Relaunching an Idea: Red Sky At Night

Many months ago, I was struck by an idea. It is one which has been percolating in my mind for some time, but never really occurred to me as a reason to write. But then, I began to get into the whole “Alternate History” sub-genre of science fiction, examining such works as The Man In The High Castle, Fatherland, The Guns Of The South, and A Rebel In Time. It made me think that there was a good precedent for this kind of idea, and room for expansion.

But first, let me explain what I was thinking. Ever since University I’ve been fascinated by Russian history, particularly the interwar years. It was at this time that the most auspicious achievements and crimes took place in the former Soviet Union, after the death of Lenin and the ascent to power of Joseph Stalin, one of history’s greatest monsters.

Shortly thereafter, Russia became involved in World War II, during which time another monster – Adolf Hitler – committed unspeakable crimes against the Russian people. Over twenty six million people died on the Eastern Front, most of them civilians who had already witnessed such terrible suffering at the hands of their own dictator. In addition, many were victims of Soviet wartime oppression, killed by Stalin for the crime of not fighting hard enough or attempting to find liberation from their Nazi invaders.

From the point of view of Soviet propaganda, the years between 41 and 45 were portrayed as a the “Great Patriotic War”, a heroic struggle for the defense of the Motherland. In some respects this was true, but mainly it was a war between two nations being led by very petty and cynical men, with countless good and innocent souls caught in between. Those Germans who died in the East did so because of a fool’s dream of Lebensraum and racial purity, whereas the Russians who died did so in the defense of their families from both the invaders and the reprisals of NKVD officers.

Reading of all this, I often wondered, what if Leon Trotsky, Lenin’s intended successor, had led Russia during the interwar years? What if he had won the leadership race, instead of the scheming Stalin, and became the man to lead Russia against the Nazi invaders? Would things have worked out differently? Would Russia have still stood and ground up the Nazis, but in a way that didn’t lead to the death of so many millions of innocent Russians. The question is not a new one. In fact, historians have been pondering it for some time, and the entire question hinges on a single event.

This is where the concept of my own alternate history came in. In my story, a single event happens differently, thus giving rise to an alternate history. At the 13th Party Congress in Russia 1924, Trotsky had an historic opportunity. Lenin, before his death, had published his “Last Will And Testament” where, amongst other things, he singled out Stalin as a rude and ruthless character who should never be allowed to come to power. During the years following Lenin’s death, Trotsky was seen as the natural successor, which made him the natural rival of Stalin and his followers.

During the 12th Party Congress, Stalin’s allies helped suppress news of the Testament, but by the 13th, Trotsky was in possession of it and could released it, causing irreparable harm to Stalin’s reputation. Why he did not, and instead chose to make a conciliatory speech calling for unity, is something which historians have debated ever since. In so doing, he essentially guaranteed Stalin’s rise to power and his own exile, which culminated in his murder in Mexico some years later.

Red Sky At Night:
This is the basis of my idea. Instead of asking for reconciliation, Trotsky released Lenin’s Testament to the Party and asked for Stalin’s removal. He was successful, which guaranteed that it was he who would become the new leader of Soviet Russia and its chief planner during the interwar years. As a result, Stalin’s crash industrialization programs (aka. the Five Year Plans) were never launched.

Instead, he maintained Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP) and even appointed Bukharin (whom Stalin murdered) to oversee reform and expansion of state-owned industry. This led to a degree of slow recovery for the Soviet economy and improved the lot of its farmers and small private enterprises. And when the Great Depression hit in 1929, Russia would still spared the worst ravages of it while similarly showing signs of growth.

What’s more, Trotsky maintained close ties to foreign communist movements, rather than focusing so heavily on matters at home. As a result, in 1933 when the Nazis demanded a non-confidence vote against the Social Democratic Party, Trotsky ordered the KDP (Communist Party of Germany) to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Social Democrats, a move which did not alter the Nazi seizure of power, but which ensured that they were aligned with the anti-Nazi movement from early on.

