In this collection of novellas, four masters of alternate history turn back time, twisting the facts with four brilliant excursions into what might have been.
The collection opens with "The Daimon," written by Harry Turtledove, AH's best-known practitioner. In Turtledove's turning point, the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates chooses to accompany General Alkibiades to war instead of remaining in Athens, and sets Alkibiades on a triumphant, terrible new course.
Set in the British India-dominated alternate history of The Peshawar Lancers, S.M. Stirling's novella is a rousing old-fashioned adventure. "Shikari in Galveston" follows a hunting safari through a regressed American frontier that might have given even Daniel Boone pause.
A prequel to her Book of Ash tetralogy, Mary Gentle's novella "The Logistics of Carthage" concerns Christian warriors serving pagan Turks in a North Africa conquered by Visigoths instead of Vandals, and is the strongest story in Worlds That Weren't.
The collection concludes with "The Last Ride of German Freddie," in which Nebula Award winner Walter Jon Williams considers what might have happened if the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had taken himself and his superman theories to the Wild West. --Cynthia Ward --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
But not for the reasons you might imagine. It really stands out worlds apart (pun intended) from the other three 'alternative history' fantasy stories. Yes, I'm familiar with Greek history, and the catastrophic invasion of Syracuse. When Mark Twain was asked what was the turning point in his life he quipped "When Caesar crossed the Rubicon. "
He was right, of course, it changed Western Civilisation! Had he wanted to risk being a bit more obscure he could have gone further back in time and replied " When Alcibiades was arrested on the way to Syracuse. " If he hadn't, the expedition probably would have succeeded and it would have been The Athenian, not The Roman Empire that conquered the known world. However Harry Turtledove's handling of the story is lame, not because he has--as one reviwer noted--Socrates as an unlikely character aiding Alcibiades (Socrates did in fact fight as an Athenian hoplite, though not at Syracuse) but because the story never gets off the ground. It just doesn't deliver the goods.
Worse still are S.M Stirling and Mary Gentle's offerings. Were they in a hurry?
Ok, so it's er...light summer reading.Read more ›
The piece about Alkibiades becoming an earlier Alexander of Macedon shows Harry Turtledove at his best: a good idea, credible story but still solid history and (unusual bonus for this author) short.
S. M. Stirling's story about a hunting party in an America after the fall described in his "Peshawar Lancers" universe is a somewhat odd mixture of post-nuclear expedition a la "The Postman", a western revenge movie and gothic horror-story. A good summer read.
Mary Gentle's story is the low point of the book: it gives the distinct impression of something put together from earlier, discarded material just to meet a deadline. It is unclear to the end what the story really is about and as a teaser or introduction into the "Ash" universe it fails miserably.
But the book as a whole is saved by its last piece: William's story about Nietsche in Tombstone is a rare gem. Crazy and funny (imagine: Nietsche as a gunman and gambler!), but still accurate. Just great.
My opinion about the book: the stories have nothing in common beyond the fact that they are all taking place in alternate histories. That wouldn't be a problem in a bigger anthology or in a magazine, but for a hardcover with just four stories it adds up to too expensive. So read it, but don't buy.