Category Archives: Alternate History

Vietnam War Fantastic

I got the idea to write this post from watching Ken Burn’s latest documentary The Vietnam War. In the past, for reasons unknown, I never had any interest in the Vietnam War even though I have some vague memories of its aftereffects (the war ended in 1975, I was born in 1984) thanks to the pop culture of the ’80s and early ’90s. I also remember as a child seeing legless Vietnamese/Cambodian men in wheelchairs due to left over land mines from that war.

But until Burns’ series, I never had any interest in the Vietnam War. Maybe because it was too long (it lasted from 1955-1975, 20 years total), too bloody and too divisive, so divisive in the US (and Vietnam of course) that you could say the ’60s was the second Civil War. To this very day, the war still is still a sensitive subject – just ask any baby boomer.

And maybe its controversial nature is why authors tend to shy away from the Vietnam War as a setting for works of SF, fantasy and horror. But there are exceptions. Eleven of them to be exact, and they range from short stories to an award-winning classic novel. So pop in your favorite ’60s/’70s rock album (I suggest The Best of the Guess Who because of course I do) and peruse this list of fantastical works set during a war that changed America (and Vietnam) forever.

Short Stories

“Fellow Americans” by Eileen Gunn (From the anthology Alternate Presidents)

Lyndon B. Johnson – commonly known as LBJ – loses the 1964 election to Barry Goldwater, who, as president, drops nuclear weapons on Vietnam, thus winning the war. Goldwater wins a second term in 1968 and serves as POTUS until 1973. Oh and Richard Nixon quit politics and became a talk show host.

“Suppose They Gave a Peace” by Susan Shwartz (also from Alternate Presidents and The Way It Wasn’t)

George McGovern is elected in 1972 and attempts an immediate withdrawal from the war, but that doesn’t stop the North Vietnamese from advancing towards Saigon.

“Murdering Uncle Ho” by Chris Bunch (from the anthology Alternate Generals III)

JFK survived his assassination, and draws the US deeper into the Vietnam conflict after the Gulf of Tonkin Incident which leads to a North Vietnamese invasion in 1965.

Comics

Watchmen – Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87)

This graphic novel needs no introduction. Ask any comic book nerd about it and they’ll speak in reverential tones about how this series changed the comic book industry for better and for worse. Thanks to the intervention of superheroes – the living weapon Dr. Manhattan in particular (and the Comedian – though he was more of a combatant) – the US won the Vietnam War. But for every action, there’s a reaction…

Spider-‘Nam

This is more of a case of What Could Have Been. James Stokoe wrote and drew a couple of (unpublished) pages imagining Spider-Man as a combatant in the Vietnam War. He learns that the catch-phrase “with great power, comes great responsibility” takes on a whole new meaning during wartime. It appears that this comic wont be published any time soon but if it is, it’ll be the first Spider-Man comic I’d be interested in reading. You can look at the pages here.

Video Games

Shellshock 2: Blood Trails

A 2009 first-person shooter that tells the story of G.I. Private Nate Walker, who is sent to Vietnam in 1969 and learns, to his horror, that a scientist has unleashed a contagion that turns humans into zombie creatures (because zombies and war go together like peanut butter and jelly) which includes his older brother Cal. Your mission is to find Cal in the jungles of Southeast Asia, fight zombies and the Viet Cong, who’d like to get their hands on that virus.

(you will not love the smell of naplam in the morning)

Role-Playing Games

Weird Wars: Tour of Darkness

I’m not good at describing RPGs because I’ve never played them, but I think TV Tropes does a better job summarizing the Weird Wars franchise:

Pinnacle Games published a Weird Wars line of d20 games taking place in Real Life past and future wars with supernatural additions. For example, Weird War II had the PCs playing Allied soldiers during World War II, but the Nazis had mutant soldiers, characters could use haunted vehicles and cast spells, and there were monsters. Lots of monsters. The updated re-release of the game line for Savage Worlds so far includes World War I (“Weird War I”), World War II (“Weird War II”), The Vietnam War (“Tour Of Darkness”), and the Roman Empire and its campaigns of conquest (“Weird Wars Rome”).

