I did not know about a genre called speculative alternate history till I read “Roma Eterna”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0380814889/jksobservat-20. Books like “Da Vinci Code”:http://varnam.nationalinterest.in/archives/000340.html do present alternate history which gets supressed. But Silverberg takes it one step furthur.
The question asked is: What if the Roman empire never died ? What would happen if it had lived for thousands of years. How would that affect the history as we know now. The book is a collection of ten short stories set in different periods of time till about the year 2000 AD.
Some generous assumptions are made. The Exodus under Moses is mentioned as a failed movement. As a result, the Hebrews never make it to Egypt and Christianity is never born.
The first tale “With Caesar in the Underworld” takes us into the underbelly of Rome itself, which is quite different from the polished culture that it presented to the outside world. The Emperor is dying and his eldest son is to take his place after his death. A Greek ambassador who comes with a alliance for the eldest prince is taken on a tour of the underground Roma by the youngest Prince and his friend. There is a sudden twist of events and someone unexpected takes over the throne.
In the second tale, “A Hero of the Empire”, a Roman who has fallen from grace with the Emperor is banished to Arabia in 7th century AD. There while roaming in Mecca, he meets a person named Mahmud, who wants to banish all idol worshippers and unite the feuding tribes under the name of his God called “Allah”. The Greeks had established a trading post in Mecca and Mahmud asks the Roman to join him in defeating the Greeks. But the Roman thinks that Mahmud is a much bigger danger and gets him killed, thus preventing Islam from taking root.
The final story “To the promised land” is about a Hebew named Moshe, set in near 2000 AD, who is going to lead an Exodus of his people. This story of Exodus is not about crossing the Red Sea, but by traveling out of the Earth using a spaceship.
Between the stories I mentioned, you see how the Western Empire with Rome as the capital and the Eastern Greek empire with Constantinople as the capital collide. At some point the Greeks take over Rome and later the Romans take it back. There are stories of money spent in futile wars in Mexico and massacre of the entire Royal family by Consuls.
Most of the stories are excellent and have been written with brilliant imagination. The characters are well established and you get to know their fears and ambitions very well. The vivid descriptions of the ancient cities really take you back in time. But the book is not a quick read. Each of the stories take their own time to establish the era and people. So you have to be patient. On the whole, a good read.
Thanks to “InstaPundit”:http://www.instapundit.com/ for “recommending this book”:http://www.instapundit.com/archives/015337.php.