Andy's Anachronisms - Time Travel Short Story Reviews

Arrowdreams: An Anthology of Alternate Canadas
Editors Mark Shainblum & John Dupuis

Unique in the world of alternate histories this is the first collection of stories focusing on alternate Canadas. Very few of the stories contained in this anthology focus on a specific turning point in Canadian history, but rather focus on events in this alternate universe where Canada has become something other than we currently know it.

Editors Mark Shainblum and John Dupuis, note that when they approached some Canadian authors to participate they declined citing they didn't know enough about Canadian history to participate. Since when does having knowledge of history prevent someone from writing Alternate History? To paraphrase Harry Turtledove's advice on writing alternate history: read a lot, do research from primary sources, obtain first hand experience, and omit 95% of what you learned from the final text.

It does however highlight the problem with Alternate Histories in general and Canadian Alternate History (AH) in particular. If the underlying history is not known or understood by a majority of the readers, the exercise of proposing an alternate history where there has been some divergence is often a lost cause. Good AH works on a number of levels, first as a story and secondly as a piece of speculative fiction that subtly explores a world where things have developed differently. When I say subtly, I mean the reader should be able to understand why the history in the story is different than our own world without the writer having to devote pages of exposition to get the point across. With Canadian AH the audience tends to be even smaller since very few people outside of Canada (or in Canada for that matter) may be aware of the history of something like the Avro Arrow as in "The Coming Age of the Jet" by Eric Choi for example. Despite the lack of "marketability" of Canadian AH, I firmly believe that Canadians should continue to tell stories about their home and native land since if they don't, no one else will.

Speaking as a Canadian myself, I find it disappointing more Canadian writers don't take up the torch of writing uniquely Canadian AH to offset the large volumes of U.S. inspired alternate histories. After all if Canada does exist in these American alternate universes then surely there is an interlocking story of what the Canadians are doing that could be written.

Regardless, I am just pleased that the editors made the effort to put this out and that I would hope they would consider a second volume, perhaps casting their net a little wider next time when searching for authors. While alternate histories tend to be penned by speculative fiction authors, I am sure there are a great many Canadian writers of all types of fiction and non-fiction that might be persuaded to try their hand at such a story. To name a few I wouldn't mind seeing some alternate history short stories from: Timothy Findlay, Farley Mowat, Michael Ondaatje, Pierre Berton, Robert Charles Wilson, Cory Doctorow, and Terrence Green.

Well enough ranting for now, on with the reviews:

Hockey's Night in Canada

Edo van Belkom

In "Hockey's Night in Canada" author van Belkom depicts a Canada in which the national pastime has become a Russian dominated sport as a result of Team Canada's defeat by the Russians in the 1972 Summit Series. A decidedly Canadian story, readers unfamiliar with the story of Paul Henderson's triumphant last minute goal of the 1972 series would be unlikely to recognize the point of divergence.

While I enjoyed the story, I was skeptical that losing one game would change the face of hockey in Canada as radically as depicted here. In fact it could be argued that van Belkom's alternate universe is a de facto reality what with the European players beginning to out number and outclass the Canadians who once dominated the sport.

Gross Island -- The Movie

Nancy Kilpatrick

In "Gross Island -- The Movie", author Nancy Kilpatrick depicts an alternate universe not in reality, but on the big screen. An American film director, referred to only as Stephen, spins an alternate tale of Canada's Grosse Ile for dramatic purposes.

Grosse Ile was the entry point and quarantine for most immigrants coming to Canada during the period 1832 to 1937. A typhoid epidemic broke out during the summer of 1847 when there was a large influx of immigrants fleeing Ireland's Great Famine. The story/movie centers around several of the key participants of the fateful 1847 epidemic although the Director plays fast and loose with the facts to create a more dramatic story.

Wile not a strict alternate history tale, "Gross Island -- The Movie" does highlight Hollywood's tendency to produce "alternate history" tales unintentionally. There are several good books out there that take Hollywood to task over films with historical content pointing out what they got right and what they screwed up. Two titles sitting on my bookshelf are "The Hollywood History of the World" by George MacDonald Fraser and "Past Imperfect - History According to the Movies" edited by Mark C. Carnes. I much prefer "Past Imperfect" which features essays by historians and authors who take to task individual films.

"Gross Island - The Movie" makes for entertaining reading, not only in its depiction of Hollywood's movie machine, but also in showing the attitude of some American's towards Canadian history in general.

For more general information on Grosse Ile, I recommend Parks Canada's web site:

Health in Us

Paula Johanson

"Health in Us" examines the fate of the Haida people of Vancouver Island. The story focuses on the actions of the governor's wife, a native Hadia herself, who seeks to intervene and save her people with western medicine.

Johnanson's story highlights a critical limitation with AH and Canadian AH in particular that I mentioned in my opening comments. The background of Johanson's story was obscure enough that I found it difficult to recognize the setting or characters until nearly halfway through the story.

On the Edge

Keith Scott

Scott's "On the Edge" focuses on a Canada where the province of Quebec has voted to separate from the rest of confederation and the resulting fallout has destroyed the country. As with many of the short stories in this collection very few focus on actual turning points, but rather on characters set in this fictional alternate history.

The Canada portrayed in "On The Edge" is a land of refugee camps and suspicion of anyone suspected of being from Quebec. Whether or not author Keith Scott intended to allude to the treatment of foreign-nationals at the hands of Canadians during World War II is not clear. What is certain that this story plays out more like a post-apocalyptic story more common to nuclear holocaust than a Canada devastated by Quebec's separation. For a more poignant story of the possible consequences of separation I highly recommend Eric Choi's story "Divisions" which was unfortunately not included in this collection, but featured in Tesseracts6.

