The most intriguing alternate history we've heard of in ages

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Plenty of alternate history books focus on World War II, but a new series coming in 2011 goes one better. Because World War II played out differently, the Cold War is very different. Including spy cyborgs and super-enhanced terrorists.


We were excited when we saw last week that author George Almasi had sold the first two books in a series about an alternate Cold War to Random House's Bantam/Spectra imprint. Alternate history is always an exciting prospect — but we don't see enough alternate histories of the Cold War, with all of its complex brinkmanship and espionage. The first book, Blades of Winter, comes out in the fall of 2011 and the second book, Circle of Zion, comes out later.

So we were dying to find out exactly how Almasi's alternate Cold War, between the U.S., Germany, China and Russia, takes place. We got in touch with him, and here's what he told us:

I could talk about the alt-history in Blades of Winter for, oh... let's see, forever! But let's start with the basic timeline:

1933: Hitler appointed Chancellor of Germany, the same as reality.
1939: Germany invades Poland, the same as reality.
1940: Germany invades France and Western Europe, the same as reality.

(1st major hinge)
1941: Germany wins the Battle of Britain and invades England in Operation Sea Lion. This was an actual, planned invasion across the English Channel, but in reality the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) was unable to gain the necessary air superiority that would allow the German Navy (Kriegsmarine) to cross the English Channel. The reason
the Luftwaffe failed was that they switched from bombing British air fields to bombing British cities. This was bad for urban Britishers but very good for England because it allowed the RAF to survive. My alt-history changes this slightly, so that Goering's Luftwaffe continues to destroy RAF bases until they have control of the skies over England.

By conquering England, the Germans effectively block American involvement in the war in Europe. Yes, the U.S. could still invade Africa (Operation Torch), but a full-scale invasion of Europe would require a much better base of operations than Morocco. Plus, after Pearl Harbor, (which still happens on 7 December, 1941, the same as reality), the Americans have their hands full in the Pacific.

1942: Hitler proposes Operation Barbarossa - the invasion of Russia - to his General Staff. The Generals are appalled at the concept, as the vastness of Russia has thwarted every invasion attempt since 1249, including Napoleon.

(2nd major hinge)
February 1942: Hitler is assassinated by members of the Black Orchestra, which includes Generals from the Army, Admiral Canaris of the Abwehr, and many other civil servants and political activists. This assassination is based on many real attempts to kill Hitler. The difference is that this one actually nails the fucker.

March 1942: The Nazi Party collapses without the hypnotic charisma of Hitler binding its disparate elements and interests together. A period of political chaos ensues, which provides many oppressed people a chance to either relocate within Europe and change their identities, or to escape the Continent altogether.

June 1942: The power vacuum is filled by less radical German parties like the Social Democrats. Control of the war is assumed by the General Staff, who wisely leave Russia alone and instead invade the western half of the Middle East including Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. The planned extermination of the Jews is modified to a program of forced labor that quickly comes to resemble the institutionalized slavery of America's Antebellum South.

1943: Germany declares victory and ends the war in the West.

1943: The United States invades Japan's home islands, ending the war in the East.

1944 - 1951: International tensions repeatedly flare between China, Russia, Germany, and the United States, known collectively as "The Big Four". A massive arms race begins.

1951: The Korean War begins, which happens the same as reality until:

1953: The United States drops the first-ever atomic bomb on a large Chinese military base near Pyongyang in North Korea. China retreats, and the Nuclear Age begins.

What also begins is the sense that waging war in the traditional sense is useless. The Germans and Chinese turn their resources to developing a new kind of soldier, one that can be quietly inserted into enemy territory and thus avoid the mutually assured destruction of an all-out nuclear war.

Over the years, these scientifically enhanced soldiers evolve along two paths. In Germany, the new operatives are modified with mechanical and electronic upgrades which grant them increased durability, speed, and agility. In China, the developers augment their subjects with a suite of chemical enhancements that boost situational awareness, increase pain tolerance, and promote rapid healing.

Once deployed, these German and Chinese agents quickly come to dominate the new clandestine warspace. No longer do countries battle under the sun with vast armadas and hordes of troops. Now they clash in the shadows and then disappear like ink on velvet.

The United States loses much ground to this new breed of super-spy, until one American intelligence officer tries a radical experiment. He combines the two competing technologies, Modifications and Enhancements, and creates a group of field agents with capabilities an order of magnitude beyond anything ever seen before. Their level of ability is so high that they are simply known as "Levels." One of these amazing Levels is Philip Nico, who - until he disappears on a mission - is considered the greatest field agent in American history.

That is until his incredibly talented daughter, field-named Scarlet, follows in his footsteps. Scarlet is the main protagonist of Blades of Winter, and in the book we follow her adventures and trials as her handlers dispatch her on missions all around the world.

There's a lot more to this alt-history, some of it realized in detail and some of it only loosely conceived. The Cuban Revolution still happens, but in this intensely paranoid world the result is much different. The U.S. is allied with Greater Germany and comes to her aid on occasion, but there are also many tense moments between the two nations. The relationship between Russia and China is quite stormy. They share the longest border on earth and disagree about almost all of it. But together, these two huge countries form the Asian People's Pact, which is mostly defined by its opposition to the Pan-Atlantic Alliance between America and Greater Germany.

I created the alt-history to provide a feasible setting for my main character. I wanted to write a story about a very young and enthusiastic female espionage agent with bionic and biotic enhancements. As stressful as real history has been, our government hasn't had to go to the kind of moral and financial extremes that result in an agent like Scarlet.

It sounds pretty amazing. We can't wait until fall 2011!

Top image: The cover art of the album Klaus Schultze: Cyborg.


Corpore Metal

This is only vaguely related to the subject at hand but—

You know, I'd like to see some alternate histories based on turning points in precolonial African history. Has IO9 done this yet?

I think I mentioned this desire here before a couple years ago.

There was some bits in the movie "White Man's Burden" that seemed to indicate a rise of African nations to global dominance rather than European ones, but it really wasn't explored. The topsy-turvy world of Black dominance of the United States basically took place in a total historical vacuum and I think the film suffered for it.

Maybe Jared Diamond's geographical determinism—assuming there is any substance to it—might make it very hard for Africa to rise before Europe but it is a largely unexplored area of history that is ripe for SF writers to step and try and build something plausible in terms of alternate history.

I've even found my own rather obscure turning point in the history of the XXV Dynasty of Egypt which I've been playing idly for years to base a story on. (Sigh. I'm such a lazy bastard.)

Maybe someone should compile a list of stories for us to all read on this subject. I know I'd appreciate it.