And Amazon provides more details:

Our first follow-up to our smash hit Weird Wars in the new Savage Worlds system takes us to the jungles of Vietnam. Your grunt has 365 days and a wake-up to learn what really lurks in the jungle. Surviving is tough enough, but if your GI is really on the ball, he just might get drafted into the super-secret Phoenix Program and discover far more than he ever wanted about the Plain of Jars and the secret cults of the high mountains. Tour of Darkness features new Sanity rules and how to deal with mind-numbing horror, a ton of Edges & Hindrances, new horrors, and an awesome Adventure Generator and Plot Points to tell the most savage of tales!

Novels

The Forever War Joe Haldeman (1975)

Joe Haldeman served in Vietnam as a combat engineer. He expressed his experiences (the terror of combat, the indifference of government bureaucracy, the futility of the war and the sense of coming back to an unrecognizable world) in the military sci-fi award-winning novel The Forever War which tells the story of William Mandella, a UNEF soldier who is drafted into the war between Earth and the Taurans. Fighting an endless war is tough enough but for Mandella and his fellow soldiers, the tougher part is going home…

Television

“In Praise of Pip” – The Twilight Zone, Season 5, Episode 1 (Broadcast date: 9/27/63)

This episode is noted for addressing the Vietnam War long before the anti-war movement came to prominence. A corrupt bookie (Jack Klugman) is shot by one of his clients. He learns before hand that his son was wounded in South Vietnam and prays that God would take his life in exchange for his son’s. But before he dies, he gets one last chance to be a good father…

twilight-zone-season-5-1-in-praise-of-pip-episode-121-jack-klugman-bill-mundy-review-guide-list

A later season 5 episode makes an eerie side reference to Vietnam. “I Am the Night – Color Me Black” tells the story of an innocent man who will be hanged for murder at sunrise. But the sun never rises and the sky stays dark. After the execution, a reverend tells the public that the sky will get blacker and blacker as long as hate persists. But the little town isn’t the only place covered in darkness. Just see for yourself:

Manga

Apocalypse Meow by Motofumi Kobayashi

In Japan this manga goes by a very different title that can’t be repeated here. So in the US its retitled Apocalypse Meow as a play on the famous film Apocalypse Now.

All soldiers are represented as animals – Americans are rabbits, Vietnamese are cats, etc. Three American soldiers – Bota, Perky and Rats – go about their daily activities as members of a reconnaissance group in Vietnam. Click here for more details.

So what do you think, readers? Did I miss something? Should there be more works set during the Vietnam War or should we let sleeping dogs lie? Say your thing, man.

 

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5 Thoughts:”The Man In The High Castle”

 

hcEven though I’ve made some complaints about the book in the past, after buying a copy at the library – for 50¢! – and rereading it the second time, I gotta admit this is a really good book.  Tied with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, it’s one of Dick’s best novels and it’s arguably the best alternate history novel of all time (eat your heart out Harry Turtledove).

Watch out – spoilers about!

You know the story: because America did not get involved in the war effort, the Allied powers lost World War 2. To add insult to injury, the Nazis and Imperial Japanese took over the US and split it in two. The story shows us what American life is like under German/Japanese rule in 1962.

That being said, 5 things went through my mind as I read The Man In the High Castle. 

1. The Parallel World May Not Be So Different From Our World After All

Since most of the story takes place in the Japanese-owned Pacific States of America, it shouldn’t surprise us that there is a racial pecking order: the Japanese are the ruling class, white Americans are second class citizens, other people of color are described as faceless entities – the only time we see any Chinese Americans in the book, they’re pedecab drivers. Another time we see one black person, he’s a slave who has to abide by a curfew because slavery is legal again. One of the characters, Robert Childan, a man who sells old American artifacts to rich Japanese customers, tells us that illicit relationships between Japanese men and white women are commonplace, but it’s never the other way around. Another character, Nobosuke Tagomi, a trade official, walks into a diner, sees a group of white men at a counter and expects them to move from their stools when he tells them to. Sound familiar?

