Alt Hist Issue 5 Reviewed at Fantasy Book Review – 8 out of 10!

Alt Hist Issue 5 cover“8 out of 10 cats prefer Alt Hist” – well maybe not quite, but Alt Hist did recently get a very nice review over at Fantasy Book Review. So if you haven’t read Alt Hist Issue 5 yet, please go and take a look at their review and you’ll see what you’ve been missing :)

As ever Alt Hist is a solid, well-written collection of short stories that will appeal to readers who enjoy works of alternate history, historical fiction and historical fantasy. From the American Civil to the Second World War this anthology takes us for a trip through the major events that have shaped human history.

Well worth checking out the other reviews at Fantasy Book Review as well – it’s a great site.

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New Alternate History Book Review: Red Sky Blue Moon by Bruce Golden

Red Sky Blue Moon by Bruce GoldenBook Review by Darlene Santori

  • Paperback: 386 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1st Edition edition (April 16, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1484133226
  • ISBN-13: 978-1484133224

Purchase from: Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

A JUXTAPOSITION OF WORLDS

While the plot may seem well-worn, the setting and the circumstances surrounding Bruce Golden’s new book aren’t.  Red Sky, Blue Moon features an unusual bit of alternate history, wherein thousands of Earth’s inhabitants from various cultures are actually transported to another world.

Aliens who may have seeded the first life on Earth return eons later, collect humans in massive groups from various societies (along with animals from their environs), and transplant them on another world as a sort of science experiment.  More than a millennium later, these transplanted cultures have evolved differently than their forbearers who were left behind.

One of these cultures grew from the barbaric roots of Scandinavian Vikings, circa 10th Century Earth.  They have developed into a cutthroat corporate society in an early industrial stage.  The political machinations and corporate maneuvering combine to create an intriguing socio-cultural dynamic.  In addition, they’re racial purists to whom even the slightest birth defect or genetic disease is a social stigma.  Despite this, they are plagued by a cancer-like disease they call the “blight,” though few publicly acknowledge it when they find they’re stricken, because it’s a social blight as well.

When one corporation’s chief discovers the savages living on another continent have to trace of the disease, and also seem to have longer life spans, he plots to learn their secret–a secret which could bring him both wealth and power.

These “savages” as the “corporatocracy” thinks of them, were culled from various Native American Sioux tribes sometime in the early 18th Century.  They’ve only been on this world a few hundred years, and haven’t changed that much from the people of the plains most readers are familiar with.  It’s the juxtaposition of these two societies, and the conflict between them which forms the heart of this book (though the corporate Aesir are also in conflict with their lower-class Vanir workers).

As for the aliens who brought the humans to this world, their story is more of a footnote, told in journal-like excerpts in the prologue and at the beginning of some of the chapters.  Their eventual fate is a bit of a surprise.

The storyline of this book is somewhat predictable, but it’s the journey more than the destination that will enthrall readers.  Like his novel Evergreen,  this book is so rich in characters and detail that you won’t want to let it sit idle for too long, or you’ll forget who’s who and what’s what.  But it’s the attention to detail, and the marvelous world building, that make Red Sky, Blue Moon a completely enjoyable read.  That, and the fact that, like Golden’s other works, this book is fast-paced, moving through relatively short chapters, and keeping the reader hooked.  If you enjoy pages and pages of prosaic description, this book probably isn’t for you.  Golden is known more for his dialogue and authentic, memorable characters.  He doesn’t get bogged down with purple prose.  His scenes have more of a cinematic feel.

However, if you love world-building, this is the book for you.  Golden has taken the history, traditions, and cultures of the Sioux and the Vikings and woven them into a completely new world, much the way Frank Herbert used Islamic culture in Dune (not to say this book ranks with Dune).  And, a surprise at the end reveals they’re not the only Earth cultures kidnapped by an alien intelligence.

