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The Alternate Lavender Island: Jack Tindale

Marooned Guest: Jack Tindale.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Our castaway today is Jack Tindale, who needs no introduction to the denizens of SLP, so I’ll introduce him. He modestly describes himself as a public/parliamentary sector “mid-ranking civil servant” droid at the Cabinet Office. I assume that means that he’s senior enough to go to meetings and junior enough to be there to listen rather than speak, which probably means he’s one of the few people in the country to have a clue what’s happening, politically.


Those of us who have been on the SLP Forum for some time will remember a time, maybe a couple of years ago, that Jack was single. He is now not single, and his partner is mentioned frequently. I am, as some of you will know, a sucker for romance novels, and this struck me as a potential tale worth telling. So, naturally I asked him about this.


Can you tell me how you met your partner, Cones.

I would like to say that you have been rather cruel in marooning me alone after being so curious about how counterfactual history and Sea Lion Press brought my partner and I together.


She has always been one of those people who was brought up (as a small section of us are) with that Millennial obsession of post-war politics – and we both had a shared appreciation for that deeply strange but much appreciated late-noughties archetype, the surprisingly right-wing young British politics video archivist. So, old episodes of Spitting Image (now, thanks to copyright issues, all long since struck from the Internet, one of the most wanton acts of destruction since the burning of the Library of Alexandria).


She’d actually read Agent Lavender well before we got to know one another, but a few amusing tweets here, a few pandemic calls between the UK and Japan (where she was teaching at the time) there, and all of a sudden we’re living together in a flat in south London and talking about getting a cat. A very strange thing, the Internet – but sometimes it’s a force for good.


Anyway, yes – back to the glory of isolation.


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

I thought that my choice was the first alternate history I read – but it wasn’t (although it took me a while to realise that) – so I would very much like to bring Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.


I think it says a lot about me that one of my favourite novels as a child is set in a world where the Glorious Revolution failed, London is a Baroque city of canals, and the countryside plagued by an influx of wild canines who have wandered through the Channel Tunnel.


It may not be the most grounded of counterfactual histories, but it provides such a wonderfully evocative setting, which is expanded in the various follow-up novels, including one where the heroes must prevent the new Jacobian King from being assassinated by wily Hannoverians.


How on earth could a kid not love that? No wonder I started getting into the Aubrey-Maturin series soon afterwards.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

And the second AH book you’ve selected?

I know I’m not the first person to say this, but I would be very grateful for Robert Harris’ Fatherland. Not only was it one of the first ‘mainstream’ works of alternate history that I read as a somewhat pretentious teenager, it also does a superb job of working both as a literary work as well as being a solid piece of alternate history.


I feel that, at times, there’s a tendency for a lot of the alt-hist community to gatekeep about what is and what is not a good example of the genre (although there is a lot of dross, to be fair).


Fatherland is a perfect example of where the two strands can work together. It manages to be a gripping thriller where the setting does not feel tacked on – and also offers a chilling, terrifyingly plausible setting of one of the most used alternate history settings. The scene where Xavier March vomits in realisation of his own connection to the Holocaust is an exceptionally vivid piece of writing. It is the mundanity of Harris’ clearly tottering Third Reich that sticks with you, far more than all the pulp “Nazis in Space” that you usually associate with the genre.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

Moving on to your third book. What have you chosen?

I originally didn’t want to select one of our SLP staples – the last thing I would like to get accused of is favouritism – but I will break that rule and put forward Ed Thomas’ wonderfully creative Fight and be Right. The concept of a different career for Lord Randolph Churchill’s father leading to an upending of the Victorian Party system, with consequences far beyond the British Isles, is a superb effort. It would be very easy to make it an ‘a dynamic young politician resolves most of the social ills of the late 19th Century with a Bismarckian Zeal, the Union Flag flies on the Moon” and Ed, well, does not do that.


The absolute level of detail Ed put into not just the history, but the maps, flags, and other errata (including in the companion volume The World of Fight and Be Right) is flabbergasting. I think I find something new every time I go back to it. He’s got an exceptionally good habit of writing something clearly absurd and then footnoting it with “all of this is OTL [our timeline] so far”. I really appreciate that conceit as it both informs you about an obscure element of our history, as well as making the forthcoming changes seem all the more plausible.


It would be remiss of me not to praise Ed’s quality of writing as well. The “scrapbook” approach to counterfactual history was really big when I first started out – but I think Ed does it superbly. Lesser writers who take that approach may use a host of fictitious sources to tell their story, but oftentimes they all sound the same – Fight and Be Right does not do that; the excerpts really do sound like they’ve been written by different authors with their own biases, approaches, and views. It really does give the impression that you’re reading a trove of clippings from an alternate world. Tom Anderson (of Look to the West fame) is great at this as well – but again, I think I would be accused of favouritism if I selected a close friends work!

Picture courtesy Amazon.

Can you talk about your fourth book?

I would like to move to Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale , please, David. As with many of these areas, calling it a counterfactual history is perhaps pushing the definition of the genre. It is an alternate setting for a stand-alone book, but I find it a chilling but gripping horror thriller.


The premise is a well-known one. It is the year 1997. Fascist Japan won the Pacific War and has transformed into the totalitarian Republic of Greater East Asia. The police state that has arisen has the usual dystopian tropes of banning anything it considers to be ‘immoral’, all under the aegis of an unseen dictator (quite what has happened to the Imperial family is unknown).


Once a year, in an attempt to crack down on teenage delinquency, a random high school class is driven to a remote island and forced to fight one another to the death until there is a single survivor.