Whether this was Dick’s intention or not, the racism of the alternate timeline is not so different from the racism of our timeline. Just a reversal of skin colors. Even the Nazis’ “ethnic cleansing” of Africa in the book reminds me of Rwanda and Darfur.

2. Juliana Frink is Dick’s Most Interesting Heroine

Well she’s not exactly a “heroine” considering some of the choices she makes in the book. But many of Dick’s later books depict female characters as nothing more than sexual partners – or objects of desire – for the male protagonists. Juliana has affairs with many men but it’s by her choice and from her perspective. She is the only character who sets off on a journey to find the titular character and it’s her alone who finds out the “truth” about Germany and Japan’s “victory” during World War 2. Plus she’s a judo instructor who can take care of herself and who saves the life of Hawthorne Abendsen, the author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.

3. It’s Not “Trippy”

Or as The Verge‘s Adi Robertson puts it, “one of Dick’s less mind-bending books”. Many a complaint has been made from filmmakers that his novels are hard to film – don’t expect a film adaptation of Ubik anytime soon – while those that have been successful, had to take a few liberties with the source material. But The Man In the High Castle is an easy read. It’s so clear and concise in its writing and worldbuilding, it’s hard to believe that it came from the same mind as A Scanner Darkly. However, the only “mind-bending” parts are Mr. Tagomi’s “vision” of a victorious US and the confusing ending… yet the story still fascinates and intrigues.

4. Why The Grasshopper Lies Heavy?

The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is the title of a best-selling (but banned) book-within-a book that describes in detail what the world would be like if the Allied Powers won World War 2. Except the outcome is very different from our timeline. In the world of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, there’s Cold War tensions between Britain and the US, not Russia. Another book that’s popular among characters in TMITHC is the I-Ching, which is used for advice on everyday decisions. But what made The Grasshopper Lies Heavy stand out to me is that the title is taken from a passage in the Bible – Ecclesiastes 12: 5 which reads: “the grasshopper shall be a burden”. We have no other evidence if the Bible is still read or even tolerated in the victorious Axis Powers timeline. What’s more peculiar is that the I-Ching “wrote” The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. Does this mean that the Bible is the go-to book for advice in that other timeline?

But back to the choice of title. When one reads all of Ecclesiastes chapter 12, the author is talking about, in poetic terms, the physical burdens of old age. Some other Bible translations say “the grasshopper drags itself along”, “a white-haired, withered old man, dragging himself along” and “the grasshopper is heavy with food”. So why did Dick choose this scripture as a title for a book about a Cold War between Britain and the US? Do the superpowers “drag themselves” to destruction? Which brings me to my last thought.

5. What Could’ve Been

Philip K. Dick died in 1982. He expressed a desire to write a sequel to The Man In The High Castle but never got around to it because he couldn’t face doing anymore research on the Holocaust. But he didn’t have to. The sequel hook is right there in the novel. Juliana tells Hawthorne that his book showed “a way out”. What if the sequel was about her finding a way out of her timeline and into the timeline described in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy? Dick could show us an America where, because of cold war tensions, there was never a “British Invasion” in music and rock n roll is very different. Or maybe the US never got involved in the Vietnam War, therefore no anti-war movement or counterculture. The possibilities are endless.

And as for the title of this sequel? It’s staring us right in the face.

Those are my 5 thoughts on The Man In The High Castle. What’re yours?

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Nazis Weren’t The Only Monsters

From the positive reception for Amazon Prime’s ambitious new show, The Man in the High Castle, to Jeb Bush’s recent remarks about killing baby Hitler, American pop culture loves to kick Nazi butt. We cheer when our heroes, be they Captain America, Wonder Woman, Indiana Jones or the Rocketeer, take on The Third Reich and help the Allies win World War 2. It’s understandable, the Nazis committed one of the nastiest crimes against humanity in history as well as plunged the world into an unecessary bloodbath for the second time.

But the problem with this is that they’re portrayed as the only villains of World War 2 and frankly it’s starting to get very predictable and boring.

