Alt Hist - a magazine featuring a collection of historical fiction, historical fantasy and alternate history short stories (all under 10,000 words) - has released its third issue. I am a big fan of this magazine, liking both their objective and the stories that they publish. A review of the magazine's second issue went live in August 2011 and I liked it very much indeed and I am very pleased to say that the third issue is even better, with each story making for compeling reading.
Issue 3 begins very strongly indeed with A Light in the Darkness by Ian Sales, a short story inspired by First World War soldier-poet Wilfred Owen and inventor and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla. Wilfred Owen was one of the leading soldier-poets of the First World War and his poetry on the horrors of trenches and gas warfare stood in stark contrast to the public perception of war at the time. Nikola Tesla was an inventor, mechanical engineer, and electrical engineer and an important contributor to the birth of commercial electricity.
One of the strengths of A Light in the Darkness is its depiction of the trenches found at the Somme in 1917. Sales's narrative mirrors Owen's own shocking and realistic vision:
"The men of B Company of the 2nd Manchesters, in clay-streaked greatcoats and helmets scored by near-misses, huddle in groups and pass around carefully hoarded cigarettes. There is little conversation - they are too busy coughing like hags, great hacking coughs that shoot bullets of phlegm from the depths of their lungs to the backs of their teeth"
Add to this a fascinating sub-plot concerning Nikolas Tesla and the pushing of science to the greatest possible heights and you are left with unforgettable tale that is a both well written and haunting.
The second short story, Dublin Can Be Heaven, is a tale of post-war revenge, set in Dublin and written by Seamus Sweeney (recipient of the 2010 Molly Kean Short Story Award for The Driver), a writer and doctor from the Irish capital.
The hunted man is Andrija Artuković, a Croatian politician and lawyer. Artuković was a member of the Ustaše movement and a minister in the Government of the Independent State of Croatia. He was guilty of war crimes committed against minorities in the Independent State of Croatia during the Second World War.
The story is told through the thoughts of an Organisation assassin named Harry, a man who has personally suffered at the hands of Artuković, whom he holds directly responsible for atrocities as "his words had unleashed a storm of shootings, hangings, rapes, burnings, each act performed systematically, part of a plan set out in cramped, precise handwriting in endless memos from an anonymous office."
Dublin Can Be Heaven is a moving tale of a man who is finally able to confront the person responsible for causing so much pain and misery to so many.
Arlan Andrews has contributed to Alt Hist before, on the magazine's first issue, and here he writes Riders on the Storm, my personal favourite of all the stories. Although set during the American Civil War it has a large sci-fi vibe in that it contains a twist on the time-travel theme.
"UpTime, it took us much of a year, but Trevor, Ditz and I finally saved up enough SocialCreds to visit a RideSite together. We’d done some Rides before, all the cheap turista Sites experienced by the mass millions – the sinking of Maltatlantis, building of the Great Pyramid, some of the Old-Tyme-Religion holiday markers, that kind of thing. They were all great fun, being a mind-Rider in the brain of an Old-Tymer and experiencing the end or the beginning of something historical, but they were not the edgy-raw Rides we’d heard about on the Syb. The best Rides are when you die, and you also get to peek over at the Over. It is sweet; it can be fun. That’s why sites like Pompeii and Hiroshima and Teheran are so popular: no matter who you randomly Ride, they all die in the end, some of them real quick. Lots of Over-seeing in those places."
I'm a big Red Dwarf fan (the books), and in particular the chapter where the Cat, Rimmer, and Lister play a game called Better Than Life, in which they are plugged into a virtual reality that enable them to fulfil their life's desire. In Riders on the Storm users are able to Ride in the minds of men and women from the past. But human nature is a often dark and the preference is to "ride" within a person who is shortly to die, thereby gaining a glimpse into the afterlife, or the Over as it is called here. I just love stories of this nature and Riders on the Storm could easily be expanded into a full novel, such is its potential.
Matthew Warner's Bummers stays with the American Civil War theme and has in centre point in a woman disguised as a man in order to fight for the Union.
"Life in Uncle Billy’s army weren’t no roll on a feather-filled mattress. We marched fifteen miles a day toward Savannah, foraging and pillaging, lest we stay in one place too long and starve. I had holes in my shoes and a chill shaking me clean through my blue uniform coat. But you know what? I was the best damn soldier in the Union. Too bad I couldn’t tell my fellow bummers I was really a woman. That would’ve gotten their goat for sure."
Life's events turn like a wheel and Frances ("Francis") finds herself having to come to terms with her past. Another good short story.
And finally we come to the last story, To the Stars by Ohio native Brooks Rexroat. Set in the early years of the Space Race we see events from the Russian perspective and, as a man prepares to go up into Space, his wife, Yulya, and son Anton, prepare to escape to the West. It is an interesting look at a life in Russia at this time, and the dangers involved in trying to leave.
"Anton and Yulya stand with a crowd of people on a concrete platform in front of the launch pad. They are in the front row, but Yulya feels Anton struggling to see the rocket over the heads of men who point cameras at him, so she lifts him for a moment. A man with a clipboard shouts at her to put him on the ground, so she places him on the platform, his feet atop the blocking marks drawn on the floor. Men tell Yulya and Anton when to wave and smile and look at his mother and salute."
All five stories in Alt Hist Issue 3 make for great reading and all will awaken an interest in the times and events upon which they are based. I strongly recommend that you check out the Alt Hist website - http://althistfiction.com/ - where you can read exceprts and purchase this, and earlier, editions. Alt Hist is a fine magazine that is getting better an better with each publication.
Review by Floresiensis
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