Edited by Nick Gevers and Jay Lake
Nick Gevers is a long time editor of short fiction, having run the venerable Infinity Plus Web site (http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/) and Jay Lake has penned novels and may short stories. In Other Earths, their collective genre acumen is brought together in the assemblage of 11 short stories which chronicle worlds that may be, might have been, or should never be. In other worlds, what we have here is an Alternate History anthology.
Robert Charles Wilson – This Peaceable Land, or, The Unbearable Vision of Harriet Beecher Stowe was a solid start to the anthology, taking a look at an America that did not fight a civil war, but where slavery dissolved. The story was engaging and the characters came to life very well. Wilson managed to get the subtle difference between what happened in our world and in this world across nicely.
In The Goat Variations by Jeff VanderMeer, he looks at a president who rules both America and the United Kingdom and a strange technology that allows people to look into the future. In a sense, this technology was very reminiscent of the precogs in the Philip K. Dick story/movie Minority Report. When something is noted to occur on September 11, 2001, the president flashes to other versions of himself across multiple parallel worlds. I liked the flashes of other possibilities and thought VanderMeer’s plot device was pretty neat.
Stephen Baxter’s point of divergence in The Unblinking Eye is not blatantly clear, but the world is quite changed. Incas in North America are the most advanced civilization in the world, and the dominant religion worships a combination of Ra and Jesus. I found the world Baxter postulated to be inventive and unique in why/how history diverged from what we know and would welcome more stories told in this world.
Csilla’s Story by Theodora Goss is about story in many ways and how history and story is shaped by those who tell and pass down stories. This is only loosely a true alternate history story, but does contain elves.
Liz Williams’s Winterborn is slightly reminiscent of Moorcock’s Gloriana in that it features a faerie queen ruling England. The story plays on the traditional conflict between the summer and winter queens of faerie land.
It should probably come as no surprise that Gene Wolfe’s Donovan Sent Us is one of the strongest stories in this volume. This tale takes one of the most familiar what ifs of Alternate History – a changed World War II. Germany won the war as a result of America not intervening. The highlights are the character of Winston Churchill and a somewhat Orwellian ending.
Alastair Reynolds’s The Receivers tells the story of two famous composers of the early 20th Century who help to fight an even longer World War I. Not the strongest story I’ve read from Reynolds, which is to say it is still an enjoyable and thought-provoking story.
Lucius Shepard is hit or miss with me, and such is the case with his entry, Dog-Eared Paperpack of My Life. This is the longest story in the anthology, and skirts the subgenre in that it is more of an alternate history of an individual. The story begins with an interesting note/premise: an author finds a book by a man with the same name on amazon.com, he buys and realizes when looking at the author photo how much the author on the book resembles him. I found the long, paragraph-length sentences to be a distraction, but thought the themes were interesting.
Nine Alternate Alternate Histories by Benjamin Rosenbaum isn’t so much a short story as it is a lit of tropes of the subgenre.
The only two stories that didn’t connect with me in an way were Greg van Eekhout’s The Holy City and Em’s Reptile Farm and Paul Park A Family History.
All told, the stories that stood out the most are Robert Charles Wison’s, Stephen Baxter’s and Gene Wolfe’s. Other Earths is an impressive themed anthology, with a good group of contributors.
© 2009 Rob H. Bedford