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The Alternate Lavender Island: Guest Jared Kavanagh

Marooned Guest: Jared Kavanagh

Hopefully, the wildlife will be less dangerous than it is in Australia.

In this marooning, we again have a guest who has a fairly spectacular CV. Authors are supposed to gather a range of occupational experiences to give themselves a broad base of experience from which to draw upon. Jared Kavanagh has rather taken this concept to an extreme, having apparently held seventy jobs before settling on writing as an occupation. According to the notes I have, his shortest job lasted three hours, which might be some sort of record. It’s not much longer than it will take you to read this interview.


Jared has published many books, and has had a hand in several SLP books; these include being the author of The Land of Red and Gold series, and he edited the anthologies Apocalypse How? and Alternate Australias .


Welcome to the isolation of Lavender Island, Jared. What’s the first AH book you’ve chosen?

 The first book I’ve chosen in one of the first AH series I read: the West of Eden trilogy, by Harry Harrison. I’d like the whole series, but if only one book is allowed, I’ll bring the first, West of Eden itself. Of course, that’s the same author of the better known but much lower quality Star and Stripes AH series (about which the less said the better) and the pulpish but entertaining non-AH Stainless Steel Rat books.


I stumbled across the first book of this trilogy in the library as a pre-teen, and thought: “Humans in the same world as surviving dinosaurs? Cool.” It’s set in a world where the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct with the K-T impact, and an intelligent descendant of dinosaurs (okay, strictly speaking, monitor lizards) has built up a civilisation in the Old World and is now colonising North America, where an analogue to humans has evolved.


The AH aspects of this could be ripped to shreds on any number of plausibility grounds. However, it included detailed descriptions of alternate technological paths, glossaries of different terms, and a range of cultural and biological depictions which made it feel like a real alternate world. There’s also one extremely squicky aspect which makes liking the rest of this book something of a guilty pleasure. But it’s this series, more than any other, that I’d credit with encouraging my interest in big, sweeping change AH settings where one can immerse oneself in a changed world.

West of Eden. A guilty pleasure.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

And the second AH book you’ve selected?

 My second book is Lest Darkness Fall, by L Sprague de Camp. (Reviewed on this blog Here). This is one of the progenitors (but not the first) of the subgenre of “modern protagonist thrown back into the past and changes it” style of AH – and on the whole, one of the better ones (though not flawless).


The book has an archaeologist, Martin Padway, transported back in time to Ostrogothic Italy shortly before the Byzantine invasions under Belisarius would bring ruination to the peninsula. Padway has a variety of knowledge which helps him to survive in the period – such as knowing Classical Latin, and having read Procopius’ history of the era, which gives him good knowledge of what was coming.


Padway sets about getting involved in the politics of the era and of introducing some modern inventions, not least because it makes it more likely that he will survive. Some of these inventions go perhaps too well to be realistic – though not as much as some more recent takes on this concept – but de Camp does keep some elements of realism by having Padway fail (at least initially) on some of his endeavours such as clockmaking and practical firearms.


Primarily, I like this book as a mostly successful attempt to depict a “plausible” time travel and advancement of technology – something that many have imitated but few have done half as well.

Available from IKEA, I'm sure.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

Moving on to your third book. What is it?

This one is again a series: The Timeline Wars, by John Barnes, or if I’m allowed only a single book, the opening book, Patton’s Spaceship.


The Timeline Wars is set in a universe, well, multiverse where millions of timelines exist, each with their own history. Cross-time travel not only exists, but is the means whereby a mysterious group of possibly human, possibly alien, and definitely vile Closers are seeking to gain control of every timeline they can reach. The protagonist of Patton’s Spaceship, Mark Strang, gets embroiled in an effort to stop them conquering his own timeline which ends up with him trapped in another timeline where he’s trying to stop the remaining resistance to the victorious Axis powers. (An Axis victory is improbable, a fact acknowledged within the book itself, but when dealing with two million plus timelines, improbable things occasionally happen).


The result is a rollicking, fast-paced adventure story crossed with alternate history. It’s not a deep philosophical analysis of the existence of the multiverse or the mutability of history, but it is some suitably mindless fun which I suspect I’ll need while waiting on Lavender Island.

Another series. Why is it always gamers who stretch the rules?

Picture courtesy Amazon.

Can you talk about your fourth book?

My fourth book is Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson. Well-known as an AH classic, and deservedly so. This is one of my favourite kinds of AH – a big, sprawling world with widespread changes and the opportunity as a reader to immerse myself in those changes.


