10 Leaders Britain Never Had
Tom Black (ed.)
Sea Lion Press
Having managed to snag several months of Kindle Unlimited for a very reasonable price, my ability to actually read ebooks for review in an affordable manner has been resurrected. I know that there are many issues with the KU programme, particularly for authors, and the quality of many of the titles is questionable at best; but it is undeniably the most affordable, and therefore effective, way for me to read the majority of alternate history and zombie genre titles that I review on this blog. To celebrate, I’ve decided to begin by reviewing a number of zombie thrillers that I failed to get to the last time I had KU access, and also work through the early back catalogue of Sea Lion Press. The first title in the latter to be reviewed is Sea Lion Press’ first anthology, 10 Leaders Britain Never Had.
Despite being one of the earliest titles published by Sea Lion Press, the high level of quality in all areas that allows the publisher to stand apart from the mass of titles in the alternate history genre. The writing of all of the tales contained in the anthology is of a consistently high standard, the copy-editing is excellent, and the cover image by Jack Tindale is more than sufficient to stand out from the crowd of counter-factual historical titles on the Kindle marketplace.
The theme running through the anthology is, as the title suggests, alternate leaders – political party leaders and/or Prime Ministers that never made it to Downing Street in our reality. It’s a simple theme, and yet almost deceptively so, for what the anthology actually contains is a fantastic array of highly imaginative and intriguing counter-factual tales that span the past 100 years in British politics. While some of the stories include alternate leaders that are quite obvious, or at least relatively well-known, others mine the rich seams of British political history to find men and women that could only have become Prime Minister if fate (or chance) had radically changed history.
The anthology is composed of a total of eleven short stories, many by SLP authors who have gone on to be published separately by the publisher. To avoid making this sound like a book report, and to try and avoid any spoilers, I won’t list and describe each story in turn, but instead just highlight those stories that I felt particularly stood out – just as with Remain Means Remain, SLP’s second anthology. England’s Rose by Ed Thomas (author of the fantastic A Greater Britain and a number of other counter-factual novels), is centered around the eulogy given by Winston Churchill to Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, who died before she could see the end of the war against Nazi Germany. It’s a very personal and evocative piece of writing, and the speech that Churchill gives reminds me of the real-life eulogy that he gave at the remembrance service for Neville Chamberlain in 1940. The identity of the wartime Prime Minister is a nice surprise and not too obscure, and her entry into politics and the subsequent butterflies to the timeline bring up some interesting changes that are only hinted at during the story.
Something in the Air is one of my favourite tales within the anthology, and it’s almost impossible to write about without giving away its plot; but Liam Baker (author of Walking Back to Happiness) deftly spins a tale of a blood-soaked, revolutionary London and the improbable aristocratic figure who returns to lead it in the aftermath of social upheaval. The short but darkly comic The Lambeth Walk is also by Mr Baker, and highlights how a deeply improbable (and deeply inappropriate) Prime Minister would deal with Monarchical interference in British politics. In “Come back!” Tom Black gives us a polished and rather moving tale of a Liberal Democrat who becomes Prime Minister in tragic circumstances, and the political machinations that he faces; by the end of the story I was feeling distinctly sympathetic for the protagonist, with an almost heart-breaking final sentence. The anthology closes out with two light-hearted pieces: Ed Dawn by Paul Hynes (author of the Decisive Darkness duology) presents a story highly reminiscent of the old 1980s satire show The Comic Strip, with Ed and David Miliband portrayed as almost-farcical, treacherous Communist leaders of a revolutionary Britain; and finally, An Honourable Man by James Hall takes a beloved British sitcom character and finally gives him the spotlight he never quite got, imagining a very different world where he enters politics rather than the Home Guard.
All of the stories in the anthology, even those not highlighted above, are consistently entertaining and thoughtful pieces of counter-factual writing, and some even manage to produce some smirks or occasional feelings of pathos. It is a well-crafted anthology, and an excellent introduction to both Sea Lion Press and the wider genre of political alternate history that is well worth a read.