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The Alternate Lavender Island: Matt Mitrovich

Marooned Guest: Matt Mitrovich

When you think of people it’s always good to be nice to, a judge comes high up on the list. As do lawyers as well, I guess. Our guest today is one of the judges for the Sidewise Awards for Alternate History, so those with hopes of winning (like an earlier guest, Matthew Kresal ) should say nice things. Like you always do. Be nice to people, that is.


Matt’s a lawyer based in Chicago, I understand, in addition to being an author and a former editor of the Alternate History Weekly Update. His main current involvement with alternate history is his Youtube channel The Alternate Historian [2]. His current project for this is a plausibility review of the setting of Call of Duty: Ghosts, which I suspect that I might find fascinating.


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

Well, if I am going to be stuck on an island for a while, I probably will need books that I not only enjoy, but that I might need to reread again. So, I am drawing from a pile of books I’ve already read more than once.


So, to begin with, I’d have to read In the Presence of Mine Enemies by the master himself Harry Turtledove. (Review by Colin Salt Here - Spoilers warning). It’s actually an expanded version from a short story of his of the same name. It is set in a timeline where the Nazis won WWII and the first chapter/short story follows a family in Berlin gathering for dinner where they are about to tell a secret to a young family member who has just come of age.


I can’t say more than that without spoiling what the secret is, but I loved the original short story and how it showed there is always hope even in the darkest times. To be frank, the novel version is... okay. There are certainly better Turtledove novels, but there is something that always keeps bringing me back to it.


And I might need a little hope as I wait for a rescue, right?

Picture courtesy Amazon.

And the second AH book you’ve selected?

Going with a classic of the genre: Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore. I read this when my interest (obsession?) in alternate history really took off and I still think about it often. I even did a video on it.


And believe me when I say this: I hate American Civil War alternate histories. They are generally poorly researched, derivative, and appeal to the wrong crowd. But Bring the Jubilee is at its heart a satire of America, which is something people miss when reading it. In fact, I would even argue it has retroactively become a satire of alternate history itself given how many ideas from it get repeated again and again (and again) unironically by creators in the genre.


So, when I need a good chuckle as I spend another night on this deserted island, this might be the book I pick up.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

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

This might be cheating a bit, but for my next book I would need to go with Dies the Fire by SM Stirling. I say it’s cheating because I know Uchronia describes the books and its sequels as “either not allohistorical or are ‘border line’,” but I disagree. The book was published in 2004, but has a 1998 point of divergence.


To me, Dies the Fire is the perfect ASB (Alien Space Bats) forum book. Back when I spent a lot of time in online alternate history forums, the ASB section was always the place I preferred to hang out. I love how people would ask outlandish what-ifs, but nevertheless all of the participants in the replies took it dead seriously. And Dies the Fire’s setting (where gunpowder, electricity, and other types of technology stop working) is a perfect book for that kind of world building.


Plus, while the aftermath of “the Change” is apocalyptic, the book isn’t that pessimistic. We don’t focus on those about to die, but rather on those who are going to build anew. And while maintaining my hope on this godforsaken island is important... I might need some help adjusting to my current technological-less existence.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

Can you talk about your fourth book?

Well, I got away with a little cheating, so how about a bigger cheat: Fitzpatrick’s War by Theodore Judson. This is not an alternate history, since it’s set primarily in the future, but I think it deserves the title of “honorary”. For example, the world has a steampunk-esque tech, there are historical parallels with Victorian Britain and Alexander the Great, tons of your favourite alternate history tropes, and it has a unique storytelling style that I wish more authors would emulate.


Basically, it is a former soldier’s memoir that is being annotated by a professor in the author’s future. The narrator is telling us his version of the life of Lord Isaac Prophet Fitzpatrick as someone who actually knew the man, while the future professor (in the introduction, afterword, and footnotes) is telling us the “official history” of Lord Fitzpatrick.


It is a great way to use fiction to remind us that what we think happened in the past is not always backed up by the accounts of people who were there. Also, I may need to remind myself that I should not attempt to... exaggerate my own hardships on this island as it will probably be more like Cast Away than Lord of the Flies.


I am no longer talking to Steve the Coconut.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

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

OK, enough cheating. For my last book I’m going with In His Majesty’s Service by Naomi Novik ... which collects the first three novels of the Temeraire series (ok, just a little bit more cheating).


And while I have my issues with the series overall (Naomi stomps on a lot of butterflies to get this world to work), sometimes you just want to go on adventures with dragons during the Napoleonic Wars. And the friendship between Captain Laurence and the dragon Temeraire is adorable.


To be honest, I haven’t actually reread any of the Temeraire books yet, but I’ve been meaning to return to some of my favourites to see if they hold up. When I first started reading them I became so obsessed I sped through the entire series. And since it looks like I suddenly have a lot of free time, my involuntary tropical vacation might be a good time to start again.

Picture courtesy Amazon.

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

Well, even when marooned on an island, I will probably have a hard time relaxing so I might as well get some work done.


I have Mark Gregory Pegg’s A Most Holy War on my to-be read pile. I have been planning a video on the Cathars ever since I learned about the debate happening among historians that they might not be “real”. I mean, historians aren’t arguing things like the Albigensian Crusade didn’t happen, but rather that the reasons it happened may have been more akin to the Salem Witch Trials or the Satanic Panic of the 1980s.


If true, that could be an interesting challenge when it comes to changing history. Unfortunately, I am not sure if I was marooned with a notepad....


I think it would be unkind to maroon writers without a notepad and pencil, at the very least. Of course, we’ll expect some writing at the end of your stay. Moving on, those are your books. Music. What AH music would you like to have with you?

Well, I would like an album of jazz music from the France in Alastair Reynold’s Century Rain. In that timeline, the German attack through the Ardennes fails and Hitler is overthrown shortly after.


I mean, it’s hard to truly describe music with words, but ever since I read that book I’ve wondered what it sounded like.


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

Is it too much to ask for a fully decked out luxury airship? I mean, come on. I’ve read so many books that feature top-of-the-line commercial airships that I’ve always wanted to ride in one. And hey, that might be a fitting end to my time on the island. A passing airship that slid into our timeline sees my HELP sign made out of rocks on the beach and takes me back home before an Einstein-Rosen-Podolsky Bridge sends them back home (or at least, to a new Earth).


I look forward to reading that story. I’m sure you’ll write it up when you get back. Those are all your items. How well do you think you will cope on Lavender Island?

I hope I could keep a stiff upper lip and all that. I have some experience with wilderness survival from my time in the Boy Scouts and I’m a pretty self-reliant kind of guy. Still, I’d miss my wife and family a lot. That might be the hardest part because I’d be more worried about them than myself!!



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