Thursday, December 28, 2017

December Guest Post: Smuts Enters Constantinople

This post originally appeared on Today in Alternate History

December 9, 1917

On this day in alternate history, the First Empire Army led by future British Prime Minister, Field Marshall Jan Smuts, captured Constantinople.

Back in May, Prime Minister David Lloyd George had sought a commander of a "dashing type" in order to inflict a crushing defeat of Ottoman Turkey and boost Allied morale. Unfortunately the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, which had once numbered a mighty three hundred thousand men, had been drained of resources for the struggle in Flanders. Before Smuts would agree to be George's hero, Smuts demanded, and was given, reinforcements from Australian Corps, Canadian Corps, NZ Division, Indians, and the new tanks to drive a campaign that General Haig, commander of the Western Front, didn't believe in.

Nevertheless, this decision to ensure a victory "of the Easterners" had still managed to enrage the other involved parties in Europe. Ultimately, the reluctant French were bought off with the promise of a French flag in Beirut and Alexandretta. However, General Haig, who was on particularly bad terms with Lloyd-George, had created a very great deal of dissent amongst the Tory back-benchers in the House of Commands. Later in the year, the situation in France would indeed deteriorate, although the arrival of American Forces would eventually overcome this set-back. Smuts, meanwhile, used his new resources to capture the heart, and then the whole of the eastern Ottoman Empire.

Of more lasting consequence was the effect on the plan to offer a Jewish Homeland. This endeavour was already imperiled by contradictory promises of sovereignty to various Arab Princes. Moving ever more centre stage, Smuts then recommended a relocation to copper-rich Northern Rhodesia, a proposal that was accepted with less resistance given that the indigenous people had even less say that the population of Palestine. To seal the deal, it was accompanied by a British guarantee of minority rights for religious Jews in an Arab Palestine.

By now an Imperial Statesman of the highest order, Smuts and his colleague Louis Botha were war heroes that had both played a key role in the victorious British Army during the Great War. Smuts would soon succeed Botha as Prime Minister of South Africa upon the death of the latter in 1919. Twenty years later, Smuts was invited to re-join the Imperial War Cabinet, and, in Westminster, he was talked about in private as a potential substitute for Winston Churchill should the old lion perish during war-time. The irony of this was of course that Churchill, despite being on good terms with Smuts, had conceived the earlier Dardanelles operation that had failed to capture Constantinople. Nevertheless, this contingency was put by Sir John Colville, Churchill's private secretary, to Queen Mary and then to George VI, both of whom warmed to the idea.

This contingency proved necessary when Winston Churchill suffered a fatal heart attack while staying at the White House as a result of the sinking of the Repulse and the Princes of Wales almost twenty-four years to the day that Smuts had entered Constantinople. Smuts would then lead the Empire to victory, but, by the end of the war, he confronted a new form of nationalism that would threaten his legacy both in South Africa and also in the Zionist Homeland he had helped to create.

Author's Note: In reality Smuts refused refused the command (late May) unless promised resources for a decisive victory, and he agreed with Robertson that Western Front commitments did not justify a serious attempt to capture Jerusalem. Allenby was appointed instead, and he did capture Jerusalem on this day OTL.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

1918 – German Occupation of former United States

The 1896 invention of the heat-killed cholera vaccine by German bacteriologist Wilhelm Kolle greatly improved those created by Catalan and Russian scientists in years before. It could be manufactured on a massive scale, outpacing the growth of any potential catastrophe if cholera spread into a local water system. When Kolle announced his development, the German Empire won worldwide acclaim, including adoration from Japanese saved during an epidemic in 1902.

Kolle continued his work, later written in the famous Experimental Bacteriology, to make a discovery that warped his mind with power: he could create his own strains of cholera resistant to other vaccines. If one of his strains were released, he alone would have the cure. At a top secret meeting with Kaiser Wilhelm II, it was agreed that such technology would be kept quiet and that it could be used to conquer the world.

