top of page

The Alternate Lavender Island: David Love

Marooned Guest: David Love

We know the drill, don't we.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

This time, our marooned guest on Lavender Island is David Love – possibly better known to members of the Sealion Press forum as Warthog.


Welcome, David. You’ve mentioned on occasions that you’ve seen at first-hand the development of the ANC in southern Africa. We often talk on the forum about major historical events, but you and your family witnessed this great historical movement at first hand. What’s that like? How different is the mythology surrounding the event from what the reality was?

The main thing is that it was a struggle, neither a Colour Revolution, nor (primarily) a civil war between two armies.


It was violent. Umkhonto weSizwe initially primarily targeted infrastructure, but Mandela and Sisulu and Fischer were under no illusions that nobody would be killed. Police, especially security police, were considered targets and many were killed over the three decades of armed struggle, as were civilians, sometimes unplanned or collateral, but sometimes targeted.


For all David Lammy’s confusion on the subject, there were few organisations espousing nonviolence. Even the anti-apartheid movement in Europe, while largely not directly violent (although I do remember that the kidnapping and threatened defenestration of an apartheid general in London involved one or two British activists), nevertheless leant support to organisations actively engaged in violence.


The response of the apartheid state was incredibly violent. Extreme violence was used in pursuing MK, but there were also police death squads who assassinated civilian activists, mainly teachers, unionists, community organisers. But beyond that, the state’s response to more peaceful forms of protest was very violent, including the use of live ammunition against school protests. That legitimisation of violence as a response to opposition to your point of view permeates South African society today, from the political violence in KZN, to Buthelezi’s and nowadays Zuma’s threats of violence if they don’t get what they want – to authority-sanctioned thuggery at elite schools and universities.


It was traumatic. I should stress that there was no violence done directly to me or my immediate family, but what’s done to people you care about has its effect. The stuff that occasionally comes out when I post late in the evening after too much gin.


I have several friends who were tortured, one while they were still a schoolchild. A person isn’t really the same after that. Even for the perpetrators: I’ve spoken with conscripts who are haunted by things they did or saw done, especially to children.


And that’s another aspect. The vast majority of people in the struggle were very ordinary men and women; teachers, shop owners, shop stewards, conscripted white school-leavers, black school children...


I never knew the names of most of the people who stayed at our family’s home when it was an ANC safe house. Those I did get to know later on weren’t imposing men and women with five years specialist training in Frunze Military Academy; they were junior civil servants, dentists, doctors, a priest. The senior guy in our network now runs the Bureau of Standards.


There were the moments that pass into legend, more of them towards the end, like Mandela’s release, obviously, or the collapse of both the authoritarian homeland of Boputhatswana and the white supremacist AWB in the face of mutiny by ordinary black soldiers, the massive demonstrations of rolling mass action in the early 1990s, and so on.


Further back though, images that stick with me: a woman standing in front of an armoured troop carrier in Soweto; a professor striding past students fleeing live ammunition to confront the police in Cape Town. Moments of resistance, and of hope.


On to less tense matters. How did you get into AH?

I didn’t realise until it was pointed out by your interview of Jack Tindale the other day that Joan Aiken’s Wolves is AH. I loved the series as a kid, which led me more into fantasy, so I’ll stick with what actually got me into AH: John Brunner’s Times Without Number. My father enjoys science fiction and he had a couple of Brunner’s books (I now have a shelf), including Times. It starts as a straightforward adventure in an AH setting (Spanish Armada succeeded in conquering England) and then escalates into transcontinental political intrigue and then – well, go read it. It’s great.


Soon after, I found Chris Evans’ solarpunk Aztec Century in the library. Then the Internet finally reached southern Africa, and I found What if Gordon Banks had Played, was hooked into the online AH community and never escaped.


What’s your first choice for an AH book?

I’m not the first to pick it, but it has to be Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson. KSR’s writing is exceptional, not just the narrative, but the depth of description of the landscape and the personality of the characters, means his work can be read again and again.


There’s also something very peaceful about his writing in Rice and Salt, and that makes it great for reading on a remote island.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

And the second AH book you’ve selected?

Paul Johnston’s Body Politic. Originally future history, it has aged to AH. The basic story is detective fiction (which I also love), set in the independent city state of Edinburgh, after the collapse of the UK. The basic story is good, and the detailed mechanics of the complex city state is fascinating – what I also enjoy is that it is also an exploration of the morality of revolution and authoritarian vanguardism, a theme which Johnson tones down a bit in the series, before revisiting it in Skeleton Blues.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

Moving on to your third book. What is it?

John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar. This is also Future History that has aged to Alternate History, and it was the first book I read with the “scrapbook” genre interspersing the narrative.


I’ve always enjoyed Brunner, and Zanzibar is Brunner at his best: incredibly detailed (the slang!), flawed characters, hope, tragedy, and the ethical dilemmas of activism.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

Can you talk about your fourth book?

Agent Lavender, by Jack Tindale and Tom Black. It’s a great story, with enjoyable cameos and Easter eggs, but I remember it being written as a timeline over on, and it was the first time I saw how that worked in real time, with the authors listening to suggestions and so on. I know JMS famously did that long back with Babylon 5, but with Lavender I was there watching it happen, which gives the book nice memories on rereading.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

What’s the fifth and final AH book you’ve chosen?

Resurrection Day, by Brendan Du Bois. Du Bois isn’t Brunner or KSR; you don’t get the detail of the landscape or the personality of bit-part characters, but the scale is absolutely epic: post-atomic war Boston, but did the war actually happen the way “they” say it did? And something even bigger moving in the background. It’s the test of suspense writing that it is good to reread when you remember all that will be revealed. Du Bois flies over that test, in Resurrection, and also in Six Days or Twilight. Well worth rereading.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

You’re also allowed one book of OTL history. What will you be taking?

No Fist is Big Enough to Hide the Sky by Basil Davidson. It tells the story of the liberation struggle in Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, but is so much more. Davidson was embedded with the PAIGC guerrillas for an extended period several times, and became friends with Cabral. Much of his writing is from the point of view of individual guerrillas, their experiences, their debates, and so on.


There’s interesting history, and discussions of morality, ethics, and tactics, but also very poignant and emotional moments: obviously Cabral’s assassination, but also for example the night Davidson and the guerrillas that he’s with hear, over the radio that Ché Guevara has been killed. It’s a great book, and I’ve enjoyed reading it more than once.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

Those are your books. We move on to the music section. What AH music would you like to have with you?

Popular protest music of 1950s Dahomey in Malê Rising. I love Angelique Kidjo’s music, so I’m fascinated to see what ATL 50s protest would be.


The final item you are allowed is a luxury item taken from Alternate History. What have you chosen?

I’d really want some rooibos tea to smoke in a pipe; it’s very relaxing. But that’s in my own unpublished work, so that’s cheating.


So, I’ll take rakshi, the Nepalese spirit distilled from millet that becomes quite popular in Rice and Salt. In that timeline, I can easily imagine African millet varieties being distilled, becoming a non-mainstream but absolutely enjoyable fine spirit, sort of like Japanese whisky.


Those are all your items. How well do you think you will cope with the isolation on Lavender Island?

I used to be fairly good with isolation mentally, but I’ve been a family man for two decades, and will miss them terribly.


If it’s as tropical as the picture, the climate will be great for my asthma, and the available diet shouldn’t be bad for me either... especially if I can find some wild garlic or something (and survive discovering if it actually is garlic) I might actually survive a while, you never know. And, if all else fails, I’ll have Mozambiquen Rakshi.






Discuss this interview Here.




bottom of page