In China, rather than advising Mao to go along with the Nationalist government (which turned on them) Trotsky advised that Mao and his cadres remain committed to resisting Japanese invasion and not trusting in Chiang Kai Shek. This prevented the massacre of Chinese Communists, which came in handy when the Sino-Japanese war began in 1937.

When the Spanish Civil War began, Trotsky and the Comintern became the most vocal and committed supporters of the Loyalists, sending them weapons, advisers, volunteers and funds. Much as in our own timeline, this had the effect of making the Soviets look like the chief supporters of anti-fascism, but since the effort didn’t suffer from Stalin’s paranoia and cynicism, the efforts were much more effective and popular. And thanks to Trotsky’s focus on foreign affairs, Commissar Maxim Litvinov, the champion of Collective Security, received the support he needed when he made his pitches to the League of Nations.

But most importantly of all, no purges or Great Terror took place during the late 30’s, which had the effect of undermining Russia’s efforts abroad, embarrassing Russia politically, decimating the Soviet officer corps, and devastating Russia’s agriculture. Russia therefore was in a much better position to coordinate alliances with the Czechs, the French, and rally public opinion towards ensuring that the Nazis were contained rather than appeased.

However, things really came down to the 1938 Sudetenland Crisis. For years, the Russians had been railing against coming to an accommodation with Hitler, largely for their own purposes. However, when Hitler demanded that Prime Minister Benes of Czechoslovakia cede the Sudetenland under threat of war, things finally came together for them. Facing harsh public opinion, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain found that he had little support for his policy of appeasement. French, Czech and League opinion were similarly opposed to any deal with Hitler, having been empowered by Russia’s example. As a result, instead of demanding that Benes give Hitler what he wanted, England and France instead demanded that Poland and Romania agree to allow Russian troops to pass their territory to mobilize against Germany, should the need arise.

These efforts did not materialize, but the appearance of unity on behalf of the League gave Hitler pause. His Generals advised that he back down, facing the likely prospect of war on all fronts, and Hitler was forced to concede. Afterward, Germany suffered from renewed economic problems, and Hitler lost virtually all support. The Nazis fell from power, World War II did not happen, the Holocaust never occurred, and the post-war division of the world between two superpowers not happen.

In the East, Japan found itself trapped as the League closed in to issue economic sanctions and demand that it withdraw from China. Soon, the Japanese Imperial government fell as well, and the threat of war was neutralized. In Italy and Spain, Mussolini and Franco remained in power, but were sure to behave themselves and even rejoined the League of Nations. And of course, Mao and his cadres did not seize power in the immediate post-war years, but instead came to an accommodation with the Nationalists, forming a powerful bloc within the government.

However, there was a downside to all of this as well. For starters, the economic boom caused by the war did not happen. Instead, the global economy recovered slowly throughout the 1940’s and 50’s. What’s more, the accommodation that took place between Russia and mainland Europe after the war, which saw the election of Social Democratic parties in every country and the de-radicalizing of Soviet power at home, caused a rift to form between the Anglo-American world and Eurasia. By 1950, fearing socialist revolution at home, England and America withdrew from the League and formed their own bloc, the Anglo-American Alliance.

Towards the end of the 1950’s, relations began to worsen, as the Alliance condemned what they saw as attempts at subversion in their own sphere while the League condemned the persecution of dissidents and revolutionaries. Both sides became retrenched and a new arms race began, the League and the Alliance scrambling to recruit the best and brightest minds to help them create new and better weapons. By the end of the 1950’s, scientists on both sides of the Atlantic were close to creating the first atomic weapons.

This is where the story opens. It’s 1963, twenty-five years since the Sudetenland Crisis took place, and the world is putting aside its difference to mark the occasion. East and West are coming together in a series of festivals, diplomatic summits, and tourist expos. However, behind the happy veneer of entente, the usual preparations for war continue. And in time, a series of events will trigger a crisis that could very well lead to another war. Much like in 1914, the world is sitting on a powder keg, and all that’s needed for another Great War to take place is for someone to provide the spark.

