Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Guns of the South, by Harry Turtledove

Harry Turtledove's The Guns of the  South was one of the fastest most entertaining books I ever read. Well . . . at least for the first part of the book. I particulary enjoyed the blend of alternate history, and science fiction with the time travel aspect. Andries Rhoodie travels in time to the Civil War to offer the AK-47 to the Confederates for only $50 in C.S.A. dollars. A deal Robert E. Lee can't refuse. The new weaponary leads to a route of the Union forces, and Abraham Lincoln suing for peace. I was interested in the view through as portrayed through  the eyes of Nate Caudell of the 47th North Carolina, as my own family served in the 22nd North Carolina infantry. I enjoyed the book, but thought it tried to compact too much into one volume. The views of Lee and Nathan Bedford Forrest after the war lacked more detailed information. The 100 or so pages of the politics after the war tend to drag the book down a bit. What was the motivation of the Afrikaners? Besides just being racistist according to the book? I thought we should have had a better glimpse of their fears, and motivations. The book could have offered more detail in the post war Union and South. The political intrigues that a lost war with a border country could bring about.  A question from the Union perspective would be steal or buy weapons from southerns to see if you could make something similar.  I liked the book, and would recommend it to others, but it leaves a lot of unanswered questions, but maybe that is why I still discuss the book.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Shiloh Project, by David Poyer

The two most popular POD's (points of departure) in alternate history fiction are the Axis winning WWII, and the South winning the Civil War. This is one of the latter, and it's an interesting twist on it. I couldn't detect exactly what the difference was that caused the Southern victory (those of you better acquainted with that period of history might find it), but it ended up with an independent Confederacy, which extended itself to the Pacific to include Arizona, evidently including New Mexico, and Southern California, in another war with the Union twenty years later.

The book is tantalizingly sparse in historical facts otherwise. All we know about the presidents of the two countries is that Lee seems to have followed Davis in the CSA, and McClelland, Lincoln, in the USA.  And there was a WWI, but the USA seems to have fought Japan without other countries becoming involved in the 1970's. Oh, and the CSA includes Cuba.

And the plot is a good one. It seems at first to be a condemnation of White treatment of Blacks in the CSA, and it is that, but it's a lot more nuanced than you'd think at first look. It involves the theft of a nuclear device from the USA by the CSA, and that should be enough to get you interested. You can get it from Amazon HERE.  And be careful not to buy another book of the same title by another author, also at Amazon. It might be a great book, but it's not this one.

And failing that, the book seems to pop up at used book stores a lot. I recommend it. Enjoy.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Can Anyone Change the Course of History?

We alternate history aficionados know that one can, of course, but we also know that it's very difficult to predict what changes one's actions will lead to. There are stacks of such stories where attempts to change history via time machine lead to unforseen consequences and which bristle with irony.

Political assassinations, of course, damn well can change history. Think, for example, of all the civil wars in history that followed the death of a king or emperor. Had the guy lived, the war would have been almost certainly delayed, and in some cases, might not have taken place at all.

The speculation below is from

Can Anyone Change the Course of History?

Political assassinations are outsized, dramatic events. The murder of a political leader, even the murder of an heir to a throne can produce widespread repercussions.

Or so we think?

Some believe that the course of history cannot be modified, even by such large events as the assassination of a leader.

Benjamin Jones and Benjamin Olken define the issue in a New York Times op-ed:

Days after John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box at Ford’s Theater and shot Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, Benjamin Disraeli, the British prime minister, declared that “assassination has never changed the history of the world.” Was Disraeli right?

One view, the “great man” theory, claims that individual leaders play defining roles, so that assassinating one could lead to very different national or global outcomes. In contrast, historical determinism sees leaders as the proverbial ant riding the elephant’s back. Broader social, economic and political forces drive history, so that assassinations may not have meaningful effects.

One also recalls the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, event that has been credited with sparking the outbreak of World War I.

Had there been no assassination, one asks, would there have been a war? Had there been no assassination, one opines, would the war have been conducted or ended differently?

Was the European continent a powder keg waiting for a spark to ignite it, or did the assassination change the course of history?

It’s an interesting question, but, how can you know? After all, history only deals in what happened, in the facts. Alternative scenarios are counterfactuals. You cannot affirm or deny them by appealing to the authority of facts.

And yet, there is more to human life than assassinations. Human history is made up of a myriad of decisions taken by a myriad of human beings. It’s one thing to suggest that history was changed by an assassination. It’s slightly different to say that history was changed by, say, an automobile accident or your failure to get to a meeting on time.

