My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The fourth issue of Alt Hist magazine features six stories of horror, history and fantasy:
Restless by Dylan Fox set in the 1860s onboard a fleet of British ironclad warships steaming towards China.
Kleine Menschen by Eric Jackson is a historical fantasy story set in World War II Germany.
Feast of Faith by Shane Rhinewald explores the struggles of common soldiers during the First Crusade who don’t have enough to eat.
Three Months of Summer by Svetlana Kortchik is a love story that happens during the German occupation of Ukraine in 1942.
The Stork by George Piper is a backwoods horror that will scare and surprise you.
Battalion 202: A Blinded Falcon and Battalion 202: Into the Darkness by Jonathan Doering are two alternate history stories about the British resistance to a German invasion of Britain.
Restless by Dylan Fox, tells the tale of a battle on two fronts. A Chinese girl working aboard one of the British ironclads is set to sabotage the engine, crippling the commodore’s fleet. Bik is beset with doubt regarding her mission. She will be killing many men and women, but possibly saving her homeland from this particular fleet. Will her actions be enough?
The commodore, Horatio Paul Thomas, also has doubts, though in the beginning of the story they seem small and insignificant. Does he have the right look and manner for his rank? Will a victory consolidate his position? Thoughts of a vain man who seems oddly removed from the reality of war. His attitude is a stark contrast to the quandary below decks.
In a short slice of history, Dylan Fox manages to weave a fairly engrossing tale with two very real and believable characters. Both Bik and the commodore overcome their doubts, though the commodore’s change of attitude is perhaps the more surprising. While Bik embraces the inevitable, Thomas decides to lead his men forward, no matter the cost. An enjoyable and satisfying story that measures the unstoppable weight of the machine against the actions of a single girl.
Kleine Menschen by Eric Jackson is a weird little tale about weird little men. I did not grasp the purpose of the weird little men, which may have been the intent of the author. The discovery of these odd little beings is set inside small story about a young girl’s experience of World War II in Germany. Creepy noises in the barn become somewhat more scary when there are bombers flying over head.
Before we figure out who or what Marie’s otherworldly guests are, trucks arrive to take them away. At this point we get a hint that her father had been removed from the family in the same manner, which leaves the story with a bitter ending. I enjoyed reading the author’s interpretation of a young girl’s thoughts, however, particularly Marie’s conversations with her stuffed bear.
Feast of Faith by Shane Rhinewald is a chilling story about the lengths to which a man will go in order to keep a promise. The story opens with an accurate and horrific depiction of the aftermath of war: riots, looting, injury and the scarcity of clean water and food. Simon of Provence, a knight templar, has discovered there is little glory in battle and his faith is being sorely tested.
The reader follows Simon’s progress through the fallen city of Ma’arra as he searches for members of his company. He does meet up with a friend, Louis, but together they make no more progress than apart. Regular soldiers are raping corpses and looting burning buildings, and when one hunger overtakes the other, bodies of the fallen are dug up to sate a more basic appetite.
Simon and Louis promise to deliver letters to one another’s wives, should the other fall, and when Louis starves, Simon has to make a terrible choice. This is not a story for the faint of heart, but it is compelling.
The last three stories in the collection did not interest me as much as these first three. They were fine stories, a romance, a horror story and, finally, a tale of alternate history. But they did not hold my attention as well as the first. As a collection, the stories in this issue of ‘Alt Hist Issue 4’ are varied, but I would have preferred more alternate history. Of course, the stories I enjoyed the most, and chose to review, were historical fiction and fantasy, so perhaps the selection was just right.
Written for and originally published at SFCrowsnest