In many respects it is a typically gory hack-and-slash, but I nevertheless consider it to be a very effective study of human nature and attitudes to power. The alternate universe does provide an effective control study for this, and I’d place it as a counter to the Lord of the Flies. In Takami’s novel, it is the presence of authority that forces the teenagers to kill one another; in Golding’s, it is the absence of it. Both have a rather pessimistic, cynical approach to humanity and I rather hope that we are – as humans – better than that, but I suppose that is the Apologist in me.


Battle Royale was tremendously controversial when it first appeared. It even prompted debates in the Diet and calls for it to be banned – but it has been hugely influential (even if Takami hasn’t released any novels since then). If it reminds you of the plot of The Hunger Games, then you wouldn’t be the first to note that comparison (Suzanne Collins insists that she was unaware of the similarities between the two), and it has been cited as a direct inspiration for everything from Fortnite to Squid Game.


As it happens, I feel the work that draws upon Battle Royale the most effectively is the Danganronpa series of video games and anime; there’s no honour or trust in either of them – but both are great examples of how one can use an alternate history to say something quite deep about the nature of our own humanity.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

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

I am also going to cheat a bit here and go for an alternative comic continuity – Mark Millar’s Superman: Red Son. I say this is a cheat because if there’s one thing one associates with the DC Universe, it’s treating continuity as a bit of an optional extra. There’s all the various alternate universes and retcons and the like that it baffles me to the extent that I have, surprisingly, never really been a massive devotee of the American comic behemoths (I do, of course, love manga, stand-alone graphic novels, Franco-Belgian comics and the like. It’s just the DC/Marvels of the world that intimidate me!)


Red Son is great – even for someone like myself who only has a tangential knowledge of the Superman mythos. It has a very obvious point of divergence: “What if Kal-El’s spaceship crashed in a Ukrainian collective farm, rather than a homestead in Kansas?” Well, the obvious happens and you have him growing up as a stalwart supporter of Marxism-Leninism, the Motherland, and Uncle Joe himself. I actually like the take here that it would, of course, result in a massive amount of geo-political upheaval even more acute than the Space Race did – the Americans need to have a superhero of their own, and they find it in the smartest man in the country, Lois Lane’s husband, Lex Luthor.


I quite like that we’ve seen some very good takes on an alternate Cold War in the media recently that goes beyond “the nukes start flying” stuff. For All Mankind has been especially gripping, and even a clearly fantastical idea like competing superheroes is a means to tell a very human, reflective story.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

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

I had a lot of thoughts about this. Tilly’s Cohesion, Capital and the European States got me into economic history, Rick Peristein’s four-part series on the rise of modern American Conservatism is magnificent, and I’d struggle to think of a better history of the modern Far East than Jansen’s The Making of Modern Japan, (Jack, are you just dropping the name of heavy-set books to try and make yourself more intellectual? Yes, voice inside my head, I am!) but – with all that – I think I would have to go for James Billington’s The Icon and the Axe. It was published in 1966 but still stands up as the definitive English-language history of Russian culture. It is a dense work at times (I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as an introduction to the history of that vast and at times baffling country, I’d probably go for Pipes’ Russia Under the Old Regime for that), but it does a superb job of getting to grips with what makes a nation what it is, beyond simply military reach or political dominance.


It is a history book that avoids any efforts at being reductionist. The two namesake symbols of the book, the icon and the axe, are not presented as being diametrically opposed or contradictory, but rather signs of the earthy and the spiritual, the mundane and the beautiful, but – of course – they aren’t set in their ways. Axes can be used to delicately shape wood whilst icons can rally and energise warriors on the battlefield.


Moving on, those are your books. Music. What AH music would you like to have with you?

This is a very good question. My taste in music is fairly archaic and I fear that I’d struggle to really burnish my credentials as much as some of the earlier castaways.


There’s no shortages of artists I like who died young and would have done far more works had they lived longer. For example, my favourite composer is probably Schubert (died aged 31) and then the multitude of other who also passed away at an early age (Mozart, obviously, and also Bizet, Mendelssohn, Kallikov, and Gershwin all departed this Earth before they reached 40). Ignoring all the hypotheticals, I’ve only considered pieces of music that we have evidence for actually being at least drafted.


I nearly went for Alexander Scriabin’s Mysterium, but the whole project as envisioned was so supremely odd (it was intended as a synesthetic work, involving live smells and physical objects to touch as well as music, and be held in the Hindu Kush over the course of a week, after which the world was meant to end. Scriabin was an ‘interesting’ chap) that I think I’m pushing the logistics of what Lavender Island would be able to accommodate.


So, with that in mind, I’d like to go for a recording of Shostakovich and Mariengof’s Katyusha Maslova – a draft opera based on Leo Tolstoy’s Resurrection. As with so much of the music of the Stalinist period, it presents a wonderful case of how creatives struggled to meet the all-encompassing censorship of the period. Tolstoy’s novel is full of the novelist’s Anarcho-Christian philosophy, which naturally didn’t have a great reputation at the height of the Stalin regime, so the whole project got binned. It would be wonderful to hear what may have come of it.


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

I was tempted to do a Terry Pratchett and ask for Tatlin’s Tower, but I think I’d get bored of it after a while, and I suspect it would be rather hurricane prone.


I would go pretty crackers without being able to unwind after a hard day of doing absolutely nothing, so I would like a large case of first-growth Pinot Grand Fenwick from Leonard Wibberely’s masterful comic novels.


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

I’m sure my long-suffering partner would appreciate some time away from me, but I’d be missing her terribly.


That said, I am one of life’s introverts, so I think I could manage the solitude for at least a couple of weeks, and I’m surprisingly practical with regard to maintenance and minor repairs, so hopefully I’d be able to set up some rudimentary shelter. I also like cooking very much, and whilst I feel that I could quite happily give up meat, I would find it very difficult to give up fish, so I’d have an incentive to learn how to use a rod properly.




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