Remain Means Remain
Edited by Tom Black
Sea Lion Press
A little over a year has passed since the referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union took place and led to a narrow victory for the Leave campaign. The repercussions of the referendum and the resulting ‘Brexit’ have only just begun; and what Britain, the EU and the wider world as a whole may look like in one year, ten years and even a century’s time is anyone’s guess. As a result, the concept of a Brexit with a different outcome, as well as tales based around the broader idea of European membership referendums, is fertile ground for counter-factual history; and it is therefore very timely that Sea Lion Press has published, as part of their latest wave of titles, their first alternate history anthology, entitled Remain Means Remain. Collecting fifteen stories together, both from previous Sea Lion Press authors as well as entirely new writers, the anthology ranges through a variety of very different worlds in order to explore the many different outcomes that a European referendum might have on Britain and its neighbours.
As with all of the other Sea Lion Press titles that I have reviewed, I continue to be impressed by the high production qualities shown by Remain Means Remain. It has obviously been well edited, the distinct lack of typos already elevating the title above 99% of the titles infesting the alternate history genre, and the cover is another excellent piece of distinctive art from Jack Tindale, minimalist yet highly distinctive and once again building up the Sea Lion Press brand. The quality extends into the stories themselves that have been chosen to be included in the anthology. I dislike the American book-report style reviews of anthologies, where every single story is listed and described; as such, I’ll simply highlight those that I felt particularly distinguished themselves from their colleagues. The opening story by Tom Black, also titled Remain Means Remain, is by far the most polished piece of writing in the collection; written in the style of a long-form Guardian article, it begins with a relatively simple premise: that a series of small changes by Prime Minister David Cameron at the beginning of the referendum campaign led to a narrow victory for Remain – the same result as our timeline, in fact, but flipped (52-48). However, despite the victory, Mr Black is at pains to highlight how such a narrow victory has done little to resolve the situation; and if anything, the political and social situation in Britain is even more precarious than reality. Slickly written and with enough sharp observations to highlight the research and in-depth knowledge he has on the subject, Remain Means Remain sets the bar high for the rest of the anthology.
The next story that caught my eye during reading was In The Footsteps of Giants by Alex Richards. Following a low-level British diplomat who attends diplomatic meetings in the main chamber of a European ruling body, what appears to be a tale set in a mildly different world where the EU faces down Soviet Russia soon turns into a fascinating mini-study of how an EU analogue might function (or not, as the case might be) within a Balkanised Europe full of fractured, often tiny nation-states ruthlessly competing against their own internal enemies as much as an external one. After this comes one of my favourite stories within the collection: The Last Colony by Bob Mumby, author of the excellent Making Murder Sound Respectable, also published by Sea Lion Press. As with Making Murder Sound Respectable, Mr Mumby has again conducted a brilliant exercise in world-building, this time with a Britain that is subject to an internal Communist revolution in the late 1920s. Building off of that intriguing beginning, the author then explores what a Communist Britain might mean for international politics, and the constituent countries forming the British Empire, particularly its Indian and African dominions. Mumby shows us a world where a ‘People’s Commonwealth’ and ‘Pan-African Federation’ are formed, and the political and cultural impacts that two such radical organisations would have on the world stage. Once again, by the end of the story I was only craving more detail, more stories, and I do hope that we see a full novel set in this universe before too long.
While The Last Colony is, in my opinion, perhaps the best story within the anthology, it has fierce competition from several other tales in the latter part of the anthology. WN2 by George Kearton, while descending into a highly amusing political satire by its end, has important things to say about the role of the northern counties in Britain, and the manner in which they are often dealt with contemptuously by the government in London and their southern supporters, when they and their hopes and needs are not completely and deliberately ignored. The Brejectionists by Liam Baker takes a very brief but interesting look at the nature of referendums, and how governments can – or should – react to them, and Breaking Point by David Flin reminds me of an unfilmed episode from an early series of Spooks, when it was still a gritty TV drama and not a glorified soap opera. Following a member of the British intelligence community as he muses on the EU referendum, Brexit, and how one can interpret the concept of regnum defende, or defending the realm, in the light of the drastic political and social consequences of a referendum result, Breaking Point is very much in the tone of early Le Carré and Deighton. Chienlit, by Jack Tindale, is another polished piece of fiction, a stimulating piece that takes a look at a subject often the subject of wild conspiracy theories: a European Army, and the nature of national and individual identity within such a unified military and command structure. And the ending story, Brexit Means Brexit by Chris Nash, is almost impossible to review without spoiling the twist within the tale; suffice to say that it depicts a well-written and highly original scenario that is an excellent way to close out an anthology.
Remain Means Remain is the first anthology by Sea Lion Press, and it has set a very high bar, not only for its own titles, but also for quality alternate history in the genre. I hope to see another such anthology in the future, and also more titles emerging from some of the universes developed in the stories it contains.