Much like this post, Rod Rees’ Winter is the first in a series. I found it, literally, in a box of new books I was unpacking. It looks delicious – shiny, with an old-fashioned globe on the front. It also has a killer series title – The Demi-Monde. Further inspection reveals it lives up to its promise.
The premise is that the United States military has developed a virtual reality training programme that fully immerses soldiers in a created world. Locked in a kind of Victorian steampunk era, the Demi-Monde is populated with historical figures, and not nice ones.
In order to replicate the reality of today’s ‘asymmetric warfare’, with its unholy mix of terrorism, warlords, drug cartels and factions, the world is divided into four quarters, each with a particular social or religious profile, then stacked with despots and megalomaniacs, from Crowley to Heydrich, Robespierre to Beria, and more.
It sounds complicated, but it isn’t, once you get the hang of it. The sympathetic lead is a young woman called Ella who (for various reasons) is the only one who can enter the world and save the President’s kidnapped daughter. From this angle, it’s a simple thriller adventure plot.
I have to say the characters aren’t as easy to bond with as I’d have liked, but the story and the audacious concept make up for this. It’s an incredibly detailed and beautifully realised world, and I’m hanging out for number two already. Oh, and as an ‘extra for experts’ kind of bonus, the website for the books is a thing of true beauty.
One out of the box is a regular series of new material available at your library.
If you were a time traveller, what would you do? Besides making a killing on Google shares, maybe go to Austria and kill a soon to be famous resident? The idea of killing Adolf Hitler is one of those things time travellers grapple with.
In the new graphic novel I Killed Adolf Hitler by Jason, a Norwegian cartoonist who mixes “outre fantasy with deadpan romanticism”, the protagonist is hired to go back in time to kill Adolf Hitler via a time machine that takes 50 years to fully charge. He only has one chance, but messes up, allowing Hitler to come to the present day.
Making history by the wonderfully funny Stephen Fry has a similar plotline … what if you could put some contraceptive in the water in an Austrian village and ensure Hitler is never even a glint in his mother’s eye.
I recently read Joe Haldeman’s The Accidental Time Machine. It is a quick, compulsively readable story about Matt, a MIT student who is working on a calibrator that somehow becomes a time machine. But Matt can only plow forward through history … at an alarming exponential rate. Each time he uses the machine, he leaps ahead 12 times further into the future. It is a clever version of the old time machine malarkey.
See our books on time travel and an earlier posting on Alternate History for more permutations of the old “What if” formula.
Writing is an act of imagination, and a whole new universe can be created. Other books are set in a world like our own, but re-imagined – if the Nazis had won the Second World War, if the Romans still ruled …
There are some intriguing new fiction being published in the alternate history arena. One is Resistance by Owen Sheers. This book is set in a 1944 where Russia has fallen to the Nazis and half of Britain is occupied. Read the Independent’s review.
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon has been garnering a great deal of critical attention and acclaim. It is set in a post-World War II in which Alaska has become the homeland for the Jews (as Franklin D. Roosevelt actually proposed).
Rome Burning, the sequel to Sophia McDougall’s powerful Romanitas is on its way too. It is set in a present day world still under the sway of the Roman Empire.
If you want to do more reading in the area of time travel and alternate history, see our list. It includes fiction and non-fiction titles.
The website UCHRONIA: The alternate history list is an invaluable source of information containing comprehensive lists of authors, series and upcoming publications. You can also use the divergence timeline to select the time period at which you want history to alter (for example, many alternate histories use World War Two or the American Civil War as jumping off points).