Sunday, October 25, 2009

Alternate History Sunday - The Winterberry

I read a whole lot of science fiction as a young teen and, in fact, I credit that genre for turning me into the avid reader that I am. The fifties and sixties were a nice period for science fiction writers, a couple of decades during which some of the real masters were reaching their peak or first appearing on the scene, and it was exciting to see what they would come up with next.

Alternate history is sometimes considered to be part of the science fiction world but that assumption can be misleading because so much alternate history is a rewrite of military history or other major world events. Of course, lots of alternate history does involve time travel and, as Harry Turtledove points out in his introduction to The Best Alternate History Stories of the 2oth Century, so many well known science fiction writers have very successfully written alternate history that it seems natural to lump the two genres together.

I dipped into Turtledove's anthology this morning to read "The Winterberry" by Nicholas A. DiChario - and I wish I could tell you more about this little gem but whatever I tell you might ruin its impact. So I'll be very careful. "The Winterberry" is a bit unusual as alternate history goes in that the author leaves it up to the reader to figure out exactly what piece of history is being rewritten.

The clues DiChario offers are more and more obvious until suddenly everything becomes clear. The story is only ten pages long and, honestly, not much happens. But when that little light goes off in your head, "The Winterberry" becomes a story you will remember and think about for a while because what the story's mentally handicapped narrator tells you about his life in his big house takes on a whole new meaning. Enough said.

Fuzzy as all of this must be, I hope it manages to influence a few people to find and read the story. I think you will like it - and you might develop a taste for alternate history in the process.

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