cover image The Way It Wasn't: Great Science Fiction Stories of Alternate History

The Way It Wasn't: Great Science Fiction Stories of Alternate History

. Carol Publishing Corporation, $20 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-8065-1769-8

In a parallel timeline, perhaps this collection of alternate-history stories is consistently enthralling. In this one, however, it's a hit-or-miss affair. Some stories show great power and creativity, but just as often the reader is left wondering, ""What was the point of that?"" Larry Niven's ""All the Myriad Ways"" is the truly fine story of a private detective faced with a huge increase in senseless violence since alternate timelines were discovered. The conclusion leaves the reader breathless, more than a tad uneasy about the whole idea of alternate history. ""Suppose They Gave a Peace"" by Susan Shwartz spins a disturbing tale about what would have happened in Vietnam if George McGovern had defeated Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential election. She argues convincingly that, by 1972, no one could have averted a tragic ending to the Vietnam War. The story is engrossing, sad, powerful and, more impressively, Shwartz avoids letting the story cave in to despair. And ""The Lucky Strike"" by Kim Stanley Robinson asks the provocative question of what would have happened if the crew responsible for dropping the first atomic weapon had deliberately missed the target. This story forces the reader to confront the conventional wisdom that the bombing of Hiroshima was necessary. It's unfortunate that all the stories in this anthology couldn't reach this high level. Overall, however, the stories that work make this a worthwhile purchase for any reader who likes to ask, ""What if...?"" (Apr.)