German Alternate History: Part 2 - Das Königsprojekt ("The Royal Project")

By Max Sinister



SPOILERS AHEAD!

This book (published in 1974) by Carl Amery, whom I mentioned in my first post, is based on the idea that the Roman-Catholic church owns the only time machine of world history, built by Leonardo da Vinci himself. (It's described as a kind of grotto made of treasures - precious metals and gems in complex polyhedral shapes. Its name is "machina ingeniosa spacio-temporale", abbreviated "MYST" for the sake of the time travelers who are German-speaking Swiss Guards; in German "Mist" means "manure", so you can see why this would be unacceptable). If anyone wonders why the church doesn't rule the world yet: The past can be changed only if there are either no historical sources at all (for the event to be changed) in the present, or a single one which can be changed on the fly. Obviously then to change anything you'll have to thoroughly study the past and be aware of all the existing sources -- but with its famous library, the Vatican is perfectly prepared for this task.

We are shown how such a mission works: A soldier of the Swiss Guard (named Arnold Füßli) kills the despised groom -- during the wedding ceremony to boot! -- of a noblewoman from an impoverished family, marries her in the guy's place, and gives her a chest full of jewels as a wedding gift, so he is able to write into the family chronicles that the fortunes of the family were "augmented very much" in these times (instead of "reduced very much"). When his new wife asks him some time later who exactly he is and where he comes from, he returns to the present. (Later, these events will turn into the legend of the Swan Knight or Lohengrin.) We also learn that the very first time travel experiment of the church (when they tried to kill Martin Luther) went wrong for this source-related reason. The time machine immediately returned to the present with a bang -- which turned into another legend, that of Martin Luther throwing his inkpot at the Devil who tried to lead him into temptation.

In the present day (1954) however the church plans to finish a major project: They want to make Scotland secede from the United Kingdom and put the Wittelsbach prince Rupprecht / Rupert on the Scottish throne. Of course, the existence of this project is top secret - so secret that not even the pope is allowed to know about it. (Hence we only meet characters who are below him in the church's hierarchy, like the clerics Sbiffio-Trulli, Doensmaker and Enigmatinger.) To achieve this purpose, they steal the Stone of Scone from the British throne (here, Amery merges his fiction with the very real theft of the Stone of Scone from 1950 and the rumors that a copy of the Stone was returned instead of the real thing); acquire a lost Jacobite treasure of gold; and organize a number of rural Bavarian monarchists, who joined a Scottish-American clan for this purpose, to announce the independence of Scotland and the coronation of Rupprecht, covered by the media of course. The ambitious plan fails, but only because of internal Church intrigue. The stolen Stone was hidden in the past near a Glen Turnock, which was turned into the reservoir Loch Turnock in the present - so the Stone is now lost under water.

At this point, Amery gives the story a plot twist that confused and angered many readers: The Bavarians / Scots march into the Loch, like the Celtic warriors into the Lake Aphallijn (nobody but Amery seems to use this spelling, so I am not sure which legend he refers to), and disappear. Only one participant is left, a refugee from East Prussia, maybe because he isn't Catholic / Bavarian / Scottish / myth-believing enough. So, there's a vision of an aged Bonnie Prince Charlie, who acts strangely out-of-character.

Meanwhile Füßli decides to stay in the past, after he falls in love with a woman. He assumes the identity of the White Russian prince Arakcheyev and invests the gold he took in the most inconspicuous ways, which will make him into one of the richest men on Earth during the coming decades. He doesn't become happy, however: His wife doesn't want to accept that he'd been married to several women in the past, the marriage breaks up, and he commits suicide. Also, the time machine is lost -- the inexperienced Franz Defunderoll, who's supposed to get Füßli back, shoots at him while he (Franz) is still in the time machine; the bullet is caught in a force field, kills Defunderoll, and sends him and the machine back to the year of 34,517 BC, where a horde of Stone Age people finds them both, eats his heart, and breaks up the machine into trinkets (which seem to give them good luck in the coming time, even).

My opinion: Amery wrote a (justified so) complex, very well researched Time Travel novel that almost could have become AH. Heinrich Böll (whom I like too), who once won the Nobel Prize for Literature, reviewed the book when it was published in the high-brow German newspaper "DIE ZEIT". If this fact doesn't convince someone that AH can have literary value, then nothing can.


Carl Amery was also friends with the grandmaster of German sci-fi, Wolfgang Jeschke. In Jeschke's book "The Cusanus Game", he also lets the Vatican organise expeditions into the past, to save the present. More about this book in the next review / synopsis.

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