One recalls what mathematicians and scientists call “chaos” theory. By that theory, a butterfly that changes the direction of its flight can influence the weather.

Wikipedia offers an apt description of this theory:

Chaos theory studies the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions—a response popularly referred to as thebutterfly effect. Small differences in initial conditions (such as those due to rounding errors in numerical computation) yield widely diverging outcomes for such dynamical systems, rendering long-term prediction impossible in general.[1] This happens even though these systems aredeterministic, meaning that their future behavior is fully determined by their initial conditions, with no random elements involved.[2] In other words, the deterministic nature of these systems does not make them predictable.[3][4] This behavior is known as deterministic chaos, or simply chaos.

I will refrain from pursuing this any further. Whether or not it applies to the unfolding of historical events requires far more evidence than I can muster in a blog post.

At the least, chaos theory tells us that we do not need assassinations, grand historical events, to change history. It does not tell us whether all of these myriad decisions and events are following a script.

For example, would World War I have turned out differently if Theodore Roosevelt had been elected president in 1912? We know from his own contemporaneous commentary about the Great War that Roosevelt would have had a foreign policy that was radically different from the one conducted by Woodrow Wilson and William Jennings Bryan. We know that TR favored mobilization and intervention far sooner than Wilson did.

Would earlier American intervention have tilted the balance of destruction decisively in the direction of the allies? Would it have stopped the war before it turned into mass slaughter? If it had stopped the war earlier, would that have allowed the Russian Czar to defeat the Bolshevik insurgency? If Germany had not suffered a humiliating defeat would there have been Hitler and the Third Reich and World War II?

We can go on. You get the picture.

We may not have definitive proof, but it makes sense to believe that the person who is conducting foreign policy for a great nation can make a significant difference in the outcome of historical events.

But, if we are talking about an election result, those who are determining the course of history would be the electorate, not entirely the individual in charge. And, democratic elections need not give the best result.

Also, consider the role that many other actors play in the unfolding of the great game of history. Or is it the great drama of history?

Those who believe in historical inevitability argue that history is a great drama unfolding before us. We have been cast in different roles and play them well or poorly, but the drama has its own denouement and will arrive there, whether we like it or not.

Hegel presented the argument philosophically. In more recent times, Marxists have acted as though nothing much mattered because they were on the right side of history. To which Francis Fukuyama famously retorted that the outcome of historical development was indeed predetermined, but it would not lead to a Worker’s Paradise. The outcome was the apotheosis of liberal democracy.

Note that this theory relieves us of any responsibility for the historical outcome. We need but get on the right side of history. It is a perfectly amoral system.

On the other side, if you believe that human history advances like a game, the outcome is not predetermined. In fact, the various moves of the game are not predetermined.

If we consider the number of possible moves in a game of chess—apparently more than there are atoms in the universe—the notion that the outcome is inevitable, that one person will necessarily win or lose in this or that way, feels simplistic.

As opposed to the drama-based theory of history, the game-based theory grants to human agents the ability to change the course of events in a significant way. More importantly, it grants to human beings the free will to make decisions and to be responsible for the ensuing results.

As I discussed in my book The Last Psychoanalyst, rather than trying to discover whether history is a drama or a game, imagine how you would function if you believed that it was the one or the other.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Bad Alternate History by the Scumbag Philip Roth

First, I caution you to follow Bob Wallace's advice and not buy this atrocious book. Don't do anything that might transfer any of your money to the swine Philip Roth. Having said that, I, too, remember encountering Portnoy's Complaint way back when, and being properly disgusted by it. I also read The Plot Against America, and of course was even more revolted, because while the first book was merely sexually perverse, the latter is perverse politically and philosophically.

There seems to be some sort of rule that whenever Lindbergh appears in an alternate history story, he has to be some kind of villain, but Roth has taken this to an extreme. I'm very pleased that I collaborated in the only Alt-Hist story I know of where Lindbergh was portrayed as the heroic renaissance man he actually was. That story became the graphic novel Roswell, Texas, and you can read it on line HERE.

This is from Bob Wallace's Website HERE.

Some years ago (over ten) I read Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. I knew that Roth was a twisted, demented, inbred little coward and traitor who has been in and out of mental institutions his entire life, but this book was too much.I published this article at that time, but I thought I would repost it. If you haven't read this novel, don't buy it. Get it at the library.