Red Sky, Blue Moon is an epic science fiction tale that should draw you in and hold your interest until the very end.  It’s the kind of book you want to read again a year later to see what intricate tidbits you might have missed the first time

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Historical Fiction Short Stories – the Long and the Short of it

Like fantasy, historical fiction often seems to favour the epic mode where authors (and readers) can get to grips with extensive world-building and a deep setting. That’s at least what you often hear these days on online forums and discussion groups.

But is that really the case? Of course at Alt Hist we don’t think that is true as we publish a magazine dedicated to short fiction with an historical setting. In the case of Alternative History, with its links to the Science Fiction genre, the tendency to write short stories is much more ingrained – Alternate History stories often focuses ideas and these can sit naturally with the short story length.

But I really think there is a place for the short story for historical fiction as well. Just because the tendency of historical fiction authors is to write epic tales of romance/adventure, doesn’t mean that you can’t fit historical fiction into a short story. After all in Science Fiction the author may have to create whole new worlds that they reader may never encountered before, so what would prevent the writer of historical fiction from portraying an historical setting, which might be much more familiar to the reader? I would suggest the tendency is more about tradition and commercial pressure. Short fiction today is strongest in Science Fiction, Fantasy and Mystery because it always has been and its often a good starting point for writers in those genres. But the same tradition isn’t the same for historical fiction – as far as I know there weren’t any pulp magazines dedicated to historical fiction unless you include Westerns.

Commercially the emphasis is always on the novel length work. Short stories tend not to be a commercial format for most publishers. So if you’re a historical fiction writer and you want to make a living then its only natural to turn to the novel. Interestingly it seems that some authors once they’re established do then turn to short stories – especially for characters that run through their novels – there’s some tales that fit better into a short story rather than a novel.

So maybe it is possible to write and read historical short stories, but are there many of these rare birds about? Well yes actually. Check the reviews on the Historical Novel Society website and you will find reviews for 72 collections of historical short stories – and most of these were published in just the last few years.

If you have a favourite historical short story then please post a Comment and tell us about it.

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What kind of people read Historical Fiction? Help find out.

Would you like to help with the understanding of Historical Fiction as a genre? If so, then the wonderful Historical Novel Society is currently running a survey into reading habits of those who partake of fiction set in past times.

I encourage anyone who likes Historical Fiction to take the survey. I believe that the results will be made public in the future – so you’ll be able to understand a little bit more about your fellow readers and the genre as a whole.

Here’s the introduction to the survey if you want to know a bit more about it:

Your views on reading and on historical fiction are very important to us, and we very much appreciate your time.

THE SURVEY SHOULD ONLY TAKE 5-10 MINUTES. In addition to the survey results, as a thank you we would like to offer a free e-copy of the Historical Novel Society’s historical fiction anthology from authors at the London (UK) conference in 2012. You will be prompted for your email at the end of the survey.

PLEASE PASS THE SURVEY URL ALONG – https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/JCG7NYP – the more participants, and the broader the base, the better.

Survey questions were developed by M.K. TOD, author of UNRAVELLED and blogger at www.awriterofhistory.com, in collaboration with RICHARD LEE, founder of the Historical Novel Society. We are grateful to the many authors and bloggers who contributed ideas for this year’s survey and agreed to publicize it.

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Book Review: Inceptio by Alison Morton

Inceptio by Alison MortonInceptio, by Alison Morton

Review by Ian Shone

  • Paperback: 316 pages (eBook edition also available)
  • Publisher: SilverWood Books Ltd (1 Mar 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781320624
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781320624

Order via Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

Visit Alison Morton’s website for ordering details

With almost any example of alternate history, the reader is expected to take a leap of faith. The parallel world extrapolated from the divergence point can often be a bit of a stretch, and we are usually happy to suspend disbelief and turn a blind eye to logical and factual errors. After all, why should we let a sketchy premise get in the way of a good story?

