Tag: Alternate History

Without Warning by John Birmingham

Posted April 3, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Thriller / 0 Comments

Without Warning by John BirminghamTitle: Without Warning (Goodreads)
Author: John Birmingham
Series: The Disappearance #1
Published: Del Rey, 2008
Pages: 560
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: Personal Copy

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On the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 14 March 2003 and in a time of uncertainty and financial crisis, a wave of energy has fallen over America. The United States as we know it is gone. The soldiers are left to fight a war without command, the line of succession go so far back that it falls to the governments in Pearl Harbor, Guantánamo Bay, and a very isolated corner of the north east. What will the world be like now the last superpower has disappeared?

Without Warning is the first book in the disappearance series by John Birmingham and is an alternate history/political thriller/action novel that tries to look at what the world would be like if America just disappears. But does it work? For me, I think the book just follows all the clichés found in a thriller and while it tries to do something completely different. The blending of Alternative history just never seemed to work.

Don’t get me wrong; I think John Birmingham is a great writer with some interesting ideas, but I guess mainstream novels don’t work for me. While I do try, and have, enjoyed novels like this. I tend to think there is something missing. The book felt very Americanised, even trying to imitate people like Tom Clancy and if you are into that type of book, I’m sure you would enjoy Without Warning.

I tried really hard to get into this novel, but with so main false starts and the forcing myself to finish this novel, I just never enjoyed it. I was tempted not to review this novel because I’m not sure if I have anything constructive to say, but in the interest of showing my full reading journey I forced myself.

Without Warning did have a lot of pop culture references which I do enjoy and the idea of losing the last super power was well thought out, but in the end this just wasn’t a book for me. I remember reading Tom Clancy when I was a young and enjoying it but I don’t think I would now. Maybe this is a book for a younger me and for people that just want pure escapism into a world of action.


Soulless by Gail Carriger

Posted November 22, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Romance, Science Fiction / 0 Comments

Soulless by Gail CarrigerTitle: Soulless (Goodreads)
Author: Gail Carriger
Series: Parasol Protectorate #1
Published: Orbit, 2009
Pages: 365
Genres: Romance, Science Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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Alexia Tarabotti may only be a spinster with no soul but when a she is so rudely attacked by a pack of vampires she discovers just how useful being soulless is. With the ability to negate supernatural powers, she is asked by Lord Maccon, who has been sent by Queen Victoria to investigate what is actually happening with London’s high society. Soulless is a book on social etiquette with a mixture of steampunk, werewolves, vampires, and tea-drinking.

Admittedly, this is not something I would normally read but the mixture of steampunk and Victorian high society did seem to appeal to me. However I was reluctant to try something that sounded very much like paranormal romance. Being a literary explorer, sometimes you just have to suck it up and read something way out of your comfort zone. I know I haven’t read many chick lit/romance novels so I thought maybe it was time to give Soulless ago.

One thing I did enjoy about this book was the Victorian elements; Gail Carriger is an archaeologist and it feels like she has taken all the elements from Victorian literature and society, mixed it with her love of science fiction and formed what she likes to call Urbane Fantasy. The Victorian and steampunk elements really help drive this book for me; although I’m sure Jane Austin would be shocked to read this book.

Then you have the werewolves, vampires and the soulless which I really did hate, I would have much rather read a book like this without paranormal elements and maybe replacing it with a mystery element. That way everything plot wise could still work barring some minor changes. But I have to accept paranormal novels are big sellers and they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. It just doesn’t work for me; I don’t think I can continue the series.

Overall this book felt too predictable with the romance and the rest was just too cutesy. I like that this novel had a strong heroine like Alexia but there was too much of a struggle between what I liked and hated to really enjoy this book in any form. I know there is a lot of love for this series out there and I’m sorry to say I wasn’t able to love this book. I was glad it was a quick read. There is a lot of wit and humour in this novel but it wasn’t enough. I’m not going to continue this series but I might give one of Gail Carriger’s Etiquette and Espionage a go, even if it is set in the same universe, it does look interesting.


