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What Might Have Been, Vol. 4 Mass Market Paperback – September 1, 1992
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There are some 14 stories collected here and I found they ranged from very good to so-so. Per the subtitle they all focus on some aspect of an America that wasn't, though there seems to be a STRONG focus on Columbus and various outcomes of his finding America/not finding America/finding America already conquered by the Chinese/finding America already conquered by Carthage survivors/etc. A couple of the stories were just frankly too weird for me to rate and I quickly skipped them, but as with any such collection that's both a strength and a weakness.
Overall however I'm quite pleased to have this in my fairly extensive collection of alternate history stories and novels. Recommended for any fans of alternative history---this whole series is an excellent collection.
But there are too few historical contingencies. Six stories deal with Columbus and three with Chinese expansion. When there is such a huge history of the Americas to deal with, it would have been nice to have more diversity- What if the Lost Tribes of Israel *had* made it here? What of that great book of alternate American history, the Book of Mormon? What if humans *hadn't* made it over the Bering Straight so early in our history? What if the colonization had come up from the Pacific Islands, as some historians believe it did in part? What if Hominids had made it over here much earlier and so had developed along Marsupial lines as did many other animals in South America? What if the colonies were all still under European control? One story on Columbus would have been sufficient- the plentitude of similarity became simply confusing. It also grew tiring to see Europeans repeatedly lambasted- they also did some good. Nor would any other culture's conquest necessarily been more beneficial to the Natives, as many authors would suggest. Evil lurks in the hearts of all men.
Of the works on Columbus, the best was by the master Turtledove, with a very short letter detailing why exploration of the New World should not happen in Report of the Special Committee. Basically, if NASA had run the exploration of America. In Isabella of Castile Answers Her Mail we get a humorous take on Columbus wandering into modern New York, seeing how an outsider would view our culture. It is more Fantasy than Sci-Fi, but a truly etic tale. Zebrowski continues with the quantum focus which he can't seem to escape in the poor Let Time Shape, where the Carthaginians establish an empire in the Americas, and are at a 19th Century level of technology when Columbus comes. Destination: Indies is the only story in this collection that was so stupid I didn't finish it. Columbus studies quantum mechanics and fights the "Dark Duke" who has a submarine with "microdemonic engineering". Ship Full of Jews was also disappointing- but what can one expect from Malzberg?- where Columbus has ships of Jews and felons, both being deported. The story ends suddenly with no clear idea of what was happening or about to happen. The Karamazov Caper has Columbus killed, a Reign of Ignorance begun so no European exploration occurs, Russia expands unchecked into the New World, and the Germans begin to do ethnic cleansing of Native Americans on the East Coast. It's a bit too many changes to take in, and the story takes place in Alaska, so it's not too different from our reality wherein Russia owned Alaska.
Ink From the New Moon has Buddhists severely persecuted and emigrating to the New World to establish an independent country in America, with missions and backward Europeans. It is well written with humor, like the independent United Sandalwood Autocracies. A true Chinese perspective is shown in Round-Eyed Barbarians with the possibility of China's Middle Kingdom *not* becoming isolated but instead having major exploration and colonization of America, again meeting up with backward Europeans. The Sleeping Serpent presents the Khans of Mongolia taking over the world, aligning with Native Americans to attack the last independent Europeans. It is historically accurate, having the Khans adapt to the religions of their subjects- in this case, Christianity and Native American beliefs as well as Islam.
Jerry Oltion has Native Americans obliterate all of the colonies with the exception of Manhattan (because that was rightfully bought and not stolen). The Natives are at a slightly higher level of technology in modern times than the Europeans. While this isn't that realistic, it revealed perhaps how things *should* have been. The story could use greater historical accuracy, however- because of the Quakers, much of New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania were also bought from the Native Americans, and for a much fairer price than Manhattan.
Vinland the Dream is not really an alternate reality as much as the psychological portrait of giving up old scientific theories. It suggests that new scholarship shows Norsemen didn't make it to America.
My favorite stories were the ones that dealt with alternate missiology. In ideas similar to the establishment of Christianity in Ireland or Persia, we get a more native belief system rather than a simple European overlay. In If There Be Cause, Francis Drake makes it to the West Coast before the Spaniards, and stays. There the Native Americans in Baha California come to follow Christ, but in a contextual manner with Native awareness of the excluded middle of the supernatural. Looking for the Fountain shows Ponce de Leon arriving in Florida to find a tribe of people influenced by Crusaders blown off course, who continue to practice a Roman Christianity, but are also strongly committed to fighting the Muslims. While the latter desire is sad, the Christianity presented is still very contextual with folk ideas of holy sites, and the Native people are more committed to Christ than the Conquistadors! In truth another Columbus history, Such a Deal has Columbus getting support not from Spain, but a wealthy Jewish merchant. Columbus returns with a shipload of Aztec Warriors, who align themselves with the Jewish merchant because of his similarity to their god, Quetzalcoatl. This is interesting because the belief in Quetzalcoatl was actually a brief monotheistic faith, fitting more with Christianity than Judaism. Don Richardson explores this idea in Eternity in Their Hearts with the philosophy behind this story- what it might have been like if the belief in Quetzalcoatl had still existed at the time of the coming of Christian missions.