As changes to history go, “no Europeans meaningfully left, how does world history unfold?” is pretty well up there. Robinson does a good job of balancing the equation between showing how these big changes affect a sprawling world, while also showing enough about individual characters to keep this world personal. It’s a nice combination.


If I make it off Lavender Island, I’ll have to track down some of Robinson’s other works such as the Mars trilogy, too.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

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

My last AH book is Battle Over Britain, by Simon Brading – the first book in the Misfit Squadron series. This was the first steampunk book I ever read, or more precisely post-steampunk, since this is set in a world where steam was the key technology, but now technology has moved on and in some cases steam has been replaced by new developments such as springs.


When I first read Battle Over Britain, I found it to be a faced-paced, easy to read but engrossing look at a springpunk (Is that a word? It is now) retelling of the Battle of Britain. The combat scenes were particularly good – Brading knows his way around aviation extremely well – but there was also excellent characterisation of both main and secondary characters. The parallels to the Battle of Britain are quite close, but that works well in this setting.


I figure I need some action reading marooned (or even lavendered), and this book fits that requirement.

Spring-powered aerial combat. What's not to like?

Picture courtesy Amazon.

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

The one historical book I’ll bring will be The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, by Amin Maalouf. This book is one which I last read while in university (more years ago than I care to count) and found at the time that it was extremely helpful to read about the Crusades era from the Arabic perspective rather than the usual historical depictions I’d read up to that point, which were uniformly from a European Christian perspective.


This book is a retelling of a variety of primary Arabic sources on the Crusades and, among other things, it offered descriptions of different aspects of Crusader life which the Crusaders themselves didn’t mention in their own sources, because of course “everyone knew”.


I’d credit reading this book as part of the reason I ended up developing part of my timeline writing style where I try to tell tales through a variety of sources and perspectives, as well as a reminder of how many things never end up in historical sources because they were assumed to be common knowledge.


I’ve not read this book since my university days, so being lavendered is an opportunity to catch up on it again.


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

One of my favourite musicians is Loreena McKennitt, who performs what I would call world music with distinct Celtic influence (among others). I’ve enjoyed every album of hers I’ve heard. However, she had some tragic personal circumstances where her fiancé and a couple of close friends died in an accident, and she went on an eight-year hiatus as a result. I’d like to have the albums she would have made in an alternate history where she didn’t suffer that personal tragedy.


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

This ties into an earlier answer. What I’m bringing with me is a copy of the Royal Game of Ur, as it was played around 2500 BC, with a full translated set of rules from an alternate history where someone decided to write those rules down.


This is one of the oldest known board games in the world, dating to at least, well, 2500 BC, though probably earlier. It was apparently a two-player racing game using dice, but which also had a significant element of strategy – something like backgammon today. It was popular for around 3000 years around Mesopotamia and elsewhere before it was gradually replaced over most of the world by other games, though a version of it survived (with changes) into the 1950s in Kochi in India.


The thing about people not usually writing down what was common knowledge is that despite being played for so long, not many people felt the need to write down the rules. What was the point, when everyone already knew and it was apparently the kind of game where the rules could be explained quickly in person to anyone who was learning? (Easy to learn, hard to master).


Archaeologists have found a couple of cuneiform tablets which kind of explain the rules, but not fully – they were basically talking about here’s how this new version of the game is different to the rules you know. So even with these tablets, and knowledge of the descendant game from Kochi, we still don’t know exactly how the game was played. There are arguments about, for instance, the track which each player followed with their pieces.


But a game which was played widely for 3000 years must have had something going for it. So, I’m going to have the ancient version, with the translated rules, to play while I’m lavendered. Yes, it means I’ll be playing against myself, but it will also mean I have an uninterrupted opportunity to work out how to play it and see what all the fuss was about in ancient Mesopotamia.

Maybe? Who knows.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Those are all your items. How well do you think you will cope on Lavender Isle?

I’ll be fine until the music, books, and games run out and I’m forced to live on food and water.


The books should keep me going for a while, particularly if rationed. I’ve aimed for books which are engrossing but not too dark, so that will help. The album should be worth a few listens – or, if I’m lucky, more than one album. Learning the game will be fun unless my opponent turns out to be a bastard.


After that, well... being a well-insulated type, even if I run low on food, I should be okay if there’s water. I hope it rains a bit.




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