This idea got back-benched with my coming to join Writer’s Worth and all our anthology work, but I want to pick it back up. Much like Fascio Ardens (that’s its new title), I’m in the mood to write some genuine alternate history. It requires some staggering research to make these kinds of speculative works seem authentic and plausible, but I want to make it work. Call me crazy, especially since I’ve got it in my head to tackle two separate ideas. But as my grandpa used to say, “Lord hates a coward!”

The Birth of an Idea: Fascis Ardens!

Inspiration is a funny, fickle thing! As I’m sure anyone who’s ever attempted to write knows, ideas seem to come when you least expect them. On the one hand, a person can go months without coming up with an original idea. And then, just like that, inspiration can strike suddenly and without warning. You find yourself not only coming up with an idea, but the concept for a full-length novel!

That’s what happened to me this weekend. Myself and my wife were preparing to head up island to see her family. I was contemplating books that deal with the concept of alternate history, and how ones that deal with alternate outcomes to World War II and the Civil War seem to be especially popular. In the former case, you have The Man In the High Castle by Philip K Dick and Fatherland by Robert Harris, two seminal novels that address what would have happened had Germany won the war.

In the latter case, you have stories like A Rebel In Time by Harry Harrison and The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove, which merge time travel and alternate history to examine what would have happened if The South had won the Civil War.

In both novels, the plot revolves around a single or group of White Supremacists who use a time machine to bring modern guns to the Confederate Army. This allows the South to prevail, which they hope will prevent the rise of the Civil Rights movement, the end of Apartheid, and other equality movements.

That’s when it hit me! Why the heck hasn’t anyone done an alternate history story where White Supremacists go back in time to make sure Germany won the Second World War? Sounds like something that ought to have been done by now; but to my knowledge, no one’s tackled it yet. I got to thinking long and hard about it, about the plot, characters and potential twists. Eventually, I had what I felt was the bare bones of an idea. It varies slightly from the premise I just mentioned, but in ways I think work! I plan to call it…

For those familiar with the Fascist movement of the 20th century, the concept of the Fascio is probably a familiar one. This was basically just a bundle of sticks with an axe tied on that was set afire at public gatherings. The ritual dates back to Ancient Rome, where the burning of these ceremonial bundles was meant to symbolize lighting the way to the future. Italian Fascists, under Mussolini, especially loved this ancient ritual, which they used to draw a connection to the past as much as to point to the future. Like all Fascist rituals, it was an inherent contradiction, more regressive than progressive in nature. But hey, the Fascists didn’t do logic…

The story opens in 2050, where the world is reeling from the worst ravages of climate change and Fascist parties are once again taking hold of Europe and North America in response to numerous humanitarian crises. Two young history enthusiasts, believing that the worst is coming, decide to take advantage of an experimental new technology: Time Travel!

Using a machine they gain access to, the duo plan to travel back in time to Germany in 1920, where they plan to find a despondent young military officer named Hitler. Using futuristic technology, they plan to kill him without leaving a trace, and return to the future where things are surely to be much better.

Unfortunately, the time machine sends them to 1941 by accident. Unsure that they will be able to use the machine again in the future, they resolve to kill Hitler during the height of World War II, before he can enact the Final Solution and invade Russia. Relying on their knowledge of history and advanced technology, they manage to kill Hitler at his headquarters weeks before the Battle of Britain was to end and Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of Russia) began. After making a hasty retreat, they jump in the return module and set course of the future.

However, once again the machine drops them off in the wrong year. Rather than traveling 109 years into the future, they arrive in 1962, at roughly the same time as the Cuban Missile Crisis from their own timeline, and find a world starkly different than the one they read about in history books. Rather than finding a world dominated by the two superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union, two different but equally menacing empires are in place. On the one side, there’s the Pan-American Alliance, led by the US, and on the other, the Axis Forces.

