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Alternate Tyrants
Edited by Mike Resnick

Reviewed by Carl Cipra
Rating: none given

I'm a real fan of well-written alternate history stories; and one of my favorite authors, Mike Resnick, has been editing a series of pretty nifty alternate history anthologies over the past few years. (My two favorites so far have been Alternate Presidents and Alternate Kennedys.) The latest in this series is Alternate Tyrants, a collection of short fiction about "despots that never were." The cast of candidates is, to say the least, fascinating: Winston Churchill, Al Capone, Pope John XXIII, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada, Nelson Mandela, Alexander Haig - even Buddy Holly! As with many anthologies, some of the stories are really good and some are just so-so. I'd like to briefly discuss three of them - because of the stories and because of their authors.

Alternate Tyrants includes one reprint from Alternate Presidents: "The Lincoln Train" by Maureen McHugh. (What if Lincoln had survived the assassination attempt and it was decided that vengeance against "unreconstructed" Southerners - forced deportation, etc. - was the best policy?) This is one of the really good ones - witness the fact that it won the 1996 Hugo for "Best Short Story." McHugh's name should ring a bell for other reasons: her first novel, China Mountain Zhang, was a 1993 nominee for both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards, and it's proudly included on the "LSF Recommends" booklist because of its positive portrayal of a gay main character.

The story entitled "Causes" deals with American terrorists in "present day" San Francisco fighting a guerilla war against the Empire of France. (Its premise is that Napoleon won the naval Battle of the Nile - hence, he never had to sell off the Louisiana Territory in order to raise funds for his war against Britain. The result: the U.S.A. stops at the Mississippi and France rules the rest of North America.) The author of this story is Frank M. Robinson, a long-time San Francisco resident. His SF novel, The Dark Beyond the Stars, won a Lammy for 1991; he's also affiliated with the Golden Gate Gaylaxians.

The final story I'd like to comment on is "A Stable Relationship" by Lawrence Schimel. "Puck" Schimel (which is how editor Resnick refers to him) has a habit of twisting themes to suit his own devious purposes. The "tyrant" in this story is none other than Resnick himself! (It seems that Schimel has married Resnick's daughter and is being none-too-subtly "guided" by his father-in-law and co-author/editor into writing lucrative SF novels rather than being allowed to follow his poetic Muse...) Twisted, you say? For more of Schimel's "sly" take on F&SF themes, try The Drag Queen of Elfland and Other Stories, a collection of his short stories. (My review of Drag Queen appeared in the October issue of the LSF newsletter.)

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