Friday, March 29, 2013

Alternate Presidents Edited By Mike Resnick



During the presidential elections, various people play the "what if" game. Armchair politicos often grumble, "If my president won, this country would be in better shape." Well Mike Resnick and various other science fiction authors took it upon themselves to ask the question "What if" the elections turned out differently. What if a defeated candidate won? What if a President's administration began earlier or later than what really happened? What would happen to the country, would it be better, worse, or stay the same? The questions are answered in Alternate Presidents.
History's losers are given the spotlight in this anthology by a group of very gifted science fiction authors that take this basic premise: what if the presidential elections that we know turned out differently? Some of the stories are disturbing, some satiric but all are fascinating, none more so than these  five  stories about would be Commanders of Chief finally given their chances in the Oval Office:

 Aaron Burr:"The War of '07" by Jayge Carr-Aaron Burr is known in history for two things-the infamous 1804 duel against Alexander Hamilton and for having a very shady personality that often put him at odds with the other Founding Fathers. Carr pushes Burr's presumed megalomania up to eleven in a Presidency in which he removes his enemies by questionable means, eradicates the African and Native American races, and creates a false war in which he emerges Supreme Commander. The final paragraphs give the story an eery sensibility as the United States devolves into the very thing they tried to break away from: a monarchy and in Burr's world a dictatorship.

Victoria Woodhull: "We Are Not Amused" by Laura Resnick-Among the would-be POTUS, the most interesting in both alternate and real history is Victoria Woodhull. In reality, the first female candidate in 1872, she was an advocate for "free love" and the legalization of prostitution and exposed the scandalous affairs of many including Rev. Henry Ward Beecher. In Resnick's saucy amusing story, Woodhull takes her free love stance to the White House. In a series of letters between President Woodhull and Queen Victoria, the Queen is shocked by the direction America takes under Woodhull's decisions: returning land to the Native Americans, women who cut their hair, wear short skirts, and talk openly about sex. Not to mention Woodhull herself who lives openly in the White House with her husband and lover! This story gives new meaning to the term "Victorian Era."

 Samuel J. Tilden: "I Shall Have A Flight To  Glory" by Michael P. Kube-McDowell- Probably none of the candidates in the anthology deserve to have their day in the sun more than Tilden. Winner of the popular vote in the 1876 election, some 20 disputed votes and a compromise to withdraw troops from Reconstruction-era South caused Tilden to concede to Rutherford B. Hayes. In McDowell's story, Tilden, in reality a reformer, embraces the corrupt political machine to take the 1880 election from James A. Garfield. The final pages show through the acquaintanceship between Garfield and one Charles Guiteau that sometimes fate cannot be escaped even in an alternate history.

 Thomas E. Dewey "No Other Choice" by Barbara DeLaPlace-Most famous in our timeline as the candidate against Harry Truman in the 1948 election, he also ran against Roosevelt in 1944. In this story, he wins the election because of concerns about Roosevelt's ill health. When Japanese officials remain unswayed by the atomic demonstration (a move that Truman in real life did not do) Dewey has to make the heartbreaking decision to drop the atom bomb on a much larger target than Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many of DeLaPlace's words are moving as Dewey weighs the outcomes picturing the children on both sides who would suffer and how "he wished that he were someone else, anyone else."

 "Dispatches from the Revolution" By Pat Cadigan -While one would expect an alternate story about Robert Kennedy to explore his Presidency, Cadigan takes another approach to the idea. Instead she only gives Kennedy a temporary reprieve to escape Sirhan Sirhan's bullet in Los Angeles only to die with other political leaders in an explosion in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention protest. In a series of  thoughtful and engaging first-person narratives from activists in hiding, Cadigan tells of the fall out that results in a United States where segregation runs rampant, where libraries are audited for objectionable materials, where psychological tests are required to vote and for "conditional citizenship," and where passports are required to move from one state to another.

Other candidates are portrayed thoughtfully such as Benjamin Franklin, David R. Atchison, Belva Ann Lockwood, William Jennings Bryan, Robert LaFollette Sr., Huey Long, Adlai Stevenson, Barry Goldwater, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis. In all of these tales, the authors gives a glimpse of a history that could have been and maye in some cases we should be glad that never was.

Related Links And Activity Suggestions

1. Alternate History Wiki- Alternate history is a popular sub-genre in science fiction in which someone takes a point in history and considers what would have happened if things turned out differently. Besides the Presidential elections what other turning points in history could have resulted in different endings? What other situations could have resulted and how could modern day be seen from that perspective?

2. The Living Room Candidate -Sometimes a Presidential campaign's success largely depends on how the candidate sells themselves. Look through these  Presidential campaign ads. How do they "sell" the candidate? What buzz words do they use to portray their choice as the best person for the job? What techniques do they use to make their point? How do they portray their opponent? What ads do you remember the most from previous campaigns? What images, words, or techniques do you remember the most about it? How would you advertise yourself as a candidate?

Literary Discussion Questions

1. These stories portray alternate versions of history. Choose one story from the set and compare it to the real events. What parallels to reality do you see? What historical figures that were prominent in the real happening also appear in the alternate version and how different is their role this time around? What do you think it means when some of the events stay the same or end up worse than before? What do you think the authors' message is in the story about history being immutable and unchangeable?

2. This anthology was published in 1992 and ends with a story about Michael Dukakis. How do you think future failed candidates would have been portrayed? What do you imagine stories about a second George H.W. Bush term, Bob Dole, Al Gore, John Kerry, John McCain, or Mitt Romney would be like? What about perspectives on Vice-Presidents or other figures? How about a Dick Cheney administration? What if Sarah Palin or Hilary Rodham Clinton got the White House?How about other important recent political figures? How do you think real events would echo in the alternate versions?

Alternate Presidents cover courtesy of
Victoria Woodhull,Aaron Burr, Robert Kennedy courtesy of
Samuel J. Tilden and Thomas E. Dewey courtesy of

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