I don't know how the churlish and ignoble Philip Roth remains upright, the way his moral compass is spinning so madly. The author, who made his name with the more-than-a-little-semi-pornographic Portnoy's Complaint, which titillated a 12-year-old me and my classmates so much the teacher confiscated the book, has now with his last novel (I hope), The Plot Against America, used this farrago of vitriol to spin himself right into a place where good is evil, and evil, good.

I'll wager that George Orwell would have seen Roth's book as an example of Lies are Truth, Ignorance is Strength and War is Peace (and in Roth's case, Cowardice is Bravery). The novel is odious, libelous and just plain disgusting -- especially the grotesque and sickening comments about a murdered baby. Maybe we need a neologism: "libelodious." More cheerful is the idea of using Roth's name, as in "He Rothed him," meaning "a truly dishonest and reprehensible man told blatant and transparent lies about a good man."

The man libeled is Charles Lindbergh, who was about as close to a true hero as America produced in the 20th century. Roth libels him as a frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Semite, and a crypto-Nazi just waiting, faster than an eyeblink, to turn into the hillbilly version of Hitler.

Roth also libels America, which he apparently believes is always on the verge of toppling into a kinder, gentler Nazi Germany. Actually, he libels everything west of New York City as a horrifying, undifferentiated mass of drooling, gap-toothed, tobacco-juice-spittin', banjo-playing, five-year-old-girl chasin' troglodytes jes' awaitin' to lynch Jews from the nearest tree.

The focus of evil in Rothworld is Kentucky, a place which to him takes up 90% of Flyover Land. I get the impression Roth truly believes that if he was to ever leave Brooklyn, everyone west of it would have eyes about an inch apart, and drag their knuckles on the ground when they weren't picking their noses, farting in church or hitching their crotches up in public. I guess he believes Kentucky is the breeding chamber for those hundreds of millions of Morlocks overrunning America.

The Plot Against America is actually an excruciatingly bad science-fiction novel, of a sub-genre called "alternate history." Roth should have stayed with his specialty, "autobiographical pornography written by a dirty-minded neurotic Jew who cruelly verbally abused his ex-wife and her daughter, was a drug addict, and checked himself into and out of mental institutions."

In Plot, Charles Lindbergh beats FDR for the nomination in 1940, and becomes President. Now would have happened if this eminently sane event had come to pass? Lindbergh, a true patriot who was an anti-interventionist in the mold of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, would have kept the U.S. out of World War II. There would have been peace, Roth forbid.

Instead,in Roth's confabulations, Lindbergh instantly turns a compliant America into the Hillbilly Reich, the inhabitants of which immediately start whoopin' and yeehawin' because they don't have to send their sons to die in another European war, and instead let their anti-Semitic bloodlust, which Roth thinks is in their DNA, take control of their 70 IQ heads.

Roth will have none of this peace-mongering. He writes of FDR, who really was a semi-fascist and pro-Communist, as a great President unfortunately voted out of office by people who should have been grateful he was going to get them disassembled as cannon fodder by the hundreds of thousands.

He also cheers Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson as great presidents. Apparently, Roth has no education at all.

As for FDR, he maneuvered the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor by cutting off their oil and sending the Flying Tigers against them in China. There is substantial evidence he knew Pearl Harbor was going to be attacked -- indeed, he moved the fleet there from the safety of California -- and wanted war with Japan so Stalin (whom he called "Uncle Joe") wouldn't have to fight a two-front war against the Germans and Japanese. If Roth knows about any of this, I'm sure he doesn't believe it. Or if he does believe it, perhaps he agrees with it.

Lindbergh, who was a fine writer and speaker, is portrayed as having even less ability to speak than the stumble-tongued George Bush. He starts a program with the improbable name of "Just Folks," in which Jewish city boys are sent into the country to be Nazified. One of Roth's relatives returns from this hillbilly Dante's Inferno with a taste for ham and bacon, the Devil's Food, which, Roth, gasping in horror, claims destroys his ability to draw and also makes him enjoy picking tobacco and milking cows. Another is forced to move to Kentucky by the federal government, and almost instantly becomes so retarded he can do little more than intone, "Do you like cookies and milk? I like cookies and milk."

Still another, a mother, is murdered -- it's hard to write this with a straight face -- "alongside a potato field" in the Hell-on-Earth know as -- brr!-- Paducah, Kentucky! Leaving her poor son with no parents at all!

