V-S Day: A Novel of Alternate History
Sidewise Award nominee
There’s really nothing quite so awkward as complaining about the book you’re reading, and realizing that, in point of fact, you’re just a moron.
It’s an extra-special feeling when you have an undergraduate degree in history and the bits you’re failing are… well, historical facts, you know, that you should KNOW.
So, I’m reading Allen Steel’s V-S Day, which is an alternate history where, for reasons, the space race starts during World War II and it’s between the Nazis and the Allies, but specifically the United States. Like the idiot I am, I’m sitting on my parent’s porch complaining that I don’t understand what happened to Russia, like, didn’t they do the whole first into space thing? Sputnik?
Immediately, I get the, “Are you serious?” glare and the admonishment of, “Didn’t you get a degree in history?” And, I’m all, uh…. look, I kind of just followed Professor Nelson around because I liked his stories about classical Greece and Rome, okay?! My real degree is in English and I’m not really into the whole WWII scene, all right? I mean, I remember having to suffer through at least one required course on the world wars, but I survived that by memorizing for the test and then jettisoning all that information immediately afterwards.
My father, a college professor, patiently explains that, as everyone knows, Russia and America built their space programs off the work of German scientists, like Wernher von Braun. My wife, the traitor, sits next to him, nodding along. I glance at my book and flip through and suddenly realize, oh, so I’m supposed to KNOW that Wernher von Braun was a real person? I flip back a few pages and says, “Okay, am so… am I supposed to have heard of Robert Goddard?”
They both stare at me in absolute horror at this point and I realize that maybe, just maybe, alternate history is not a genre for me.
I am happy to note that I did, in point of fact, notice the cameo by Ian Fleming. I even knew he really was in MI-5 during WWII and a naval Lieutenant Commander, like his fictional character James Bond.
But, really, that’s all I got.
This is why I consistently fail alternate history. I never know which parts are alternate because my grasp on history is tenuous at best. Now, deviate a millisecond from canon from, say, Star Wars, and I will call you out with citations and quotes and interviews given in obscure magazines, etc., but actual history? Uh, yeah… nope. I got nothing.