Marooned guest: Ryan Fleming
Plus it saves searching out a new picture each time.
Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Once again, we interview our guest who is about to be marooned, or maybe Lavendered, on the Lavender Isle, to see what aspects of AH they’ll be taking with them to their isolation. This time, our guest victim is Ryan Fleming, the forum’s resident expert on horror and films. He is the author of Reid in Braid , as well as being a contributing author to three SLP anthologies, How to Write Alternate History , Grapeshot and Guillotines , and Travellers in an Antique Land . He is also a very prolific contributor of articles to this blog.
Welcome to the isolation of the Lavender Isle, Ryan. What’s the first AH book you’ve chosen?
For my first book, I’ve chosen one of the earliest AH titles I deliberately sought out and read: Back in the USSA by Kim Newman and Eugene Byrne. I first heard of it in my teens, and at the time I was learning about the Russian Revolutions at school whilst already being obsessed with a lot of pop culture. That the collection makes use of intertextual elements (like much of Newman’s fiction) made it the perfect intersection of some of my interests. It’s been influential to me in telling an alternate history through a series of short stories to give a wider picture across time periods, geography, and different strata of society.
Picture courtesy Goodreads.
And the second AH book you’ve selected?
The second book I’ve selected is The Two Georges by Harry Turtledove and Richard Dreyfuss. I’m always surprised at how little a form of failed/avoided American War of Independence appears in written alternate history, though that might just be in comparison to the twin trite theories of Nazi/Confederate victories.
It paints a diverse picture of the alternate United States/Canada by taking its characters all the way across it in pursuit of a stolen painting, along the way meeting many historical figures in different lives.
I feel the contributions from Dreyfuss make the work somewhat more filmic and accessible than a lot of Turtledove’s other works. It does not fall into the trap of being either full-on dystopia or utopia.
Moving on to your third book. What is it?
This one is perhaps a bit of a cheat: The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, by Stephen King. A cheat in the sense that much of the specific alternate history aspects only become apparent in the later books in the series. However, even in the first novel, it is clear that the main setting is not our own universe, but an alternate one.
I’m a big fan of King’s work in general, and The Dark Tower series represents an intersection of alternate history, fantasy, science fiction, horror, and Western. I’m also a big fan of all these genres. I chose the first book in the series because it remains my favourite and paints an engaging picture of an alternate... history? Future? Both and yet neither?
Can you talk about your fourth book?
My fourth book is The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon. My appreciation for this book as alternate history is how it comes from a very specific, yet relatively obscure, change in the form of the 1940 Slattery Report which would have recommended land in Alaska Territory as a settlement for Jews fleeing persecution from the Nazis being enacted upon.
The result is a very unique setting and characters at the intersection of Jewish and indigenous cultures some decades after the fact. Like The Two Georges, I think it succeeds in creating a world can be described mainly as different to our own. Some things are better, others are worse.
What’s the fifth and final AH book you’ve chosen?
The final book I’ve chosen is Watchmen by Alan Moore. I’m less well-read on superhero comics, and comics in general, than many people but I’ve read my share of graphic novels and limited series.
First of all, I like the idea of having a comic on Lavender Isle. Secondly, I think Watchmen balances really well between being a superhero comic and being alternate history. There’s plenty of references to the actual history of the Cold War that it has just as much to offer fans of AH as superheroes. Its success in giving comic books mainstream critical success is never spoken about in terms of doing the same for AH. I think it does both equally well.
Those are your books. We move on to Music. What AH music would you like to have with you?
I went back and forth on AH music because there were just so many possibilities. I kept thinking of another album by The Beatles after their historic breakup, or a completed version of The Who’s Lifehouse.
In the end, I remembered the (likely apocryphal) tale of how Led Zeppelin got its name. The tale was that Jimmy Page wanted to form a supergroup with himself and Jeff Beck on guitars, along with Keith Moon and John Entwhistle from The Who on drums and bass, respectively, and an unknown vocalist. Only for Entwhistle to refuse, saying that the group: “Would sink faster than a lead balloon, more like a lead zeppelin.” What if they had gone through with the idea? I want the first (and most likely only) album from a supergroup with that line-up.
You’re also allowed one history book of OTL history. What will you be taking?
For my single book of our own history, I will be taking Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 by Tony Judt. I think it does a good job of covering the modern history of a continent across most nation’s individual experiences, though not without some gas, it should be mentioned.
It is written in an engaging way, setting the scene with individual experiences before pulling back and giving a wider context. As English language sources on many specific periods in the histories of individual European nations can be difficult to come across if English is not the language of that country, a high level picture picture such as Postwar can serve as a launching point.
The final item you are allowed is a luxury item taken from Alternate History. What have you chosen?
As I await rescue, a crate washes up on the beach from some shipwreck in some other timeline. Inside is a Nintendo PlayStation, along with a screen, renewable power source, and a handful of games. The failed venture between both Nintendo and Sony that eventually became the Sony PlayStation after Nintendo pulled out is one of the big what-ifs of video games.
Could they have made the partnership work or was it eventually always going to be doomed by corporate rivalry?
Really though, what I want it for is just another source of entertainment whilst I await rescue. I’m not great at many games, real trial-and-error-and-error-and-error style, so even a handful of games would keep me busy for a long time.
Those are all your items. How well do you think you will cope on Lavender Isle?
I feel I have enough here to keep me occupied while I await rescue. I will have to ration the books so I don’t burn through them, but that’s easily done.
Hearing that album for the first time will keep me coming back, I’m sure. And, if I’m lucky, I might be finished the first level of the first game on the Nintendo PlayStation when help arrives.
With the books, I wanted to avoid getting anything too depressing or dystopic to read in my isolation, which removes a lot of works considering AH’s two favourite subjects. It does encourage one to think about AH works in a different way, and though none of my choices are all sunshine and puppies, I think they are the right tone to both keep me occupied and prevent the gloom from setting in.
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Ryan Fleming is the author of the SLP book Reid in Braid.