Roth also spends an entire chapter on his cousin, who lost part of his leg in the war. He spends that chapter writing in exquisite detail of his cousin's swollen, oozing, scabby, and -- to Roth's oh-so-delicate little-girl sensibilities -- horrifying stump (this is when he's not telling us about his cousin's masturbatory spraying of semen all over the place as he watches little girls though a basement window). The chapter title? Not surprisingly, "The Stump."

Roth is not only terrified of the Midwest, which in his twisted, demented little brain starts one millimeter west of the Hudson River, he also swoons in horror at Catholicism, with its "witchy" nuns and "mortician-like" priests.

And, I'll have to admit, I've never read a novel in which all those Catholic Nazi hillbillies infesting Kentucky join the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party, then break out the kerosene-soaked crosses they've been hiding in their basements, which they hurl at anyone who they think looks like a Jew.

There are even anti-Semitic riots in St. Louis, a place in which I have lived, and where the only semi-riots occurred when the German consulate hung a Nazi flag outside their window, and the gathered crowd got so upset the police had to be called. But Roth does not know these things, having created history out of his pointy little head.

The novel is preposterous and surreal to the point of hilarity. Anti-Jewish pogroms in Cleveland? What next, death camps run by the Simpsons, with Lisa as She-Wolf of the SS?

I won't give the ending away, except to say that a cackling Roth gets to engage in his version of genocide against all those inbred 'Tuckians. I'll also say he has gotten the truth backwards and upside down, and in doing so has written a truly repellent anti-Christian, anti-American, anti-human novel, one of the worst I have ever read. If he's got the ability, the man should be ashamed of himself.

At the end of his career Roth shows himself to be as he started it -- paranoid, hate-filled, envious, narcissistic, utterly self-absorbed and utterly self-deluded. As a novelist he will be forgotten. As a decent and honorable man, he never was one.
Quibcag: Sorry — don't know who the girl is.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Stuart Schneiderman on Counterfactuals

This is the sort of thing that makes us think. Just what is the purpose of alternate history? This is from Stuart Schneiderman's blog, Had Enough Therapy:

Why Bother With Counterfactuals?

In certain precincts it’s an article of faith that the American invasion of Iraq was a complete and total mistake.

And yet, how does anyone know what Saddam Hussein would have done and what Iraq would look like if we had not invaded.

Then again, do we know, to a certainty, what Iraq would look like today if, say John McCain had won the 2008 presidential election?

Speculations of this order are not, strictly speaking, historical research. History is what happened. These counterfactual speculations are about what might have happened.

Some historians have made a career out of conjuring counterfactuals. Other historians find it all to be an exercise in futility.

At the least, they point out, the number of variables make it nearly impossible to know what would have happened, for example, if Theodore Roosevelt had won the 1912 presidential election.

Counterfactual history is based on a philosophical premise. It assumes that human actions direct or influence the outcome of historical events. It militates against the notion of historical inevitability.

Recently, some wags have been saying that ISIS will implode because of its own internal contradictions or because people cannot long stand to be oppressed by tyrants.

If you, like them, believe in an inevitable outcome you will advise the president against doing anything to counter the ISIS insurgency in Syria and Iraq. Why waste resources on a situation that will eventually resolve itself in our favor?

Then again, even if ISIS will inevitably fail, how many people will be raped and murdered in the meantime?

Some of its defenders consider counterfactual history an antidote to the Hegelian and Marxist view of the inevitability of history. Hegel and Marx believed that human history was an unfolding narrative whose main events and even conclusions were inevitable.

Theirs was a narrative driven theory of history. They saw history following a script and they believed that the script would determine the one true outcome.

If, however, you believe that history is like a game, then the outcome is not predetermined. Different moves by different people change the game and change thee outcome.

Moreover, the players in the game are endowed, as I and others have put it, with free will. For my views, see my book: The Last Psychoanalyst.

Reviewing a book on the subject by one Richard Evans, Cass Sunsteinsummarizes both sides of the argument:

In Evans’s telling, many of the contemporary counterfactualists seek to respond to Marxist historians, to suggest that impersonal forces are
overrated, and to demonstrate the importance of human agency and free will. Indeed, Ferguson saw his collection as a “necessary antidote” to historical determinism, which was his particular target. In Ferguson’s words, the “reality of history ... is that the end is unknown at the beginning of the journey: there are no rails leading predictably into the future, no timetables with 
destinations set out in black and white.” Ferguson seemed to suggest that once we reject determinism, and see that decisions were contingent and might have produced counterfactuals, we can better illuminate the past.

