In honor of Indy April, I decided to read and review several books by independent authors or small presses. I chose Tales from Alternate Earths form Inklings Press to review because I’d read an enjoyed some of the Leo McBride’s Altered Instinct. Full disclosure: Altered Instinct gave a great review to a story I contributed to Red Sun Magazine.
Once I started reading this, I actually tore through many of the stories pretty quickly. I thought that the theme of the anthology, which was imagining alternative events or outcomes in human history, was quite interesting. That said, like many multi-author anthologies, the styles and interpretations of the authors included were wildly variable. In fact, if I had a criticism, it’s that it was actually too variable. Every time I felt I had a grasp of the events and alternate history in one story, I’d move on to another one that was incredibly different in time period, characters, and theme. Sometimes that worked, as I found the new story as interesting as the one I’d left. Sometimes, not quite so much.
A few stories stood out as particular good. I liked the subtle tension set against the domestic calm of Terri Pray’s “One More Dawn,” and the interesting twists of history in Jessica Holmes’ “September 26th, 1983.” My favorite stories, though, were the last three. I liked Leo McBride’s “The Secret War” because its shell-shocked and traumatized main character really spoke to me, and I enjoyed twist at the end. Daniel Bensen’s “Treasure Fleet” had a richly imagined world and interesting characters. I think more science fiction and fantasy writers should look at 14th century China’s domination of the seas!
But if I had to choose one favorite, I’d have to pick Maria Haskins’ “Tunguska, 1987.” Haskins’ characters had great depth, and her world had some fantastic science fiction elements—the mysterious metal invaders, their incredible powers, and the fact that some people could sense the alterations that time travel produced, all of it made a good story. What’s more, her reveals at the end were as subtle and fascinating as her earlier writing, and left me with as many questions as she’d answered.
A couple of the stories really weren’t to my taste. I felt that while “Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon” had an interesting premise, the story felt like it had too many elements, some of which didn’t feel like they went together. The story had two authors, so I almost wondered if it was a “too many cooks” problem. I didn’t care for “One World,” because honestly it read a little like a conspiracy theory gone amok, and I just couldn’t relate or sympathize with the main character (for most of the story, he seemed more like an observer than a protagonist). “Stargazing on Oxford Street” had an interesting setting and a good premise, but I felt that the main characters didn’t really accomplish anything or do much.
Overall, I felt that Tales from Alternate Earths was a good indie anthology and a good way to discover lots of new sci-fi authors. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in alternate history or science fiction.