Book Review 2009 #9: History Revisited

A collection of Alternate History Short stories with companion essays by Historians.


History Revisited: The Great Battles
Edited by J David Markham and Mike Resnick
In concept, this is a great idea. Take some classic military oriented AH short stories: Southern Strategy by Michael Flynn. Must and Shall by Harry Turtledove. The Lucky Strike by Kim Stanley Robinson. Having some classic AH stories in one volume is a great idea in general. Then, each of these stories, pair them with an essay from a bonafide historian exploring the divergence, and its plausiblity.
Such are the lines that History Revisited are built upon. In practice, however, its a failure.
Uniformly, the essays by the historians are long, dull, and unimaginative. The historians mostly reject the scenarios posited by the science fiction writers, and in the worst offenders, seem to look down upon the very idea of the alternative. It is the exception, not the rule, when a historian actually likes the story that he has been paired with, rather than at best bemusement. This sort of condescension takes the wind out of reading the story, if one reads the paired essay immediately afterwards.
This, in my opinion makes the reading experience of the stories less pleasurable and it is for that reason that I don’t really recommend this collection–unless you *like* to poke holes in Alternate Histories. If you read AH stories to see where Turtledove or Flynn “clearly got it wrong” and grouse about it, then this collection is definitely your cup of tea. If, instead, you enjoy AH stories on their own merits, you can either read the stories and skip the essays, or if you read the essays, I recommend you read them removed in time and space from the story itself. Otherwise, the pleasure of reading the stories will be diminished, as it was from me.