After controlled tests in German colonies like the Samoan Islands and Kamerun, Wilhelm determined it was time to put the operation into its fullest potential on the most obvious target: the United States of America. The States had grown into a world power through its industrial development, although few in Europe took the young nation as seriously as other Old World empires. Millions of Germans had immigrated to America in search of work and better lives since the seventeenth century, giving Germany a strong cultural base of power already. A controlled plague would wipe out the others, leaving mineral wealth and even a large deal of the industrial core of the country intact.

German agents introduced the man-made cholera into key water systems in American major cities, beginning with the largest, New York City. Previous cholera epidemics had been contained through quarantines, but health officials were baffled as cholera continued to spread upriver to drinking supplies throughout the country. Like other countries, Germany quickly responded with medical aid, although the German Empire soon vastly outpaced the others in resources being sent to America. Most of these resources were dedicated to Pennsylvania, Ohio, the Midwest, and other areas where German nationals had settled.

The survival rates of the German immigrants as compared to those of other Americans grew suspicious. Anti-German sentiment rose, even sparking riots in Texas, but the American government was too dependent on German support to follow the outcry. Instead, American troops loyal to Germany helped suppress those fighting against the tightening grasp of the Kaiser. When increasingly advantageous treaties were granted to Germany, outright rebellion broke out in independently minded portions of the nation, particularly in the South. Militias formed to drive out “the Hessians” recalled Washington fighting German mercenaries during the American Revolution. Unfortunately, these militia camps soon found themselves devastated by cholera, and support vanished.

When the Archduke of Austria was killed by a terrorist in 1914, the Kaiser was so busy with plans for America that he barely commented on the unfortunate. Instead, he continued to exert control over the New World. The cholera epidemic spread to Mexico, whose own government was already in turmoil, and the people gladly joined as a new province in the German Empire in exchange for the near-mystical cure from Kolle’s vaccine.

After years of horrific death from coast to coast, the German empire began rebuilding what became known as “New Prussia.” Other empires were still fearful to venture into the area for their own colonization; Britain maintained a tight quarantine along the border with Canada. German supporters such as the Ottoman Empire, which was granted swaths of land in depopulated Florida, and Japan, which had retained close allies with Germany after its own epidemic. Austria tried its own hand at colonizing Baja California, although its own resources were limited after a short and brutal war with Russia ending much of Austria’s sway over the Balkans.

Formerly large cities in the United States became ghost towns renamed by their new rulers, from Nagaseattle in the northwest to New Hamborg that had once been New Orleans to New Potsdam, formerly New York. The most obvious was the change from Washington, D.C., to New Berlin, but the propaganda that flowed out of the new capital dripped with awe for the German “saviors” of the few that remained. There were many Americans who beat the cholera epidemic with their own immune systems, but those who attempted to stand up to German imperialism were rounded up and shipped to the “American Reservation” in what had once been New Mexico, watched over by tribal Native American forces.

In reality, this map was a Life Magazine production in response to a German propaganda leaflet.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

1918 – British Reconquest of America

The Third Plague began in Yunnan province in China in 1855, but it would be most remembered for its devastation of the United States in the first part of the twentieth century. Bubonic plague had ravaged Europe in the Black Death, and once again it wiped out millions, now in North America. The plague spread through nearly every human population on Earth, but as it arrived in San Francisco in 1900, a new strain developed that proved far more virulent.

The plague began with the familiar bubonic plague carried by fleas, which attached themselves to rats that stowed away on trans-Pacific vessels. These rats escaped into San Francisco harbor, soon spreading to humans. Somewhere among them, the plague became pneumonic. Now each infected victim became a new source with a cough or sneeze flinging fluid into the air. Before health officials could act, terrified Californians fled aboard trains, which only spread the disease further.

Later attempts at quarantine proved impossible as the disease had already spread so far and there was simply too much ground to cover as the bubonic plague made its way through mammal populations. Rural areas were particularly prone to bites from insects, but the bubonic strain was mild compared to the more deadly virulent pneumonic that wiped out urban centers. Uninformed victims never realized the difference between two, so sick people were transported to hospitals that otherwise may have avoided the effects.

