80 Days by Meg Jayanth

For the final entry in our series of alternate history fiction, we’re doing something a little different. 80 Days is an interactive fiction game developed by Inkle Studios and written by Meg Jayanth. It is available for iOS, Android, and on Windows and Mac OSX. More information is avaliable here.

  My master returned home from the Reform Club with a strange gleam in his eye.
“Passepartout,” said he. “We are going around the world! Pack my evening jacket. There is not a moment to waste!”

Most people will be familiar with Jules Verne’s classic novel, Around the World in 80 days, in which Phileas Fogg and his valet Passepartout attempt to travel around the world in 80 days, and only just make it due to some international date-line shenanigans. 80 days is an interactive fiction game, based on the novel, where you play Passepartout, responsible for deciding the route, managing the money, keeping Fogg comfortable and trying not to wander into too many dangerous situations.

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Farthing by Jo Walton

image“I’m sure you know what I want to talk to you about, Luce,” he started.
I nodded. “David,” I said. “I love him, Daddy, and I want to marry him.”
“David Kahn,” Daddy had said, as if the words left a bad taste in his mouth.
I started to say something feeble in David’s defense, but Daddy held up a hand. “I already know what you’re going to say, so save your breath. He was born in England, he’s a war hero, his family are very wealthy. I could counter with the fact that he was educated on the Continent, he’s a Jew, and not one of us.”
“I was just going to say we love each other,” I said, with as much dignity as I could manage.

Lucy Kahn, née Eversley, is the daughter of one of the most powerful politicans in England. Her father is a member of the Farthing set, who collectively negotiated peace with Hitler in 1942. Persona non grata with her family since her marriage to a Jewish man, she is nevertheless invited to a family country house party with her husband, David. Over the course of a weekend, a guest is murdered, and as the motive appears to be a Jewish revenge, David is the main suspect.

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The Female Man by Joanna Russ

imageMC: Don’t you want men to return to Whileaway, Miss Evason?
Janet: Why?
MC: One sex is half a species, Miss Evason. I am quoting (and he cited a famous anthropologist). Do you want to banish sex from Whileaway?
Janet (with massive dignity and complete naturalness): Huh?
MC: I said: Do you want to banish sex from Whileaway? Sex, family, love, erotic attraction — call it what you like — we all know that your people are competent and intelligent individuals, but do you think that’s enough? Surely you have the intellectual knowledge of biology in other species to know what I’m talking about.
Janet: I’m married. I have two children. What the devil do you mean?

Three women meet, DNA analogues of each other from parallel universes. Jeannine is from a reality where America never recovered from the Great Depression, where the Second World War never happened, and so there has been no economic growth and corresponding women’s liberation. Joanna is the author herself, living in our reality, frustrated with having to behave like a man in order to achieve any professional respect. Janet is from the planet Whileaway, many centuries into Earth’s future, where men all died in a plague in the distant past and so society is made up of only women.

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Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey

imageSo that is what I am, then, my child-self thought; a whore’s unwanted get.
‘It is not–‘ My mother’s voice trembled.
‘It is my offer.’ The ancient voice was pitiless. She will sell me to this cruel old woman, I thought, and experienced a thrill of terror.
Is it any wonder, then, that I became what I did? Delaunay maintains that it was ever my destiny, and perhaps he is right, but this I know is true: When Love cast me out, it was Cruelty who took pity on me.

When still a child, Phèdre nó Delauney is sold into the service of the Night Court, the legendary pleasure houses of Terre D’Ange. Little does she know that the flaw that marks her out, the spot of red in her eye, is in fact the legendary mark of an anguisette, one who is destined to find sexual pleasure in pain. Armed with this remarkable talent, she enters the household of a mysterious nobleman, who trains her to be his personal spy. Soon she is part of the glittering Terre D’Ange court, but when she uncovers a plot that threatens her homeland, and is betrayed into captivity, she must risk everything to save the land she loves.

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Romanitas by Sophia McDougall

This post was inspired by the recent Nine Worlds convention, where my favourite panel was on Historical Headcanons. One interesting thing we learnt was just how close Rome came to having an industrial revolution, and after that I thought “wouldn’t that be a cool premise for an alternate history?”, and later that day I happened to pick up Romanitas!

imageThe Sacred Way, cleared for the procession to pass, closed inexorably behind it, like a syringe filling with black ink.
The mourners were not all from Rome or even from Italy. From all across the Empire, they ad come: from Mexica, India, Gothia, Gaetulia — so many thousands who must have had to struggle for time, and the cost of travel, and beds in Rome, so that they could cut themselves free to be sucked here as on an inward tide. Here, at the very centre of it, Leo and Clodia lay.

It’s 2004, and the Roman Empire has never fallen. In London, Una, a young slave who can hear the thoughts of those around her, is watching an Imperial funeral on a giant TV screen, and planning the rescue of her brother Sulien, a convicted slave due to be crucified in the morning. Meanwhile, the heir to the Roman empire, Marcus Novius, is about to learn that the recent car accident that killed his parents may not have been an accident after all, and his life is now in danger. All three characters must go on the run, trying to find a haven for escaped slaves hidden in the Pyrenees.

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Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle

imageNo-one bothered to give her a name until she was two years old. Up until then, as she toddled between the mercenaries’ campfires scrounging food, suckling bitch-hounds’ teats, and sitting in the dirt, she had been called Mucky-pup, Grubby-face, and Ashy-arse. When her hair fined up from a nondescript light brown to a white blonde it was ‘Ashy’ that stuck. As soon as she could talk, she called herself Ash.

I’m starting my season of alternate history books with a heavyweight of the genre, and I mean that both figuratively and literally, since this book is 1100 pages long! Nonetheless, Ash isn’t just a fun adventure story in an alternate history setting (although it is one of those!), it’s also about how history is written, recorded and passed down, and the incredible luck that means certain events are somehow known to us, instead of being lost in the intervening centuries.

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