Altered States of the Union
eBook, Paperback, Hardcover
July 19, 2016
A Review by Chris Fried
The United States of America. Home to fifty states and over 318 million people, all of them with singular opinions and the freedom to express them. But it took over 240 years of history to reach this point. What if a crucial decision led to a vastly different America, with different factions fighting for independence, different religions dividing the country and different regions divided by their beliefs and cultures? How about if resource-rich cities and states seceding from the Union to form their own country? Or if strange acts of nature or various governments vying for power change the course of a country? This anthology showcases these imaginative stories and more of an alternate America, transformed forever.
It features an insightful preamble by Glenn Hauman about what it means to be an American, the pursuit of dreams and the choices it took to get this far. Conversely, these stories highlight how different choices could have led to a distinctly dissimilar America than the one we now know. Some of the changes are slight, some are radical but all of them are original and inspired. Take a look at the twenty-one stories featured in this anthology, starting with:
Ian Randal Strock’s “Shall Not Perish from the Earth” – Lincoln is caught up in a conspiracy that neutralizes his power when the capital is moved to the South prior to the Civil War. How can he produce social reform if he’s stymied at every turn? The history here is described as encyclopedia entries and personal anecdotes, making for riveting reading. The combination is emotionally provocative, making for a tale filled with tragedy, sadness and ultimately, hope.
Malon Edwards’ “Into the Breach” – Chicago, having seceded from Illinois, scrambles its exo-fighters in an air battle against the Illinois National Guard. Leading a squad sorely depleted by recent losses, this is one man’s captivating story about the power of family legacy, profound loss, personal strength and boundless courage that keeps you glued to your seat even as you soar through the skies with them.
Robert Greenberger’s “The Republic of Madawaska” – In the 1800’s, John is stuck in a dispute with both the USA and the British Empire over the location of the border between the two. Arriving at his own unique solution, he’s now sitting in a jail cell. But when he’s visited by a diplomatic agent of the USA, he’s offered an unexpected deal! This tale is steeped in the history of the time period that’s truly clever in its execution, reaching an unanticipated conclusion that just made me smile.
Sarah McGill’s “The City of Oil and Paint” – When Persia is annexed after World War I, Josie and her friends must now acclimate to being American. While welcomed by some, Josie feels out of place, questioning her identity in this transforming country and how its oil seems to be the motive for this annexation. How will she be able to adjust to this new cultural integration? A deep character story about how one perceives herself in relation to others and their point of view while trying to remain true to her values.
Michael Jan Friedman’s “Hope” – In the late 1890’s, Buri is a young man from the South holding a gun on Rosencrans, a Northern businessman in his private train car. There’s some personal business that needs resolution between them but as more information is shared, the story becomes more intense and personal, suspensefully holding the reader spellbound while making us wonder what’s really going on here with each delicious twist and turn of the story. It’s also a fascinating study of cultural racism, the duality between two cultures and the way they each live.
Keith R.A. DeCandido’s “We Seceded Where Others Failed” – When the Florida Keys secede from the Union in 1925 to form a republic of their own, they ally themselves with Cuba. Due to the lawful enforcement of Prohibition in the USA, Tony the saloon owner tells a story to some visitors, who came to visit for the alcohol, on how it all went down. The reader is treated to a charming and imaginative tale that’s filled with conspiracy, friendship, whimsy, and heartbreak.
Gordon Linzner’s “Independence Day, Huzzah!” – Aluki is a reporter covering a story in Toronto, meeting with a panel of people to discuss the impact of Ontario becoming a separate state from Quebec back in 1867. In the present day, the Inuit feel oppressed and forgotten as a result of this neglect of their culture by the government. But as the story takes a surprisingly dark turn, what hidden agenda is exposed? A powerful cautionary tale about social structures and its effect on cultural identity.
G.D. Falksen’s “Red Harbor” – Hank is a private detective, hired by a man whose wife has disappeared. But when he investigates her last known whereabouts in the depths of the American wilderness, he becomes embroiled in something completely unforeseen and his life is now at risk! A hard-boiled noir tale with a dangerous dame and an intriguing and gripping plot. The twists and turns are merciless, holding the reader in its grasp until the entire scheme is revealed in its entirety.
Anne Toole’s “Lions on the Mississippi” – William meets an enigmatic woman on a steamboat traveling through Indian territory, who’s concerned about an attack. But when something goes awry, something startling happens that will have dire repercussions for the entire nation! An absorbing dissection about the perceptions of those who feel they have racial superiority with a couple of fantastic twists.
Meredith Peruzzi’s “Saving Grace” – After ten years of marriage, Simon and Mariel have a baby. Convinced she must help the Philippines secede from the United States, she becomes a revolutionary, leaving for increasingly longer periods of time to fight for what she believes in. But at what cost must their entire family pay for her ideals? Told from dual viewpoints of both the husband and wife, it’s a sorrowful yet commanding tale of a cultural insurrection, an aggressive uprising and how it impacts one particular family.