The Problem With The Man in the High Castle

I’ve seen the trailers, clips and even the opening titles for TMITHC. I read the 1962 novel by Philip K. Dick. And while the idea of pretending what the US would be like if the Axis Powers won WW2 is both fascinating and horrifying, I’m not too pleased with the way certain events are depicted in both the book and the series (but moreso the series).

For those not familiar with the story: it’s 1962 and the Axis Powers consisting of Germany and Japan have won. The Allies lost. To add insult to injury, the U.S. has been conquered by said powers and split in two. More than half of America (now called The Greater Nazi Reich) is under Hitler’s rule, while the West Coast (“Pacific States of America”) is under Imperial Japan’s thumb. While we read/hear about the further atrocities the Nazis commit to the rest of the world, a majority of the novel’s action takes place in I.J. – controlled California (For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to refer to the Japan of that era as Imperial Japan) and an untouched area in the middle where the Rocky Mountains are. And therein lies the problem.

The human rights violations Imperial Japan committed before and during WW2 are never mentioned or discussed. While the main characters secretly harbor resentment against their imperial “overlords”, even calling them “Japs” behind their back, life under I.J. rule, is…not so bad, compared to the Nazis. But all of the American characters in TMITHC are white or Jewish. There’re no black, Korean, Chinese or Filipino-American characters in the story. How would these groups be treated under the Imperial Japanese? Considering what Japan did to China, Taiwan, Korea and the Philippines before and during WW2, I think it’s regrettable that Dick or Amazon didn’t incorporate references to The Nanking Massacre or Unit 731. I hold Amazon more accountable because in 2015 we have more historical evidence of these atrocities than Dick did in the 1960s. Would it have hurt Amazon to add some new characters of Chinese or Filippino descent who fear being rounded up and sent to units for human experimentation? Who harbor resentment towards Imperial Japan for killing their loved ones and destroying their lives in their native countries?

Some would argue that depicting the Imperial Japanese as villains would seem racist and promote another white hero vs. Asian villain argument, especially with regards to the internment of Japanese-Americans and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But these dark events in American history doesn’t excuse those dark events in Japanese history. Even though America has forgiven Japan, China has not. And to this day some still deny the existence of those events.

The Problem With Killing Hitler

Every time I hear someone talk about going back in time to assassinate/kill Hitler, I make one massive internal eyeroll, not because I believe in Hitler’s right to live but because killing him would only be cutting a slice of the evil pie.

The 20s, 30s and 40s were the era of dictators, two of them even deadlier than Hitler. Heck, the 20th century was full of deadly dictators.

Sure, you killed Hitler but what about Joseph Stalin, his contemporary? Did you know that he’s responsible for the worst famine in history? And why aren’t there more comic book superheroes beating the living daylights out of him? Why haven’t there been more movies about his human rights violations?

Or what about going back in time and killing Mao Zedong? Or Hideki Tojo, the man who orchestrated the Pearl Harbor attacks?

“But”, you might argue, “by killing Hitler I stopped World War 2 and Pearl Harbor from happening.”

Maybe. Maybe not. But you still have the problem with its predecessor.

That’s right, Tojo was born in 1884. Hitler was born in 1889. Stalin was born in 1878 and Zedong was born in 1893. What do these men have in common? They lived through World War 1 – the war that changed world and changed them for the worst. The first war to severely affect civilian life, the war that introduced the affliction of PTSD, the war that brought the first modern genocide.

Some are now saying that it would be better to go back in time and stop Gavrilo Princip’s bullet from hitting Archduke Franz Ferdinand instead. Then there’d be no WW1, no Armenian Genocide, no WW2 and no Holocaust.

Maybe. Maybe not.

But while there’s nothing we can do about the past, there is something we should do about the present. While we shouldn’t forget about the Nazis or the Holocaust, we should stop focusing solely on them and direct our attention to other villains of the past, whether we’re writing science fiction, historical fiction, non-fiction, or comic books so that other victims and heroes can have their voices be heard.

Read: The Man in the High Castle: When a Nazi-Run Dystopia Isn’t So Dystopian

Watch: 10 Myths About the Nazis (some of the facts may shock you.)

 

 

 

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