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Alternities by Michael P. Kube-McDowell
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Alternities (1988)

by Michael P. Kube-McDowell

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Sometime around 1951, for some unknown reason, the history of the world split off into multiple timelines. Now one of those realities, a world in which the Cold War has not gone at all well for America, has discovered the secret to accessing those other worlds, and a deeply amoral politician is hatching an appalling plan to exploit their existence.

Despite a few plot improbabilities, this isn't a bad story. Kube-McDowell has clearly put some good thought into developing the little details of the different timelines, giving them very plausible similarities and differences. And he's done a couple of fairly unusual and rather nice things with the old multiple-timelines premise. I'm particularly pleased by the fact that he has everyone conceived before the split existing in multiple realities, but no one conceived afterward; that's a concession to logic and probability that few science fiction writers have made. And despite the fact that this was written in 1988 and is very much a Cold War novel, it's less dated then you might expect. One or two plot elements might actually seem even more relevant now than they did then.

All that having been said, though, I have to say that it just never really gripped me. The imminent global danger faced by the protagonists' "home alternity" felt entirely abstract to me, and never generated any real sense of suspense. And none of the characters are interesting, mostly coming across as stock types rather than real people: the warmongering president, the senator who is so powerful he can literally get away with murder (as well as even worse things I really would have been just as happy not reading about), the working schlub whose wife just doesn't understand him, the love interest whose only function is to be the love interest... By the end, I have to admit I was getting a little tired of it all. But then, it's really a political thriller at heart, and I've never been a particularly big fan of political thrillers. I suspect those who are are likely to enjoy it a lot more than I did. ( )
1 vote bragan | Jul 15, 2011 |
This fine novel of alternate history has not received the attention that it deserves. It is set in an alterrnative universe where Sen. Robert Taft was elected president in 1952, rather than Dwight Eishenhower. The result is an inward-looking, isolationist America, impoverished by government control of information. Overseas, a more moderate-than-historical version of Soviet Communism has triumphed, with mild Communist regimes in most western European countries. (Although I enjoy this novel I am forced to admit that the allohistorical premise - that the election of Sen. Taft would have created such a world is ludicrous and almost slanderous of him.)

The one advantage that this America has is that it has discovered how to travel to parallel universes. Four parallel Americas have been distovered, each presented with very interesting allohistorical content, including an America suffering from biological terrorism. The Taft-timeline America is exploring these other America's for ideas that can be imported to jumpstart the economy. At the end of the novel a fifth alternate America is discovered and will be a surprise to readers.

Complicating this world is a new ambitious president who will attempt an extraordinarily dangerous initiative to reverse the geopolitical situation of the U.S. versus the USSR.

I highly recommend this book. ( )
1 vote Bookmaster1000 | Mar 2, 2009 |
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Epigraph
I pray Heaven to Bestow The Best of Blessings on This House and All that shall hereafter Inhabit it. May none but Honest and Wise Men ever rule under this Roof. - President John Adams

You think that if we are victorious, I shall not know when to stop. You are wrong. I shall know. - Josef Stalin to Anthony Eden, 1941
Dedication
For Eleanor Mavor and Melissa Singer,
who opened doors.

And for Russ Galen,
who now guards them.
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Little enough good news, Walter Endicott thought as he skimmed the headlines of the Philadelphia Bulletin he had just purchased in the hotel shop.
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