Brendan DuBois’ “The People’s Choice” – Jules works for the Standard Oil company, a big business manipulating world politics, resources, and money to their advantage. But on a night where a crucial decision is being voted upon, one that could influence the geopolitical balance of power, another company is changing the game, forcing Jules and his group to think fast on how to respond before they all die and it becomes too late to sway the vote! A gripping high-stakes game of brinksmanship and warfare as corporations battle for dominance in a tension-filled tale.
Aaron Rosenberg’s “The Southern Gamble” – Beauregard is working for the Free Port of New Orleans, which has seceded from the United States. He travels north with a secret agenda and an intriguing offer for those who hold sovereignty in Chicago. But will the country be torn asunder if he succeeds? A spirited and cunning political game about gaining true influence, some slippery manipulations and the devious negotiations it takes to make it happen.
Mackenzie Reide’s “Shifting Gears” – Dr. Elizabeth Winthrop is trying to find grants for her solar research, especially since after the Pacific Northwest Unification, funding is hard to find. But when federal agents come looking for her at work, she receives dire warnings to leave quickly! A fast-paced story about how scientific knowledge is power while spinning a spellbinding tale about how the government tries to control this information through the sly utilization of unsavory tactics.
Glenn Hauman’s “Emerald State” – In 1887, we learn the absorbing true story of Lyman Baum, the survivor of a tremendous tornado that struck Kansas and caused untold devastation. His incredible experience as a survivor is one for the record books, chronicled in the format of a concise newspaper article. This is a well-written and grand story about the surprising origins of this calamity and how it affects the country.
Alisa Kwitney’s “One of the Good Ones” – Melanie owns a genetically modified empathy dog, Argos, who is highly attuned to his owner’s emotional state and is even able to talk to them with aid of a computer. But when Argos starts feeling the effects of his advanced age, Melanie decides to clone him! What happens next is a delightful yet sad story with astonishing surprises, some unusual developments and ramifications for the world as a result.
Hildy Silverman & David Silverman’s “The Great Chasm” – Sarabeth is pregnant, illegally traveling through an underground railroad to the southern Red States to escape the religious oppression in the Blue States. She wants to go where she can have her baby and practice her Jewish faith openly. But the situation gets complicated and her paid guide, Uncle Sam, gets caught up in a struggle between Blue and Red forces. Will everyone survive this clash of ideologies? A grim, tense and violent tale with strong characters and a compelling predicament that resonates deeply.
Ramon Terrill’s “The Unconquered” – Juan Cavallo is working with Coacoochee in a struggle to save their Mexican and Indian peoples from the Americans that repeatedly seize control over their land. Resisting the Americans, they’re trying to build an alliance with other subjugated cultures. But what will happen when enemies clash and how much blood must be shed in order to attain their freedom? A rousing and formidable narrative about unlikely allies in the face of tyranny.
Russ Colchamiro’s “Man of the Year” – In 1999, Deidre works for Buddy, a wildly successful entrepreneur and owner of Taurus Enterprises. They’re about to launch a spaceship that will take an incredible journey across the stars. But Deidre harbors a shocking secret, one that propels her to do what she previously considered unthinkable: sabotage the launch! A literal ticking time bomb with a taut, engrossing story filled with breathtaking suspense and superb characters with startling tragedies from their past that bear on the present.
David Gerrold’s “A Brief Explanation of How Budapest Became the Taco Capital of the World” – Dr. Rombach at Caltech discovers a strange geographical anomaly, that at first, seems to be limited in size. But as it expands, what kind of effect will it have on Los Angeles and the world at large? An absurdist piece that is both involving and funny, skewering politicians, governmental groupthink, and several other professions as well by how they react to this strange event.
Debra Doyle & James D. Macdonald’s “Gertrude of Wyoming” – It’s 1961 and in an America fractured into smaller nations, Gertrude is just an ordinary citizen visiting a Pittsburg nightclub. But when she’s accosted by someone accusing her of espionage, we start to realize there’s more going here than meets the eye. A shrewd and intelligent thriller with several unexpected turns of the plot that keep you guessing right to the very end.
Peter David’s “Moose and Squirrel” – With Alaska torn by civil war, governor Sarah Palin must defend the northern region from the invasion by the new southern Alaska governor and his forces. But who is this man and why did this struggle get so personal? Filled with equal parts harrowing action and uproarious humor, this timely yet hysterical tale will leave you in stitches while making you hold your breath in excitement at whatever outlandish thing happens next.
These are all creatively impressive stories here, with spying on other nations, to craftiness in manipulating history for one’s own selfish gains, to using natural resources, private corporations and superior technology to gain an advantage over an adversary. There’s also plenty of secession from and annexation of other territories. As for all of the fascinating characters we get to meet, you can’t help but root for them to succeed, no matter what odds they face. From humorous to thrilling, to tragic loss and personal agendas, these are diverse storytelling styles being utilized here, so much so that there is a story in this anthology that will appeal to everyone.
I love alternate history stories and this collection hits all the right notes for me: visionary writing, ingenious storytelling, world-building done with a lot of forethought and impressive attention to detail. These are alternate Americas I would never have dreamed of that whisked me away and completely immersed me in the tales they had to tell. I thoroughly enjoyed each and every story in this anthology!
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