Within a generation, the United States of America had fallen into disarray. The strong flow of immigration into the Land of Opportunity reversed until the navies of the world began a blockade to keep further Americans from escaping to spread the disease across the ocean. American leaders refused to travel, putting an end to national government. Soon deterioration of the railroads and telegraph further isolated communities. Local leaders became warlords to keep out neighboring populations, and towns that had depended upon trade to supply their industry soon vanished.

Eventually contained, the pneumonic strain wiped itself out. The continent was suddenly a blank canvas, ready for repainting. Armed with vaccines for the bubonic strain, the British Empire determined that it would reestablish order over what had become known as the “Wild West.” Japan, which had served in alliance with British fleets to contain the West Coast, signed a treaty for its own lands with a capital of New Yokohama built near the ruins of old San Francisco. The British built their own cities using scrap from the hollowed-out previous settlements, which largely had been burned to kill any remaining plague-bearing rats. Many were established with reverence toward the old, such as New Liverpool mirroring New Orleans or London-on-the-Potomac where representational American Parliament served in the same halls senators had in Washington, D.C. Other cities remained ruined for decades more, like the area once called Chicago being nicknamed “Dryrottingham.”

The former Canada, also devastated by the plague, was reorganized into a province of the new Dominion of North America, while Mexico continued as its own nation, though a protectorate under the Anglo-Japanese treaty. Many local warlords, some employing whole armies of gunslingers, fought against British reconquest, resulting in a massive prison district established in what had been west Texas, borrowing Federal forces from Mexico to serve as police.


In reality, this map was a WWI German propaganda leaflet, hoping to inspire distrust among the newcomer nation to the Allies. The pneumonic strain of the Third Plague pandemic stayed largely in Asia, where it did kill millions.

Monday, October 30, 2017

What if Washington Fought for the British?

"In his new book, Brent Harris imagines an alternate American revolution. In a change of fate, George Washington fights for the British while wrestling with his loyalties as he watches his countrymen struggle under the yoke of war...

"Washington’s nemesis, Benedict Arnold, seizes power and will stop at nothing to restore his family’s honor by driving the British out of the colonies. The fate of America is altered as these two titans clash on and off the battlefield."

Harris is a 2017 Sidewise Award Nominee for his short story, "Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon," in the anthology Tales from Alternate Earths.

See the full article from The Desert Trail

Check out A Time of Need: A Dark Eagle Novel

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Guest Post: Catherine's Handmaiden

This TL first appeared at Today In Alternate History

Catherine of Aragon's bold leadership in the King's Great Matter during the years 1527-9 laid the groundwork for the continued existence of the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, perhaps even the Catholic European Union itself that lasted into the third millennium.

Desperate for a male heir, King Henry VIII of England had set himself upon a destructive course of action that could well have torn up the British Isles. Although he had a freer hand in England, there were constraints in Ireland where his official role was Lord of Ireland, reigning only at the pleasure of the Pope. Fortuitously, the current Pope, Clement VII, had been a prisoner of Catherine's nephew, Emperor Charles V, since the Sack of Rome in May 1527. And before Henry could orchestrate the Irish Parliament to declare himself King of Ireland, Catherine received word that the Pope was about to appoint Charles V as Lord of Ireland.

Under the weight of this threat, Catherine was able to secretly negotiate an agreement under which she remained Queen and her lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn, would become Queen's Concubine. The scheme lay on a biblical foundation with the apparently barren Rachel being granted a son by Jacob through her handmaiden:
"So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife; and Jacob went in to her" ~ Genesis 30:4
Spared from the pressure of giving birth in a toxic court atmosphere, Anne Boleyn eventually produced a male heir to whom the succession could be delicately steered with the official support of Rome, who had little choice under Catherine's nephew's watchful eye. Henry, wildly supportive of his Catholic benefactors, became a vehement papist, which strengthened his popularity in Ireland, which eventually named him king there as well. Henry's fanaticism is cited as one of many reasons backing the Scottish Rebellion of the late sixteenth century, however, and much of Henry IX's long reign was spent in the quelling of Protestantism among the Scots.

