stood Alan Jenkins, a spry bespectacled old man from 15, who moved to Charleston from Toronto the year before last.
“So that’s why I didn’t get any sleep!” Mr. Jenkins said mockingly in a creaky voice. “First, all these terrible fireworks, and then someone was making loud noise for an hour. Now I know who.”
“Well, I didn’t make noise for nothing,” Silas gave his best I-come-in-peace smile. “Just see how beautiful I made it all look!”
In spite of all his hatred of Mr. Jenkins, Silas didn’t want to fight him on a day like this at all.
“Yes, yes, it’s quite fascinating.” The Canadian nodded a couple of times. “Did you draw it by yourself?”
And he pointed at the picture hanging on the garage door, which depicted people in wigs and old-fashioned clothes. They somewhat resembled the Founding Founders, who were signing the Declaration of Independence.
“The wife helped … a bit.” Silas did not resort to a lie.
“Well, well, it is interesting, yes,” Mr. Jenkins said slowly, adjusting his glasses and attentively squinting. “In a way, Mr. Smith, it reminds me of … a certain work of art, yes.”
“Really?” Silas exclaimed, unwillingly starting to develop some sort of liking for his neighbor.
“Yes, yes, Mr. Smith, that is exactly the case. Actually, I don’t mean the art of painting, no I don’t. The art I have in mind is literature. Specifically … William Shakespeare.”
“No joke?” Silas scratched the back of his head questioningly.
Truthfully, he did not care for Shakespeare whatsoever—yet he did understand that being compared to the Bard himself meant praise rather than critique.
“Yes, Mr. Smith, I do mean Shakespeare, namely of his plays. What was its name, I can hardly remember … Oh yes! Much Ado About Nothing.”
Blood rushed to Silas’ head.
“You stinking Canuck!” he shouted as loud as he could. “How dare you make fun of me, you swine? Not just of me, either.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Smith, but I don’t understand,” Mr. Jenkins said, clearly in a state of total disbelief.
“Exactly!” Silas wailed even louder. “Exactly—you don’t understand nothing! All of you Canucks are alike! You’re worse than the Yankees—lame as they are, at least they’re Americans, too! And you? What can you bastards possibly understand, when you assholes don’t have no independence at all! All you Canucks do is kiss limeys’ asses and lick the boots of that freak in the Buckingham Palace!”
“Well, you know …” The Canadian became outraged as well. “I would ask you to …”
“Oh no, pal, no you don’t!” Silas was clearly not going to settle down yet. “I would ask you to get the hell out of here, you son of a bitch! Get the hell away from my house you stupid Canuck! And away from my street, too! And from my city as well! And from my state! Better yet, from my country!”
“I should have been smarter …” Mr. Jenkins muttered turning his back to Silas and starting to walk back home. “Next time, I’ll leave the city on the Third, and then come back on the Fifth.”
“Yeah, that’s right, get out of here! Go back to your stinking Canada!” Silas shouted at the neighbor’s back. “But don’t even bother coming back—not on the Fifth, not on the Sixth, not on the Seventh, neither! Just stay in your lousy Toronto forever, you’ll feel right at home there, you Canuck bastard!”
In response, Mr. Jenkins started muttering something again, but Silas could not hear him anymore.
“Well, I guess I told him!” Silas noted, turning back to face his patriotic masterpiece.
And he cheered up.
END OF FREE EXTRACT
Don’t forget to order your copy of Alt Hist Issue 7 to read the rest of this story and others.
Here’s a summary of the review:
It is a good mix of different stories and again a great opportunity to discover not only so well known but promising alternate history authors. It is also good opportunity for fans of Priya Sharma and Jonathan Doering to read more from these authors.
If you haven’t yet, don’t forget to get yourself a copy of Alt Hist Issue 7 soon!