11/22/63 by Stephen King

Posted November 21, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Science Fiction / 5 Comments

11/22/63 by Stephen KingTitle: 11/22/63 (Goodreads)
Author: Stephen King
Published: Scribner, 2011
Pages: 849
Genres: Science Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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Jake is a recently divorced high school teacher who finds himself time traveling to 1958. Fascinated by the chance to live his life in what feels like a much simpler time without mobile phones and the internet, Jake decides to live a life that transgresses all the normal rules. He makes his home in 1958, gets a job he enjoys, falls in love with the beautiful librarian and tries to live the ultimate American dream. But he is also obsessed with making the world right, most importantly trying to stop a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. But does Jake know just how much the world would change if he stops the Kennedy assassination?

I’ll be honest with you, I’ve not read much by Stephen King before, two books in fact (one of those was On Writing). I went into this book expecting a novel about time travel and the effects of changing the past would have. I also expected some weird plot with supernatural or horror elements but that’s just what I expect from King. What I got was something a lot different; this was more of a “what if?” novel. King explores his own thoughts of alternate history and time travel but he doesn’t really stop with that.

Possibly the most unexpected part of this novel was the character building and living life in the late fifties and sixties. King does an interesting job at telling a story of living in the era but in his own unique way by making the protagonist feel out of his element. The whole idea of living life in a time you are not from and finding someone in that time that could possibly be your soul mate. That was not what I thought King would write about but he did a great job building a memorable story around what he wanted to talk about.

Sure, some people are going to want him to skip all the normal life stuff and get to the time travel and alternate history aspects but I found it enjoyable leading up to it. It’s no Mad Men with the characters and life in the sixties but I did enjoy reading it. It’s a huge book and it could have been trimmed but if I was the one to take out elements I probably would have taken out the time travel. Then the book wouldn’t have worked as well.

I’m very interested in that time period, but I would have either preferred a more Mad Men style novel or more noir style with the war on organised crime and those dodgy back door deals made by the FBI. It did end out being a very interesting novel; it definitely surpassed my expectations and turned into a good read. Stephen King is a good story teller but there was not much to love about the prose and style but overall it was worth the read.


The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

Posted September 4, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime, Science Fiction / 0 Comments

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael ChabonTitle: The Yiddish Policemen's Union (Goodreads)
Author: Michael Chabon
Published: Harper Collins, 2007
Pages: 414
Genres: Crime, Science Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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Many people seem to enjoy Michael Chabon’s books so I was pleased when I finally had a reason to read The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. In the dark Alaskan winter in the city of Sitka, Detective Meyer Landsman’s ex-wife has just become his boss and has handing him a huge stack of old cold cases that she wants him to solve. While Landsman life may feel like it’s already hit rock bottom, he’s only just discovering the mess that he’s in; a mess that will lead to a conspiracy.

This alternative version of Sitka, Alaska in this book is a Yiddish-speaking metropolis. That was the whole basis of this book; Michael Chabon’s idea came from a book he found called ‘Say It in Yiddish’ which had sayings that he would never have a chance to use because Yiddish isn’t the primary language of any country. While toying with the idea of a hypothetical Yiddish-speaking country this book was born. The idea was Israel lost the 1948 war; the Jews established a Jewish state in Alaska.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is an interesting blend of Michael Chabon’s heritage with a love of old mystery novels. Chabon has called it a homage to Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald and Isaac Babel. But while the noir stylings of this book are good this book also has a satirical nature about it, with a comic look at the Yiddish language and Jewish culture. Michael Chabon originally published an essay called Guidebook to a Land of Ghosts; which he discussed some thoughts he had of the travel book Say It in Yiddish, this essay was responded with a spiteful reaction from a Jewish community. This vitriolic response only spurred Chabon on and eventually he developed the idea of this book.

While there was some parts of the book that felt like it dragged on, over all the balance between the comical and the noir seemed to work. There are some great line coming from thing book; a highlight for me was “He feels like he suffers from tinnitus of the soul.” I was really surprised with just how well the dark and gritty mystery mixed with Chabon’s satirical style. I liked the whole concept of a Jewish noir novel; it was a refreshing take on a genre that I love. Well worth checking out this alternate history novel as it is one of the best I’ve read. I hear that the Coen Brothers are looking at adapting this book into a movie; if anyone could do this book justice as a movie, it would definitely be them. I’d be interested to see if this movie ever gets made and how it translates onto the screen.