Of course, once we are talking about possibilities, we cannot limit ourselves to what might have happened in the past. We are also interested in what might happen in the future.

If you are formulating policy you do well to consider the different possible outcomes of different policy proposals. Such work does require some imagination, but the materials that imagination will be configuring are facts about the game, the players and the moving parts.

Sunstein notes that such a method applies to some scientific experiments. Even if experiments are not always very useful or very practical when making policy, sometimes they are.

He explains:

They might hypothesize, for example, that if people have to pay a small tax for plastic bags at convenience stores, they will use fewer plastic bags. To test hypotheses, social scientists usually like to conduct randomized controlled trials, allowing them to isolate the effects of the tax. Such trials create parallel worlds and hence alternative histories—one with the tax and one without it. Historians cannot conduct randomized controlled trials, because history is run only once. Yet they nonetheless develop hypotheses, and they attempt to evaluate them by reference to the evidence.
Of course, these experiments, especially in social science, often fail to include all the data. If people use fewer plastic shopping bags they will likely use more burlap or hemp bags. As it happens, reusable shopping bags breed bacteria that cause ill health and thus drive up the cost of medical care… etc. You will have saved the earth and nature, but at the cost of more disease. Bacteria are part of nature, too.

This does not discredit the enterprise. It says that in some circumstances, especially policy making, one needs to be skeptical about the results of narrowly focused experiments. Most especially, in the social sciences. One should be even more skeptical of those who want to make government policy based on test results that are anything but absolutely true.
The illustration is a "quibcag," which you'll know about if you read the Ex-Army blog. It depicts characters from the alternate history anime, Strike Witches (ストライクウィッチーズ Sutoraiku Witchīzu).

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

If Reagan Had Picked Rumsfeld as His Vice President, Would We Never Have Had President Clinton?

This is a reprint from

think I found this link at, but in any case, it's a fascinating question, asked over at National Review Online. Go there and give it a read, and then I'll give my reaction.....

If Reagan Had Picked Rumsfeld as His Vice President, Would We Never Have Had President Clinton?
My reaction is maybe. Clearly, Rumsfeld would have been a good choice for Reagan. His resume wasn't as good as Bush's, but his credentials were solid. I doubt that he would have ever been perceived as wishy-washy as Bush was, and I'm virtually certain he would not have picked Dan Quayle as his VP. My guess it that it would have been either Jack Kemp or Howard Baker. Let's say Baker to add a Southerner to the ticket. He would certainly have won over Dukakis, for the same reasons that Bush did.

And, assuming that Gulf War I would have happened as it did, and the Soviet collapse had done so as well, I expect Rumsfeld would have been much better at taking credit for both, and would not have been challenged for the nomination by Pat Buchanan, changing the 1992 from a downer to an upper for Rumsfeld. Likewise, a Perot candidacy very well might not have taken place.  Now, with Baker on the Repubican ticket, Clinton would most likely not have picked Gore as his running mate, and would have gone with, say Jerry Brown, and regretted it. My guess is that the election would have been closer than in our history, but that Rumsfeld would have beaten Clinton and served a second term.

Then what? Baker would have been 67 in 1996, and probably would not have been nominated. Having lost, Clinton probably wouldn't have been nominated a second time. My guess: Mario Cuomo with Bob Kerrey as running mate would have beaten a Republican ticket of Phil Gramm and Arlen Specter. Cuomo-Kerrey would win again in 2000 against Lamar Alexander and Jack Kemp.

9-11 would have happened as it did in our time, but instead of Gulf War II, Cuomo would have responded in a more piecemeal fashion, accomplishing as much as Bush did, but not being perceived as well. This would have resulted in Fred Thompson-Rudy Giuliani beating a Bob Kerrey-Evan Bayh ticket in 2004 and being reelected in 2008 against Dick Durbin and John Edwards.

And in 2012, Rudy Giuliani, running with Mitt Romney, would have beaten the Democratic ticket of Chuck Schumer and Ken Salazar and he'd be President right now.

No Clintons, no Obamas.

Now, it's your turn. Pick this to pieces.
NOTE!  A commenter interpreted this post as my saying that Rumsfeld would have been a good President. NO NO NO!  He would have been a terrible President, at least as bad as Bush the First. This is just an alternate history speculation about what would have followed if he had been President. Me, I wanted Pat Buchanan to be President.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Time Travel and Alternate History

Found on the net. A handy summary of the literary treatment of time travel and alternate realities.