Have you ever asked the question “What if…?”
What if things had turned out differently, what if history had taken another turn, what if our world had gone another way?
That’s the question at the heart of the genre of alternate history – and that powers the stories in the new Inklings Press anthology, Tales From Alternate Earths 3.
Alternate history has had quite the renaissance in recent years – from TV shows such as The Man in the High Castle, an adaptation of the Philip K Dick novel, to the HBO series Watchmen, and more light-hearted adventures through history such as Timeless or Legends of Tomorrow. Even Disney is getting in on the action with their “What If?” series looking at what might have happened if key moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe had gone differently.
That’s the fun of it – there’s so much range in the genre, but all so close to home that it could just be the slightest difference that takes us there.
That difference is usually called the point of departure, the moment when history departs from our own. That can be something huge – an alien ship arrives, say – or it can be a tiny difference. In one of the stories in the new anthology, it hinges on a man having a pair of boots.
Stories in the book span the world, from Hitchcock directing Titanic to a hunt for Jack The Ripper, from Cold War chicanery to a Roman Empire that never ended, from mythological beings turned real to post-World War Two genetic experiments. It’s a big canvas and it’s great to see what the authors involved bring to the table.
There are stories by Alan Smale, Daniel M Bensen, DJ Butler, Minoti Vaishav, Brent A Harris, JL Royce, Jeff Provine, Ricardo Victoria, Rob Edwards, Matthew Kresal, Aaron Emmel, Christopher Edwards, and the fabulous EM Swift-Hook and Jane Jago!
Oh, and there’s a story by me, Leo McBride. It’s called Heaven Above, Hell Below, and here’s an extract right here:
The manmade island was quite a sight from the air. Two islands would be a more accurate description – an outer ring around the central island. Four long roadways connected the two as if they were spokes, making it look somewhat like a wheel. The outer rings had the most construction going on, with vehicles and workers buzzing around putting up hotels, while groynes extended into the sea to help to create the beaches shown on the glossy cover of the brochure on Ellie’s lap. But it was the central island that was her business.
“Make the most of it, no one will get a view like this soon,” said the man sitting across from Ellie, a slim older white man dressed in the clothes of a pastor, complete with white collar and crucifix around his neck.
Without looking away from the window, Ellie replied: “I know. Anyone tries to get this close, two F15EX2 Eagle 2 jets will blow them out of the sky. If that’s not enough, the tower has Sea Sparrows mounted on all corners able to take anything down far enough away not to worry about fragmentation.”
The man coughed. “I’m sorry,” he said, “Clearly you know far more about the defenses of Shinar than I do. Allow me to introduce myself, I’m Bishop John Wilson. And you are?”
He extended his hand across the space between them, and Ellie took it, his pale skin a contrast to her own black skin.
“Ellie Floyd,” she replied, “and yeah, I guess you could say I do – I designed the defenses. You here with the religious advisory body?”
“That I am. Although I do fear my opinion might not matter much, I’m not sure how much I can offer to a project as ambitious as Shinar.”
Ellie paused. “That’s the second time you’ve called it Shinar. So far, it’s just Pacific Base while the marketing teams do all the brand testing. Why are you calling it Shinar?”
The pastor raised his hands. “Oh, you know what they say, if you want something try to speak it into being. I figure if I keep on using it, it might stick in someone’s mind and might just make it to the final list. My own little contribution.”
Ellie smiled. “Well, clearly you know far more about where that comes from than I do. I’m afraid my days of learning scripture are a long while back. What’s Shinar?”
“Ah,” he said, “well, Shinar was once—“
He was interrupted by the chopper pilot calling back. “On final approach, buckle up, we’ll be touching down in a moment.”
Ellie smiled. “Something to tell me over lunch,” she called, as she buckled her belt and the helicopter banked and descended to the central island.
A Bite of… Leo McBride
(1) What draws you to write alternate history? Is it the what ifs? Or maybe the if that happened it would be funs? Or something deep in your soul.
For me, it’s all about the tantalising possibilities. It’s great when you think back to that moment where everything shifts and realise how differently our world can play out. That’s only half of it, thought, you have to tell a story in that world, and that has to get right to the heart of who the characters are and what is important to them. So the change in history sets the backdrop, but the people still tell the story.
(2) Do you think your writing is driven by character or storyline?
I think I tend to be focused more on character. Maybe part of that is years of playing roleplaying games and having one single character that you’d play for session after session and while the adventures changed, it was the growth in your character that was important. But yes, I like to get as close to the character as I can in the story, and why the events that take place matter to them.
(3) What is your favourite street food/takeaway?
Parmo. I may live very far from there now but the Teesside parmo is a thing of legend. Chicken parmesan, which sounds healthy when you say it like that, but it’s beaten and baked and smothered in cheese and béchamel sauce and served like a pizza with oodles of chips, a big splosh of garlic sauce and some salad just for show. It’s unhealthy, it’s far from fancy, but by golly it’s magnificent.
Leo McBride is a journalist, editor and fiction writer born in Northern Ireland but who has since drifted across the ocean to The Bahamas. He has been published previously in each of the Inklings Press anthologies, along with collections from the Sci-Fi Roundtable, Rhetoric Askew, Starklight Press and elsewhere. He has also self-published his own short story collection Quartet, and ghost written and edited a number of biographies. You can find more of his work on his blog, on Twitter and on Facebook.