ReVISIONS, edited by Julie E. Czernada & Isaac Szpindel (Daw, 2004)

Alternate history stories have a long and honored tradition in the science fiction genre. The great thing about them is that there’s a never-ending number of historical pivotal points that can be expoited, and every writer has a slightly different take on things. In this new anthology, editors Julie Czernada and Isaac Szpindel bring together fifteen stories revolving around the double-edge theme of “What if X was invented earlier/later than in the real world?”
Thus, we have stories like “The Resonance of Light” by Geoffrey Landis, which sees infamous ‘mad scientist’ Nikola Tesla inventing the ruby laser in an attempt to prevent World War I from taking place. Will his invention save the day, or doom the world to chaos and war? One man has the power to affect the fate of millions, but has he truly planned for every eventuality?
Julie Czernada’s “Out of China” posits a world in which the nature of the Black Plague, and the importance of sanitation and hygiene, is figured out in the early 14th Century, thus influencing a very different course of events over the next few hundred years.
In Laura Anne Gilman’s “Site Fourteen,” space exploration is preempted in favor of deep sea exploration, and a government agency called NEREUS seeks to colonize and master the ocean’s depths. However, just as with space travel, there are dangers in exploring the unknown.
Looking at one of history’s greatest inventors, Kage Baker tells a story in which Leonardo DaVinci’s great ideas were used for bloody, warlike purposes. What could the man have accomplished, if he’d actually sought to finish so many of his theoretical creations?
Doranna Durgin’s “A Call to the Wild” is an imaginative examination of a world in which our domestication of the dog failed, leaving us bereft of a valuable ally, and at the mercy of an insidious, all-too-familiar enemy. In “The Terminal Solution” by Robin Wayne Bailey, one of the worst diseases of our time makes its appearance a century earlier, plaguing a society decidedly unready for its ravages.
John G. McDaid shows us a rather familiar scenario in a most unlikely setting, in “The Ashbazu Effect.” Quite simply, what if the Sumerians had invented the printing press? They too might have had would-be writers, editors, and publishing houses, and a need for fiction. Kay Kenyon’s “The Executioner’s Apprentice” gives the secret of genetic sequencing to the Mayans, and Jay Caselberg’s “Herd Mentality” uses cloning to give the world several hundred Einsteins, all of whom have an idea of how to guide society’s progress.
The worst thing you could say about an anthology like this would be that it’s slightly formulaic, and that some stories spend more time reflecting on the cause of historical change than they do on the plot itself. However, that’s actually not the case; there are some fantastic stories to be found in this collection, especially “The Executioner’s Apprentice” and “Site Fourteen.” As far as bang for your buck, ReVISIONS is definitely a good selection of stories, sure to please any alternate history afficionado.

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