The United Britain served as a bastion of the Church in Europe, supplying troops and money in the Thirty Years War that tore apart Germany, and around the world, such as working to colonize North America to beat out attempted colonies by the Protestant Dutch and Swedes. As Spain and Austria declined, Britain stepped up to become a leader among the Catholic nations. Europe was again torn apart in the nineteenth century by nationalistic wars, and the Church responded as effectively as it had with the Counter-Reformation by forming a politico-economic international bond through the Catholic European Union. Generations brought new technologies that improved travel and communication, and the initially symbolic CEU gradually became a powerhouse of governance for banking, industry, and development.

One such development was the announcement by His Britannic Majesty's Government of a sixty-mile fixed rail link under the Irish sea between Dublin and Holyhead that would open before the middle of the twenty-first century. The project had been under discussion as far back as 1890, when railway engineer Luke Livingston Macassey had proposed "a rail link using either a tunnel, a submerged 'tubular bridge' or a 'solid causeway.'" It remained a formidable engineering challenge even in the present day, particularly because the widest crossing point had been selected. The alternatives were certainly shorter in distance; however, the routes from Mull of Kintyre to County Antrim or Fishguard and Rosslare were of less strategic transporation value. Only the Dublin-to-Holyhead route could link up into a mid-country connection, tying together the two islands' central rail system and thereby running through London straight into the Catholic European Union.

Development funds from the CEU had been obtained and because the overarching goal was to bring the British Isles ever closer together, the name Blessed Queen Catherine Tunnel was eventually selected, a metaphor of the principle of indissolubility of union, even if circumstances may seem extreme.


Author's Note: After being banished from court, Catherine of Aragon lived out the remainder of her life at Kimbolton Castle, and died there on 7 January 1536. English people held Catherine in high esteem, and her death set off tremendous mourning.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

261 BC - Ashoka Unmoved

"Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesties and graciousnesses and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name of Ashoka shines, and shines, almost alone, a star." - H.G. Wells

Upon the end of the Kalinga War, Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Dynasty of India went to survey his newly conquered domain. What he found was a horrifying sight:  his invading forces killed an estimated 100,000 people with another 150,000 carried away as slaves. The dead literally covered the ground between burned-out homes, and the Daya River ran red from the bloodshed. A woman approached Ashoka and said, "Your actions have taken from me my father, husband, and son. Now what will I have left to live for?"

Distraught, Ashoka looked out among the ashes, and there he saw a flower growing. Its bright face, looking up at the sun through the smoky sky, moved him. No matter the terrible destruction, he is said to have thought, a new and better world could grow up from it. Ashoka ordered the woman to become the flower's caretaker for the rest of her days. She would be executed if the flower perished for any reason.

This was one of many tales of violence in Ashoka's life. He had been born grandson of Chandragupta, the founder of the Mauryan dynasty who had united much of the empire Ashoka inherited. In the northeast, the empire butted up against that of Seleucus, one of the late Alexander the Great's generals. The two fought but eventually came to an alliance confirmed by marriage with Chandragupta giving 500 elephants while Seleucus gave his daughter as a bride. In the last years of his life, Chandragupta retired to become a monk, leaving the empire to Bindusara, Ashoka's father. Ashoka was hardly next in line for the throne with as many as ninety-nine half-siblings, but he would seize power for himself.

As a prince-general, Ashoka grew in prominence by crushing revolts and conquering in the southwest. When Ashoka's older brother Susima was pronounced the heir, Ashoka tricked him into falling into a pit filled with burning coals to eliminate him. Upon Bindursara's death, Ashoka killed every other claimant to the throne, except for his brother Vitashoka, who became a monk in the growing new religion based on the teachings of the Buddha. At the head of the empire, Ashoka became known as "Ashoka the Fierce" for his wars of conquest.