Near Enough to Home

Michael Skeet

My favorite story of the collection is author Michael Skeet's densely layered and beautifully written "Near Enough to Home" that manages to take a number of key turning points and weave an interesting tapestry.

Skeet manages to start with the "What if" Napoleon died in 1802, leading to Britain playing a more decisive role in the War of 1812 (actually 1810 in this AH) leading to the British gaining control of the Louisiana Territory and setting the stage for a very different North American stage for the U.S. Civil War which starts much earlier in 1850.

The story set at the time of the U.S. Civil War in this AH, focuses on a Canadian taken hostage in Kentucky and meeting a fellow captive with an interesting background.

The author manages to use the story of the characters to outline his vision of this alternate history without resorting to large amounts of exposition.

The Last of the Macabees

Allan Weiss

In Allan Weiss' short story "The Last of the Macabees" finds a post-Roman European civilization attempting to colonize North America, only to find that the aboriginal inhabitants are "the chosen people" and that local tribes are in conflict over their messiah. Combining an age old AH of a flourishing Roman civilization with the discovering of the New World and discovery of the "lost tribe" is an interesting and at times an amusing alternate history.


Shane Simmons

Shane Simmons spins a tale of an alternate history where the World War I flying ace, the Red Baron, escapes his otherwise fatal dogfight with RAF fighter Roy Brown.

In this AH the Red Baron is only wounded when Roy Brown's guns misfire although it is enough to keep him grounded for the remainder of the hostilities. Managing to survive World War I, the Red Baron goes on to play a leadership role in the Luftwaffe's success in World War II and the subsequent surrender of Britain to the Nazi forces. Roy Brown looks for an opportunity to settle the score when the Nazi occupiers parade through London.

An interesting story about how small changes can have larger ramifications over time.

Cold Ground

Derryl Murphy

In his tale "Cold Ground" author Derryl Murphy takes the alternate history of Louis Riel's 1885 Rebellion one step further and an adds and alternate universe where magic is common place. British sorcerer Robert Baden-Powell matches wits and spells with Louis Riel after Riel escapes hanging using his magic.

Murphy scores extra points for creativity for his magical twist, but like much of the alternate history in this collection suffers from the lack of explanation of who the players are. In case you don't know, Robert Baden-Powell is better known as the father of the modern Boy Scout movement.

Thermometers Melting

Glenn Grant

In "Thermometers Melting" author Glenn Grant centres his story on Leon Trotsky's imprisonment in an interment camp for POWs in Halifax during World War I and draws in other historical figures and events. While Trotsky was only held for a month in real life, Grant proposes that he is held for months, during which time a young reporter, Ernest Hemingway from a Kansas newspaper arrives to interview the Trotsky and unwittingly aids in his escape. During his escape Trotsky finds himself playing a pivotal role in the Halifax explosion of December 6th, 1917.

In my opinion Grant takes the tale one step too far and cheats the reader out of an otherwise satisfying tale by adding a twist ending.

For those non-Canadians and even those Canadians not up on CanLit, the title of Glenn Grant's short story "Themometers Melting" is a play on the title of Hugh McLennan's 1941 classic "Barometer Rising" whose backdrop is the Halifax explosion of 1917 and is well worth the read.

For Want of A Nail

Dave Duncan

The point of divergence for Dave Duncan's "For the Want of a Nail" is the 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham between the French and English. In his overly expository piece, author Duncan has Montcalm encountering Wolfe at the court of Louis XVI in 1777 discussing the politics of North America and the uprising in New England while briefly recounting their battle from nearly 20 years previous.

Like any good student of the Canadian educational system, I can't recall squat about Canada's early history and the Battle of the Plains of Abraham is one of those events. I vaguely recalled while reading this story that the French lost and either Montcalm or Wolfe died during the battle (Actually both died). Thank heavens for the web and search engines. A quick search turned up this link [see below], which contains a very good overview of the historical account of the battle and the context of British and French rule in North America at the time.

Historic Traveler -- Plains of Abraham

While the battle was indeed pivotal in the English conquest of British North America I felt that little of its significance came through in this story.

The Coming of the Jet

Eric Choi

Eric Choi's "The Coming of the Jet" manages to explore an uniquely Canadian "What if?" in examining the role of Canadian aircraft manufacturer AVRO in post World War II aerospace design. Eric Choi's tale examines an alternate history where AVRO managed to keep both its military program and passenger jet program on track and go on to become the dominate aircraft manufacturer in North America. Many Canadians are familiar with the government's unprecedented decision to scrap the AVRO Arrow jet fighter after some successful tests in the 1950s, but few including myself may be aware of their domestic jet program and the fate it suffered. In researching the background for this review, I found a very interesting sight maintained by the son of one of the primary engineers on the AVRO program. Well worth a look.

Le cas du feuilleton De Québec à la Lune, par Veritatus

Laurent McAllister

One of the more challenging reads of the anthology,"Le cas du feuilleton De Québec à la Lune, par Veritatus" (literal translation - The case of the serial Of Quebec to the Moon, by Veritatus) involves a convoluted narrative based on a review of an old manuscript in which a description of a 19th Century Quebec which is independent and with an industrial base. Less alternate history than a tale of the supernatural the short story enlists the aid of the undead in the fight for independence.

Review Posted 2002-02-07

Return to Short Fiction Review Index

Return to Book Review Index

Return to Andy's Anachronisms Home
Modified: 2004-08-23