The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories
Edited by Ian Watson and Ian Whates
Robinson £7.99, 592 pages
FT Bookshop price: £6.39

“For want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost ... ” and so on along the chain of consequences until you win second prize at Thermopylae or Waterloo. But what if a nail had been found? So runs the “alternative history” strand of science fiction, though, as the intro to this entertaining collection notes, such counterfactuals attract academic scrutiny too.

Stories range in period from about AD30 (Eugene Byrne and Kim Newman’s gruesome “The Wandering Christian” sees Christianity fail to take off) to the 27th century (Robert Silverberg’s “Tales from the Venia Woods” posits an enduring Roman Empire). The mood, meanwhile, flits between the whimsical, such as James Morrow’s “The Raft of the Titanic”, and the grave: in Kim Stanley’s “The Lucky Strike” the Enola Gay crashes on its test flight. Keith Roberts’ darkly elegant “Weinachtsabend”, set in a Vichy Britain, stands out.

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