After combing through some records at the local library, they learn the terrible truth: assassinated Hitler in 1941, rather than ending the Second Word War, led Germany to victory. Without Hitler’s questionable and erratic leadership, Germany avoided making several mistakes which were directly attributable to him. For one, Germany did not give up the Battle of Britain a few weeks shy of victory. By choosing to maintain their operations against the RAF and its coastal airfields, they eventually overcame Britain’s air defenses. This allowed them to come to a cease fire agreement which took Britain out of the war.

Then, in 1942, they invaded Russia and were successful in capturing Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad, all within the space of a year. This led to the creation of Germania, an Empire which reached from Northern France to the Ural Mountains. In the Mediterranean, Italy became the dominant power, with possessions in the Balkans and all across North Africa. The US still went to war with Japan in the Pacific, where they were victorious, but in Europe, the Nazis and their Fascist allies were never defeated.

Thus the world was divided into two major power blocs. The US, Canada, Mexico and all of South America joined together and maintained alliances with India, Japan, China and Australia to safeguard against expansion into Asia and the Pacific. Germany, Italy, and their subservient allies came together to dominant Eurasia and set their eyes on the Middle East, Africa, and further East. Both sides developed nuclear weapons, and by 1960, tensions had reached an all-time breaking point.

Hence, the two historians bear witness to a different “Missile Crisis”, which still takes place in 1962, but was between the Axis and Allies, and actually took place. When the bombs begin to fall, they die, since the future they left is now erased from existence. In their last few moments, they realize the folly of tampering with timelines. Such things are just too complicated for people to handle!

And I was thinking about a possible epilogue chapter where the two main characters meet each other in the alternate future they have now created. The world they live in is a post-apocalyptic landscape, roughly ninety years since World War III, where life is hard and people live by a new form or “Iron Rule” – the rule of survival at all costs. Not sure, we’ll see…

So that’s my latest idea, a time traveling alternate future addressing World War II and the rise of neo-fascism in today’s world. I humbly submit to my followers for their approval. So tell me, what do you think?

Sickness, more Alternate History, and some coming reviews…

Sickness, more Alternate History, and some coming reviews…

I hate being sick! Whenever the seasons change for me, I tend to come down with one of those colds that comes on hard and takes forever to leave. Well, this Fall season has been a double whammy, seems I’ve gotten sick twice in the last four weeks, which has meant a month of convalescing I could totally do without! But at least its given me time to ponder future writing projects.

For starters, I had an idea for an alternate history novel of my own. Its been something I’ve been interested in of late, as my reviews of Man in the High Castle, Fatherland and Guns of the South will attest. Reviewing Rabbletown by Mr. Attwood also gave me another push; somehow reading other people’s work always inspires me to write more of my own. And if there’s one thing I learned from reading other works of historical fiction, it is that there are two basic trends to every story.

1. History diverges due to key events happening just a little bit differently.
2. Ultimately, things converge again and familiar patterns reassert themselves.

Or, to put it mathematically, H = (Ce + Ha) / Env, where H is history, Ce is the Confluence of Events, Ha is human agency and Env is environmental (i.e. external) mitigating factors. Alteration of one (i.e. human agency) is what allows for divergence, but in the end, the other factors assert themselves and balance is restored. Okay, I totally made that up and it was unbelievably geeky! But also kinda cool, right? Ah whatever, my idea:

Red Sky At Night:

A working title, but one which was suggested to me by the maestra of title work (hi Katrina!) And given the title, one might suspect that Communism and/or Communists are the focus. They would be right! My story deals with a question that I’ve been pondering for a long time and with all the fiction I’ve read of late, stuff that deals with similar questions and “what ifs”, I began to turn it into an idea. In short, my story is based on the question of what would have happened had Leon Trotsky come to be leader of the Soviet Union instead of Stalin?