Occasionally, however, the premise just asks too much from the reader. Any discussion of Inceptio would necessitate some attempt to explain the background to the story, so I will attempt to do so. When the Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire (by this time well into its decline and within spitting distance of its fall), a group of senatorial families made their way north into Pannonia (in the novel) and founded an enclave dedicated to preserving paganism and ‘the old ways’. Where modern day Slovenia ought to be, there is now ‘Nova Roma’ instead, where people speak Classical Latin and worship the pantheon of old gods.

While the Empire and even the barbarians that destroyed it swiftly became overwhelmingly Christian, this pagan enclave survived while the Pelagians, Cathars and Bogomils were persecuted and snuffed out. The Goths and Huns left it well alone, and even being located directly in the path of almost all of the Crusades does not seem to have posed an existential threat. Fine—but on top of all this, Nova Roma has been a matriarchy almost since its inception, ruled by women for reasons that are never really satisfactorily explained. There is still more. This tiny, isolationist state has also become a kind of economic and technological superpower rather like Switzerland—where, incidentally, women didn’t get the vote until 1971.

Bluntly put, the world-building behind the story just doesn’t make any sense. For some writers, a nonsensical conceit is no obstacle (Brian Aldiss springs to mind) and a good story can still be told under these conditions. Unfortunately, Inceptio does not meet the considerable challenge it has set for itself. In its favour, the pace of the story is brisk and dynamic (if formulaic), and the first person narration camouflages some of the clumsier prose. However, it often reads more like ‘young adult’ or romantic fiction than the adventure story it essentially is. The characters are thin, and their arcs (particularly that of the protagonist Karen) are often difficult to take seriously.

The time-capsule approach to preserving elements of old Rome in Nova Roma is painfully superficial in parts, drawing attention to details like the use of solidi and gladii, and the use of the praenomen-nomen-cognomen naming system. Classical Latin also seems to have survived in its original form, where it has evolved into the Romance languages everywhere else. The whole thing feels quite slapdash. That said, this is the first novel of a trilogy, and as such must bear the weight of both its own plot and the unwieldy mythos which it must introduce. It thus suffers from having to keep too many plates spinning. The second and third instalments may well build on this and surpass this shaky beginning with a more coherent story, and Inceptio may itself benefit from added context.

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Review of Alt Hist Issue 4 at SFcrowsnest

Apologies for not posting anything here for a while, things have been busy. You should hopefully see more regular postings now though – about once a week. Also I am working on the next issue of Alt Hist. A number of stories have been selected already and I just need a couple more to round things off. That should mean that I will be working through the Alt Hist submissions pile a bit faster over the next couple of weeks.

At the start of October Geoff Willmetts from SFcrowsnest emailed to report that they have now published a review of Alt Hist Issue 4. The reviewer generally liked the issue, although they preferred the alternate history pieces a bit more. However, they liked the varied nature of the stories on offer.

SFcrowsnest has had a makeover, so I recommend that you go and check it out. It looks great and there’s some interesting material there.

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New Review of Alt Hist Issue 4 at Edi’s Book Lighthouse

Edi’s Book Lighthouse has just published a rather good review of Alt Hist Issue 4. Here’s the concluding part of the review:

A well done magazine which delivers exactly what the editor promised:
Well written and entertaining stories set in different period of times and an informative editorial.

If you want to discover alternate history beyond all the well known authors then you should give a Alt Hist try. You will get an entertaining and well written bunch of stories. Even you do not like all stories (who loves all stories and books) like me, you get a lot of impressions and ideas how history could have been.

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Recent Historical Fiction and Alternate History News

Here’s a selection of news and features that I’ve come across recently in the world of Historical Fiction and Alternate History. Enjoy!

Polite Englishman

From Salon: The myth of the polite Englishman. I thought this book sounded like a great resource for anyone writing historical fiction set in the Eighteenth century. Interestingly enough I don’t see many stories coming into Alt Hist set in that era – not even American War of Independence stuff very often, which is disappointing. Such a rude century should definitely be better represented!

