(Four Walls Eight Windows, $15.95, 434 pages, trade paperback; published in September 2003.)
In the 1990s, in the wake of the mainstream success of Robert Harris's Fatherland and HarryTurtledove's The Guns of the South, alternate history became science fiction's most commercially exportable subgenre.
Like those two bestsellers, the bookend stories in One Lamp, Gordon Van Gelder's anthology of alternate-history fiction, deal with the ever-popular topics of the Second World War and the American Civil War. Neither of these overlong stories are among the book's gems; the opener, C.M. Kornbluth's 1958 story "Two Dooms", is especially clumsy and dated, transparently using someone from the "real world" stranded in the alternate history to comment on the changes.
Such stories are not pure alternate history, i.e., fiction unfurling in a world where history deviated from the course we know; rather, they rely on science-fiction tropes such as time-travel and parallel dimensions to allow characters to voyage between time streams. One Lamp is a bit too heavily stocked with such "cheat" stories to feel like it adequately fulfills its stated premise. There's even one story -- James Morrow's pointedly merciless social satire "Auspicious Eggs" -- that's simply set in the future, without any alternate history element.
Regardless, there are several memorable stories in One Lamp. To name a few: Dana Wilde's "The Green Moon" is a hauntingly poignant meditation, tracking the effects of multiple historical tamperings on memory; Paul Di Filippo's "And I Think to Myself, What a Wonderful World" imagines a wildly different 1960s cultural explosion; and the anthology's best selection, Jan Lars Jensen's epic and multiculturally savvy "The Secret History of the Ornithopter", describes a twentieth century in which a different kind of air-travel technology is developed.
Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction
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© Claude Lalumière 17 January 2004, 8 May 2004