To be fair, this question has been asked by generations of historians and communists alike, particularly the latter group who wanted to distance themselves from Stalin after the full weight of his crimes and megalomania had been exposed. But for historians, the question is more academic, motivating by genuine interest instead of personal beliefs. Overall, they are simply interested in whether or not Trotsky would have been any gentler, or the course of Soviet history any different, had he been in charge.

But first, a little preamble. You see, it is one of the great questions of history why Trotsky did not disavow Stalin when he had the chance. Before his death, Vladimir Ilyich Ilyanov (aka. Lenin) wrote in his “Final Will and Testament” that Stalin was a rude, ruthless man who should never be allowed to have power. Trotsky was seen as the natural successor, and this Will could have shattered Stalin’s support. Stalin’s allies helped him to prevent the Will from being revealed at the 12th Party Congress; however, at the 13th, Trotsky could have revealed it to the Party and done irreperable harm to Stalin’s reputation. Instead, he made conciliatory speech that was intended to heal the rift between himself and Stalin’s followers.

However, this did not prevent Trotsky from being ejected from the Party, put into exile and murdered some years later. So the question of why – why DIDN’T Trotsky denounce Stalin when he had the chance? – has never been successfully answered. We can assume any number of things, but it is at this point irrelevant. The real question, as far as my idea is concerned, is what would have happened had he gone through with it? And that’s where things get fun… if you’re a history geek anyway!

For one, Trotsky wouldn’t have launched Stalin’s crash industrialization programs (aka. the Five Year Plans) in the later 20’s. In all likelihood, he would have continued Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP, which allowed for a degree of privatization) and when the big economic crisis loomed, have appointed Bukharin to deal with it (as opposed to purging him as Stalin did). This would have led to the slow recovery of the Soviet economy, and when the Great Depression hit in 1929, Russia would have continued to be spared the worst ravages of it while similarly showing signs of growth.

In addition, the Communists in China would not have been cut off as they had been by Stalin in the 1920’s. Chiang Kai-shek would have continued to fight them, but there would have been no massacre, meaning the Chinese communists would have been stronger and in a better position to dictate terms to Chiang when the Japanese invaded in the late 20’s. As a result, the Japanese army would have encountered stiffer, unified resistance as it fought its way south years later.

Similarly, in Europe, when the Nazi’s come to power in 33, Trotsky would have thrown his country’s support behind the German Social Democrats and would have committed the Comintern (Communist International Organization) to fighting Hitler once he seized power. Over the course of the next few years, during the re-militarizing of the Rhineland, the Anschluss, the Spanish Civil War, and the Sudenten crisis, Russia would have been the most outspoken advocate for resistance.

This had the effect of inspiring people from other nations, particularly France, England and Czechoslovakia, into doing the same, often in defiance of their own governments who sought accommodation. Combined with the fact that Russia’s heavily regulated economy had avoided the scourges of the Depression, these acts of support would convince many foreign nationals of the need to stand with Russia. And without Stalin’s own paranoia and megalomania to discredit and embarrass the Soviet Union and its supporters, these efforts were far more successful.

Finally, after years of advocating Collective Security through the United Nations, Trotsky’s Foreign Commissar – Maxim Litvinov – saw his efforts to create an anti-fascist alliance comes together. During the Sudeten Crisis of 38, Hitler found himself being resisted on all sides. France declared that it would mobilize to help the Czechs since Russia was promising the same. Britain, fearing a Communist victory in the next election, mobilized to pressure Poland and Romania to come to a right of passage agreement with Russia, rather than pressuring Czech president Benes to concede the Sudetenland to Germany. As a result, Hitler was overruled by his own commanders and forced to stand down.