From the Guardian: Kate Williams joins queens of historical fiction.  I didn’t agree with what she had to say at the end of the article about female documentary presenters being chosen for their looks – the BBC does the same with its male presenters too!

Guardian again: Alternate history lessons for children’s fiction – new wave of alternate histories searching questions about technology. Interesting that alternate history is being more accepted in schools, but how do we make sure kids know the real version as well?

From contactmusic.com: Steven Spielberg – Steven Spielberg’s European History. Europeans are much more interested in history says Steven. Quite a debatable statement I think – certainly most of Alt Hist’s story submissions come from the US.e make sure kids know the real version as well?

From The Daily Beast: The Graphic Novel Renaissance – and historical graphic novels are leading the way! Hurrah!

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“Hooray for Historical Fiction” says the Huffington Post!

Dave Astor at the Huffington Post wrote a very nice piece the other day about why historical fiction is just great – mostly because of its ability to educate. He specifically cites Stephen King’s new novel 11/22/63, and also mentions other books such as Walter Scott’s.

Although it’s great to hear historical fiction praised in such a way – and one just wishes that other genres such as Science Fiction and Fantasy would get such plaudits too on a more regular basis, but I think that Dave’s reasons for liking historical fiction also raise a number of questions.

  1. What’s the chances of people actually getting misinformation from works for fiction? For instance Stephen King’s book involves an alternate history scenario where someone travels back in time to prevent JFK’s death. I think in this case most people would know the real history and it would be obvious that the author is changing things, but in cases where history is less well understood the author has a real responsibility.
  2. How comprehensively should an author actually tell the reader (perhaps in footnotes or an introduction) about how their work diverges from recorded history?
  3. Should editors and publishers be more careful in what work they accept authors, and should they actually research the historical background themselves? For Alt Hist, I usually do check facts in the stories that I publish in the magazine for instance, and this actually takes up a large part of the copy-editing process.
  4. Are historical fiction authors the new history teachers?
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Interview with Priya Sharma, author of ‘The Orchid Hunters’

Priya Sharma has written two stories for Alt Hist so far: ‘The Bitterness of Apples’ in Issue 1 and ‘The Orchid Hunters’ in Issue 2. She kindly answered a few questions for Alt Hist.

How did you get into writing?

Reading a great book transported me but it also made me envious. I realised I wanted to write too and was making excuses not to. Some people find it a natural, easy process but I had to go through a very big pain barrier to make a start. Writing can feel like pulling teeth but nothing beats the thrill of completing a story (except for an editor accepting it, of course).

What do you do apart from writing?

I love books and films. It’s my mother’s fault. She introduced me to Hardy and Hitchcock. I’m a doctor by day.

How did you come up with the idea of writing about Victorian orchid hunters?

Men once died looking for what we can now get at the local garden centre. I find the history of the mundane fascinating- wars were once waged over coffee and nutmeg. Orchids are a window into a certain strata of Victorian society and its ideals. When I saw a documentary that showed elephants cradling the bones of their dead I knew I wanted to work it into a story and the ‘elephant orchid’ was born.

Are you working on any other short stories or novels at the moment and if so can you tell us a bit more about them?

I have two novels sat on my hard drive that need reworking- one is a historical fantasy and the other science fiction. I’m currently writing a horror short about the recession. The other piece I’m wrestling with is about a woman haunted by the failure of her marriage.

What are your ambitions as a writer?

To write more and write better. To be better at plotting. My approach to writing doesn’t lend itself to tight story structure, so it means I have to do a lot of rewrites to get a story I’m happy with. If I was better at planning it would also make it easier for me to write another novel.

Priya’s website: www.priyasharmafiction.co.uk contains more information and links to her other work.

Don’t forget to read the free extracts of Priya’s stories ‘The Bitterness of Apples’ and ‘The Orchid Hunters’.

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