Several leading lights among SF writers ask, What if some of the world’s greatest celebrities had taken different paths in life? We get such wacky, creative ideas as Toscanini as manager of the Yankees. Also notable are Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s similar story of Lillian Hellman as a senator; Michelle Sagara’s four versions of the same letter from Golda Meir to her sister in 1948, when she is acting prime minister of Israel; and Barry Maltzberg’s speculation on what would have happened had Hitler lived to stand trial at Nuremberg. Few of the stories, though, reach beyond the initial cleverness. Generally, however, this anthology ends up promising far more than it delivers.
Oh Publisher’s Weekly, I beg to differ. I enjoyed 10 stories from the Mike Resnick & Martin H. Greenberg anthology, something I don’t always experience with alternate history. Some of these stories – unlike other works of alternate history – made me wish history had turned out differently (those titles will be in bold). Here are the 10 stories I enjoyed the most:
- What if Humprey Bogart really was a private eye and Raymond Chandler was a famous actor playing private eyes? Fates collide in “Farewell, My Buddy” by Barbara Delapace.
- How would’ve Gone With the Wind turned out if Groucho Marx had been given the role of Rhett Butler? You’d get “A Night On the Plantation” by Brian M. Thomsen.
- When it comes to solving mysteries, everything’s coming up roses for detective Gypsy Rose Lee in “The Fifteen Minute Falcon” by George Alec Effinger.
- Isadora Duncan gives up dancing to become a full-time race-car driver in “Dance Track” by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon. Try to guess the identities of the two young actors Duncan takes under her wing. Go, on try.
- One morning, as Franz Kafka heard the rattle of the red roach phone, he prepared himself to change into a monstrous verminous bug to face off against the evil Sigmund Freud, once and for all in “Franz Kafka, Superhero!” by David Gerrold.
- What would you do if you were an art instructor and your favorite student insisted on wasting his time drawing little sketches of antropomorphic mice and ducks? As multiple Nebula-winner Nancy Kress demonstrates, it’s not all that simple a question when the student is a kid named Disney. The story is called “Ars Longa”.
- What if Marilyn Monroe survived her drug overdose (let’s set aside those conspiracy theories for now), had a feminist awakening, became Governor of California and then President of the United States? Beth Meacham chronicles her political career in the memorable “A Dream Can Make A Difference“. Very timely in the #MeToo era.
- What if Helen Keller was not born deaf, mute and blind but her sister was? Janni Lee Simner answers that question in “Out of Sight”.
- Do have a question about a certain tapestry? Mother Mae West has the answer. Come up and see her sometime in “Mother Mae I?” by Lawrence Schimel.
- Does Wallis Simpson have the ability to change history? Any history? One young man will find out the hard way in Dean Wesley Smith’s “A Bubble For A Minute.”
So if you’ve read By Any Other Fame, tell me which stories you enjoyed reading. If you’re not familiar with this book, pick up a copy today.