He was also famous for his rage, routinely having even ministers executed for offenses like "not being loyal enough." He built a torture-palace called Ashoka's Hell that, on the exterior, was covered in beautiful architecture and gardens. On the inside, prisoners had their mouths pried open by irons and boiling copper was poured down their throats. The chambers were modeled on depictions of Hell from Buddhism, which Ashoka had taken as his state religion after an ongoing feud with the Hindu Brahmin. This hell was led by Girika, whose cruelty was only matched by his loyalty to Ashoka; Girika had executed his own parents for balking when his position as executioner was announced. Girika even agreed that anyone who entered the palace would never leave alive, including himself.

In the ninth year of his reign, Ashoka targeted the peaceful neighboring country of Kalinga. It was a wealthy nation, built up by the strong middle class of artisans and seafarers trading with the lands to the southeast. The people participated in their government through a democratic parliament that supported a popular monarch. The noble people had driven away the army of Chandragupta generations before, so Ashoka determined to conquer without mercy.

With the fleet from Kalinga now at his command, Ashoka dispatched generals to continue his conquests to the east. Ashoka himself marched south to complete conquests of India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Throughout his empire, Ashoka built great pillars and made inscriptions upon boulders with his new view of dharma: build a better world, no matter the cost. He also supported his own branch of monks, sent as missionary-ambassadors to the courts of Ptolemy II Philadelphus in Egypt and Antiochus II Theos in Asia Minor. As far away as Athens, people began to recite analogies of cutting down a grove of trees to build a house. A legend of Ashoka himself states that he ordered his ministers to gather the heads of all kinds of animals, including a human; the ministers were then dispatched to the market to sell them. The minister with the dead human head was unable to sell it, nor was he even able to give it away for free. Ashoka replied, "If I make to bow a head so disgusting that none on earth would take it, what harm is there?"

Ashoka's power grew as he moved into the chaotic vacuum in the northwest when the Seleucid Empire declined. Beating down both the Parni and the Greco-Bactrians, Ashoka dominated central Asia. Controlling trade routes put Ashoka in communication with the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, many of whose famous Terracotta Army feature warriors in Indian dress. Ashoka greatly impressed the Chinese emperor by not only having his armies with elephants in the west but with ships arriving in the east through the Yellow Sea.

After thirty-six years of rule, Ashoka died and was cremated, with legends saying that his body burned continuously for a week upon the funeral pyre. His tightly wound system of government continued the expansive Mauryan Empire for centuries more, but it eventually fell under the blade of the Scythian hordes and the satellite colonies became empires in their own right, such as those that conquered America from the west.

Yet Ashoka did leave his lasting imprint: even the Scythians ascribed to his philosophy of hard-fisted Buddhism, as do many nations worldwide.


In reality, it is said that great regret came upon Ashoka as he viewed the devastation his armies had wrought upon Kalinga and the ongoing suffering of the survivors. The experience humbled him, and he took Buddhism as a personal belief toward a gentler life. His reign lasted another thirty years, during which peace was found over all India. His towering Edicts called for good deeds and respect for all creatures.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Super Space Animals

What if the premise of the Fantastic Four comic book was reality?

On July 22, 1951, the Soviet Union launched two dogs, Tsygan ("Gypsy") and Dezik ("Deodorant") into space on R-1 IIIA-1. The two would be the first higher organisms to survive and be recovered from a space mission. Mission failures had plagued previous launches, but the mysterious disasters were nothing compared to the mystery of what exactly happened to these creatures once past Earth's protective atmosphere.

Both the Soviet Union and the United States were expanding upon captured German rocket technology from World War II. The common goal was to put a man into space, but no one knew what the strain of launch, floating in microgravity, and especially such exposure to cosmic radiation would do to a living creature. Missions gradually became more and more ambitious toward that goal.

The White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico first sought answers with fruit flies launched aboard a V-2 rocket on February 20, 1947. The fruit flies were recovered from a capsule that parachuted safely back to Earth. Scientists noted that the fruit flies not only survived, but continued to thrive, living years past their typical lifespan of forty to fifty days. Subsequent V-2 experiments sent up plants such as moss and other small creatures. Missions to launch a higher organisms into space followed, and the rhesus monkey Albert II, took off in June 1949 but died upon impact after his 83-mile fall due to parachute failure. Similar difficulties plagued launches carrying mice. The mice that did survive their return to Earth confounded scientists as their skin was suddenly impervious to needles and scalpels needed for invasive examination.