Hilter was unable to recover from this political setback, and when Germany similarly suffered an economic recession a year later, his support dwindled further. By the end of 1939, he found himself ousted from power and the SPD was restored. Mussolini and Franco, one-time allies of Hitler’s, were also brought to heal, the Italian dictator going as far as to relinquish his countries control of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and remove all his troops from the Balkans. In Asia, Japan also found itself without a friend and was forced to withdraw from the Chinese mainland. Europe and the world celebrated as it seemed that the aggressors had been contained and another world war had been averted.

But this jubilant mood did not last long. Without World War II and the post-war reconstruction to stimulate the economies of the western nations, the Depression continued for several more years. The post-war population boom similarly did not take place. Instead, Europe and the Anglosphere witnessed slow recovery as nations on the continent resorted to increasingly socialist measures to address their economic woes and closer trade ties were established with Russia. Russia, now enjoying cordial ties to most European nations, similarly began to open its economy and its borders to foreign investment and tourism. By the late 40’s, most economies had pulled out of the Depression through a combination of social programs and regulated trade.

This had the added effect of creating a rift between the Continent and Britain, a country that prided itself on its free markets and traditional liberal approach. As socialism began to take root from Lisbon to Vladivostok, Britain sought new alliances to protect its way of life. They found it in the US, which was once again experiencing a Red Scare and cracking down on communists, labor leaders and protesters. Together, they created a secret alliance to protect their mutual interests and continued to eye the Continent with suspicion.

Relations were further strained when in the 1950’s, India began to demand independence. Without the threat of Hitler, the British government had never come to an agreement with Ghandi for the sake of independence. What’s more, agitation on behalf of Europe’s new socialist organizations became a constant source of irritation. Though France was loath to give up its own Empire, pressure from the League and its own populace was mounting. In time, France gave up trying to work with Britain to find a common solution, began disbanding its own empire and urged Britain to do the same. Britain refused and held on to its possessions, but by the early 60’s, virtually every French speaking colony was free and joined the League of Nations.

Which brings me to the opening of my story. It is the early 60’s, the world is divided between two major blocs – the League of Nations and the Anglo-American Alliance – and in between are dozens of nations that are either neutral or part of one or the others sphere of influence. Relations between the two sides are strained as competition for markets, alliances and weapons have reached a tipping point, and some are beginning to fear the possibility of open war. Within this talk of war are even more frightening rumors that both sides are researching advanced technologies – rockets, jet engines, super computers, and even (God forbid!) atomic weapons…

So as you can see, history unfolded quite differently due to the presence of one man instead of another. However, in time, the familiar patterns reasserted themselves. While World War II did not take place from 39-45, it does appear on the horizon by 1960. While there was no Cold War to speak of after 45′ between two nuclear-armed superpowers, a state of detente exists between two similar global powers by the late 50’s with the prospect of a nuclear war by the early 60’s.

That’s all I got for now. More to follow just as soon as Data Miners is complete and my others ideas have panned out. That’s the fun thing about alternate histories though isn’t it? Since they have to do with past events, no one can ever accuse you of not being “current”, right? Who knows? If its successful, I might even write a sequel, Red Sky At Morning, about the aftermath. Thank you honey (my wife) for THAT title idea!

Coming Reviews:

On top of that, tackling “McDune” franchise in a more comprehensive way inspired me to do a more in-depth review of both the Legends and Hunters/Sandworms of Dune series. I’ve shellacked the latter ones before, but I’d like nothing better than giving them a good, specific thrashing! Fans of the elder Herbert, unite and hear me shellack! So, in the coming weeks, I hope to do a review of Hunters, the Machine Crusade, and possibly the Battle of Corrin and Sandworms as well. And since I’m almost finished with the A Song of Fire and Ice series (i.e. Game of Thrones, etc) I might publish some thoughts on them too. Can’t wait for season two of the miniseries! Go Starks! Screw the Lannisters!

P.S. for those who don’t know, Katrina runs a fun and fascinating website named Were You Wondering? She even lets me contribute for some reason… Here’s the link:

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