Reading journal: Victory on Gallipoli and other what-ifs of Australian History edited by Peter Stanley

Genre: Non-fiction
Published: 2017
Date read: July 2018

I’m interested in alternate history. It’s a bit like studying history in reverse. In the study of history, the European approach is to examine primary sources to establish facts, and then retro-fit an interpretation onto that information. The interpretation changes as society and our current pre-occupations change.

Red background, torn newspaper headlines in foreground

Alternate history is different. It postulates a change in “known” facts, then  tries to deduce what would have changed as a result. Of course some retro-fitted interpretation must still be present, but is usually not explicitly stated.
In this volume, the authors do exactly this. I have a couple of complaints.

  • Firstly, the events they have examined all fall into the traditional ‘famous men’ theme — military history, political events, and you guessed it, famous men. There are 24 stories, two are about women, and they are both political women (Vida Goldstein and Edith Cowan).
  • Secondly, the interpretation. In almost every case, the event changes, but the long-term consequences are not world-shattering. Australia ends up pretty much the same as it did in the original timeline.

The idea of this book is promising. It’s interesting to read about the chosen events (e.g. Federation, Eureka, Gallipoli, the New Guard, the communist party banning referendum), and the presentation style, as imagined primary documents, is good.
I would have liked more. If the capital really had been located in Melbourne instead of Canberra, what would that have changed? Nothing, according to this book. If Western Australia hadn’t joined the Federation, surely the massive iron ore boom that the rest of the country didn’t therefore benefit from would have had dramatic effects a century on? But the story doesn’t go there.
Perhaps I’m asking too much. Historians wrote this book, not science fiction novelists. A pity, perhaps, it would have made for more interesting stories.

Reading journal: Exile by Glynn Stewart

Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2018
Date read: August 2018

Competent science fiction tale from a solid professional writer. Isaac Gallant and a bunch of revolutionaries are exiled through a one-way wormhole to a distant galaxy, and must establish themselves on a new planet. But of course there are aliens, lots of them, and deadly dangers. Not a bad yarn. I’ll read any sequels. Great cover.

Spaceships blasting through wormhole, part of a blue planet visible in the background

Reading journal: Ishmael by Barbara Hambly

Genre: Science fiction
Published: 1985
Series: Star Trek novels
Date read: November 2018

Lovely book, almost worn out due to multiple reads. This is a cross-over book that cleverly meshes two TV series, the original Star Trek with Kirk and Spock, and Here Come the Brides, set in frontier Seattle. It has everything—evil Klingons, time travel, amnesia, gambling scenes set in old San Francisco, and romance.

Spock and Jason Bolt gambling in old San Francisco with a bar girl in the background

Barbara Hambly is a great writer and did a wonderful job with this book. Highly recommended for action, adventure, and scifi lovers and old 1960s TV tragics like me.

Reading journal: Rusted Off: Why country Australia is fed up by Gabrielle Chan

Genre: Non-fiction
Published: 2018
Date read: September 2018

Gabrielle Chan is a journalist who lives up the road from me, in Harden, New South Wales. This interesting book pulls apart the social structure of a country town and explores the point of view of people who feel unrepresented in Australia’s political system.

City skyscapers on the left, the contrast of cropping fields on the right

It’s true that highly educated city dwellers find it hard to see things from a rural perspective. It’s a two-way street though. And Harden is only an hour away from Canberra. People travel between these towns all the time; in fact, many rural people are highly mobile, following work opportunities more than city people may do, and often have family all over the place.
I enjoyed the book but was not totally convinced by the arguments. Governments in recent times have ignored everyone except their mates, and some of those mates were well-heeled country people. The argument is more one of connections, opportunities and funding than location, I think.

Reading journal: We have always lived in the castle by Shirley Jackson

Genre: Horror
Published: 1962
Date read: July 2018

A scarifying story about a teenage girl, Merricat and her sister Constance. We know right from the beginning that something is off, and exactly what is revealed gradually.
The girls and their uncle live apart from the town, exiled really. We learn that the rest of the family died in a horrific poisoning incident, but who was responsible? We suspect. We don’t know for sure. And then a greedy relative appears, and upsets the fragile family life that seemed so stable but really wasn’t, and everything goes straight to hell.

Creepy people from gothic horror film, black and white cover

I won’t include spoilers here, but if you want to read a perfect story about a sociopath, and how creepy haunted houses with demented old people living in them came to be, this is the one.
Disturbing, unsettling and brilliant.