The Soviet Union began its own experiments, and the successful mission with Gypsy and Deodorant was lauded before being quickly covered up. According to declassified documents, the dogs were found not only to exhibit the same toughness as creatures before, but they also seemed to have uncanny new senses of detection bordering on precognition as well as telepathic empathy, often "hypnotizing" their trainers into giving them the entire supply of treats at once. Gypsy was dispatched to the Institute for Brain Research at Leningrad State University, which had been studying the paranormal since the 1920s, while Deodorant was launched again that June alongside another dog, Lisa, to see what effects repeated launch may have. Neither dog survived that mission.

Russian dog-launches continued, culminating in the November 1957 mission to make Laika the first animal to orbit the Earth. Laika spent a week in orbit. Official documents stated that she died peacefully after only hours aboard the craft as there were no means to bring her safely back to Earth. Rumors stated that Laika was, in fact, returned to Earth, and that the Soviets were quick to contain her deep in Siberia.

The United States government had no knowledge of the strange happenings with the Russian space dogs and worked to catch up with its own experiments through space monkeys. In December 1958, Jupiter IRBM AM-13 carried a squirrel monkey into space, but the rocket was destroyed upon reentry. A successful mission in 1959 carried another squirrel monkey, Miss Baker, and a rhesus monkey, Able. While Able died a few days after the mission for reasons documented as "reaction to anesthesia," Miss Baker lived on and began to exhibit fantastic powers of telekinesis, eating fruit by lifting it into her mouth without making her fingers sticky.

US media fanfare drew excitement as well as great public fear of what cosmic rays were doing to creatures in space. Many called for an immediate end to the goal of sending humans into space. Curiosity proved more powerful than concern, and the Soviet Union and United States both proliferated the creatures launched. In August 1960, Sputnik 5 carried two dogs, a gray rabbit, 40 mice, 2 rats, and 15 flasks of fruit flies and plants. The dogs were later bred successfully, and, in 1961, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev gifted Caroline Kennedy a puppy able to climb walls and sleep on the ceiling.

January 31, 1961, NASA launched Project Mercury's MR-2 carrying a chimpanzee dubbed "No. 65." The mission was to test the ability to operate a craft in space, and the chimp had been trained at the Holloman Aerospace Medical Center to flip levers to avoid a mild shock and to receive a reward in banana pellets. Despite a seal failure aboard the ship, the chimp arrived back to Earth safely. He was triumphantly renamed "Ham" and became a media darling like Miss Baker before. When Ham greeted his trainer one morning by saying "hello," there was an attempted media blackout. Consistent investigation eventually revealed the truth: Ham had not only developed speech but was also regularly tested to have an IQ of 180.

Moral and ethical questions arose in a frenzy. Religious figures denounced this "evolution" as wicked, while other leaders suggested that Ham be granted full citizenship. Ham began writing routine editorials for several world newspapers as he mastered more and more languages, arguing for environmentalism and investment in technology. During Ham's interview by Walter Cronkite, one of the most-watched events in television history, Cronkite asked Ham what might happen if a human was launched into the cosmic rays of space. Ham replied simply, "Superman."

Unsure of what they might create, both the Soviet Union and United States scrubbed their planned manned missions. Rumors circulated that cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was launched secretly in April 1961 and vanished from the capsule, which many conspiracy cosmologists believed to be some sort of apotheosis while others imagined Gagarin became so powerful that he destroyed the craft and died falling to Earth. Although there were numerous volunteers for a manned mission, the various space programs of nations worldwide called it the "new H-bomb." A new era of the Cold War began with each side watching the other, threatening to create a superhuman for defense, yet afraid of what it might actually bring.


In reality, cosmic rays delivering superpowers remains fictional. Fantastic Four #1 did, however, reverse the dire sales of Marvel Comics upon its publication in November, 1961, released several months after both Russian and American men had been launched into space. It ushered in a new era of superheroes facing dramatic woes.

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