Alembical is the first volume in what may become a series of novella anthologies from Paper Golem Press. Paper Golem has previously published Prime Codex, a reprint anthology. Alembical features stories from Jay Lake, Bruce Taylor, James Van Pelt, and Ray Vukcevich.
I'll be covering each of the four stories with brief reviews / blog posts.
The first story in Alembical is Jay Lake's "America, Such as She Is", an alternate history which posits that the United States lost World War II when Germany dropped two nuclear bombs on American cities - Portland and Baltimore. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is considered "the last freely elected president of the United States". The United States has become an occupied nation in the aftermath of the war, by Germany in the East and by Japan in the West.
That's what happened. It's not what the story is about.
"America, Such as She Is" is really three stories. Two of the stories are about people, both unnamed. One man traveling up the Pacific coast, stopping at a small town looking for somebody to the north who can help him, though the reader does not know what for. Not initially. He seems to be a drifter, but he's not just that. He is a former soldier, a man with a skill. A woman is a prostitute in a town which may be in the Pacific islands. The location does not truly matter, except that the town is occupied by a Japanese base and through this nameless woman's eyes we see the pain of an occupier. Through this woman's eyes we see that for the locals it does not matter who the occupiers are, only that there are occupiers.
The third story comes out through both the woman and the man, though mostly from the man. Through these storylines, and through excerpts of speeches and newspaper articles, the fallen America becomes a character and becomes a story itself. Jay Lake manages to get across the emotional and economic depression that would surely come from America's defeat and from German and Japanese occupation, and from the eventual (yet natural) co-opting of America by German (read, Nazi) values.
"America, Such as She Is" is perhaps the most realistic alternate history I’ve read. I've had the chance to read a handful (maybe a double handful) of Jay Lake’s fiction and of those stories, this is quite easily his best.
Brutal story. Excellent story.
If this is the opener to Alembical, I have to wonder what the other three stories bring to the table. "America, Such as She Is" is outstanding. If Mr. Lake is ever inclined to write more stories with this settting, or expand the idea into a novel - I'm there. If not, I count myself lucky to had the chance to read this one.
Yeah, I just gushed. This one deserves it.