I generally enjoy alternate history. There is a lot of creative stuff out there, mostly in the form of short story collections. Exploring the concept that Elvis could have been a Communist was a good one (Walter Jon Williams’ “Red Elvis” in Alternate Outlaws) or what if the Kennedy’s had been a rock band instead of the Beatles can be amusing. Ghandi as a God of War? Equally amusing. For the most part, however, I get bored with the usual offerings that are overly-enthralled with dealing with proscribed regimes like Nazi Germany and the Confederate States of America. Frankly, I can’t stomach yet another take on how the world would look under Nazi Germany. And, as usual, the Cold War is underrepresented in this genre in favour of the endless outpourings of Team Turtledove and the mammoth yet relentless exploration of the south-versus north in the 1930s. Note that I do not necessarily include the techno-thriller genre as alternate history.
Vent complete. On to the positive.
I think that the best alternate Cold War history out there is Brendan DuBois’s 1999 novel Resurrection Day. This book is a fantastically detailed adventure through a diminished but not destroyed United States ten years after the Cuban Crisis goes nuclear. Vietnam vet Carl Landry is a newspaper reporter in Boston, a “quota baby” who got his job out of veteran’s preference legislation. This alternate reality’s Vietnam vets, however, came home right after the Cuban War and thus the destructive 1960s conflict did not happen: but a more malevolent and decisive one did…..the real combat veterans are the ones that survived Soviet tactical nuclear weapons directed at their landings on Cuba when they tried to remove nuclear missiles. Throughout the land is graffiti insisting “He Lives!” that JFK is still alive somewhere, while the official line from the Rockefeller government is that he died distraught and on his knees in the White House as the missiles came in.
The book is in some ways absolutely subtly chilling.
The plotline is a little too close to Harris’ Fatherland in that there is a group of old men being hunted down by the regime they served because they know too much and the Holy Grail is a tin full of documents that will expose everything. That said, the idea that JFK’s Cabinet and the CIA could have been held responsible for attacking Cuba and then have their survivors tried by the remains of the US military in Nuremburg-like trials is an interesting take. And to have Operation MONGOOSE and the other CIA covert activities used as evidence against said politicos and spooks is equally intriguing.
General Curtis LeMay is thinly disguised as General Ramsey “The Rammer” Curtis: I’m not sure why DuBois had to do this exactly, probably some ridiculous legal reason. The Rammer is malevolent on a part time basis but at the same time is not some cartoon villain. For example, we learn that he was able to achieve a stand down with his Soviet counterparts before the United States was too badly damaged and the civil rights era is jump started by his insistence that prejudice be eliminated in the new America. However, in a climactic confrontation scene in his study Landry notices that part of Curtis’s ‘I Love Me Wall’ consists of a fused fragment from the Kremlin recovered by a SAC radiological survey team, placed in a glass brick and labeled “Peace is Our Profession.” He nearly woofs his cookies.
DuBois depiction of a nearly dead New York in many ways reminds me of Sarajevo in the early 1990s. The UN buildings, destroyed by a mob, are fenced off and rotting away.
The post-Cuban War period is infected not with an anti-war movement (there is nobody left to fight, really….except the restored British empire that is benevolently extending its economic hand to the United States…and not without strings) but an anti-draft movement that is a passive aggressive muted hollow of what we are familiar with, the 1960s Youthquake, sullenly protesting the de facto national security state tat puts them into decontamination work camps in the destroyed areas of the country if they don’t join the armed forces. Anti-draft posters depicting B-52s nuc’ing Soviet civilians have a caricature of General Curtis leaning out the window exclaiming, “Sorry ‘bout that….” Of course the entire Soviet Union is wiped off the face of the earth by SAC. SAC’s personnel are treated as war criminals in other countries if they leave the confines of the United States.
I also like DuBois attention to detail. His depiction of the interception of the nuclear attack against New York City is technologically accurate. He certainly has done his research regarding RCAF Trenton and Plattsburg AFB.
The treatment of NATO is a little cursory. In the novel NATO collapses and doesn’t get attacked by the Soviets (except West Berlin, which is taken and all of the allied personnel disappear never to be seen again). USAF fighter-bombers conduct their nuclear strikes into the Warsaw Pact and then exfiltrate on foot. Given the integration that existed between RAF Bomber Command and SAC and NATO plans, it is unlikely that they would have remained unscathed by the 400+ Soviet IRBM/MRBM missiles in Belorussia. But maybe SAC and the USN Polaris submarines would have been that good….
Well-written, and well thought through. A book that deserves to be read.