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Before I begin, I just want to say that this anthology has, so far, been the best DAW anthology I've read. The stories were all consistently good and engrossing, drawing me in and holding me in each alternate reality. Kudos to the editors, Nick Gevers & Jay Lake, for putting such a stellar anthology together, and kudos to the writers for coming up with such interesting alternate Earths. I've indicated the two stories I thought were the strongest, but of course that's my personal opinion. It was harder picking out these two this time though.
Table of Contents:
This Peaceable Land, or, the Unbearable Vision of Harriet Beecher Stowe by Robert Charles Wilson: A good story about what might have happened if the Civil War had never occurred. The tone and the potential consequences of this alternate reality are perfect and utterly believable, which makes what happens in the story that much more disturbing. It took a while of reading before you realize why the story is "alternate," but otherwise a great story.
The Goat Variations by Jeff VanderMeer: In this story, we get to see a variety of alternate Earths, all centered around what the president (of an alternate Earth) was doing and thinking before and during the seven minutes of silence after receiving word about what had happened on September 11th, 2001. We get to see these reactions because of what happened in this alternate Earth, where a machine has been invented that alters the mind of the current president so he can see these other realities. A cool idea, and an interesting take on the theme of the anthology, although I'm not convinced the story resolved itself as well as it could have. However, it was haunting at a gut level.
The Unblinking Eye by Stephen Baxter: In this story, the alternate reality is one in which the Europeans never discover the Americas, thus giving the Incas a chance to rise to supremacy. However the story is told from the perspective not of the high and mighty and powerful, but from a commoner's level. I liked the way the events unfolded, and the revelation of what the Unblinking Eye truly was, and felt this story (though complete and satisfying here) could be expanded into a much larger story.
Csilla's Story by Theodora Goss: In this story, the Earth isn't as altered to as great an extent as some of the other stories. Here, it's pretty much our own Earth, but with a particular race of possibly magical gypsy-like people living and surviving under great prejudice, even though the truest members of their group have green hair and bleed silver blood. This actually contains many smaller stories, since the main story is about preserving their heritage even though they are hunted down and persecuted wherever they live. A good story though.
Winterborn by Liz Williams: This is probably the most far-fetched of the "alternate" Earths in this anthology, with the premise being that magic in Britain is real and that the faerie realm still interacts heavily with our own world, to the extent that the current queen is from faerie herself. The main story revolves around a young woman who can speak to those who have died in the waters of the rivers in and around London. Through these resources, she learns of an imminent attack through magical means on London and the queen. I loved the descriptions of the magic and the use of how humans take over and control the lands around us, to the extent that we "relocate" rivers to suit our own needs and how this could come back and bite us in the ass. Another good story, although I do think it stretches the general premise of the anthology a little thin. *grin*
Donovan Sent Us by Gene Wolfe: Here, the alternate Earth is one in which the Germans have won the second World War because the Americans never got involved. The story centers around an attempt to rescue Churchill from the prison camps in Britain after the Germans have taken over. The story certainly draws you in, and the ending is shocking. Not what you're expecting as you work through the story at all.
The Holy City and Em's Reptile Farm by Greg van Eekhout: This story is the wildest alternate Earth of them all, with everything you can think of turned on its head and introduced without explanation and without qualms either. Las Vegas is basically a religious mecca, with all the glitz and glam it possesses now, but with the religion turned on its head. There are camels alongside cars, religious zealots and thieves in the Holy City. But all of this is sideline world detail. The main story is about a young woman trying to save her family's reptile farm by going to the Holy City to win a religious artifact in a lottery. It doesn't turn out as she expected.
The Receivers by Alastair Reynolds: In this alternate Earth, the war goes on longer than expected, which interrupts the lives of some famous musicians. Yet the music these musicians would have created calls to them through one of their new jobs to help with the war effort. It's a sad story in some respects, and yet uplifting at the end. A much more personal story, more about the characters and their missed opportunities rather than the way the Earth was altered.
A Family History by Paul Park: This story was interesting in that it was speculation from the perspective of the narrator, along the lines of "if this hadn't happened, and this hadn't happened, . . ." etc. I didn't find this worked well for me, however once the narrator settled into a particular story thread for a particular set of speculations, I got involved in the story. It basically presented two alternate possibilities for a certain character. Why the narrator is so interested in this particular character and what could have happened to him doesn't become clear until the end. It still didn't feel as fully developed as it could have been.
Dog-eared Paperback of My Life by Lucius Shepard: The main premise behind this story isn't that a significant event (or insignificant, even) happened differently, but instead that a bunch of alternate Earths have converged. An author discovers a book by himself that he never wrote, which is the beginning of his discovery that these different versions of the Earth sometimes meet, sometimes briefly, sometimes not. This is a 90 page "short" story, and I felt that the beginning could have moved a little faster. Mostly, though, the main character isn't really someone that you're supposed to like all that much, which makes it hard to be concerned about him. You're mostly reading to discover what happens with the idea of the story, not the character.
Nine Alternate Alternate Histories by Benjamin Rosenbaum: This isn't so much a story as it is a potential list of ways in which we could interpret the idea of an "alternate" history. It was interesting reading, and the different types of alternate histories presented were interesting to think about, but I still wouldn't call it a "story" per se.