Alternate history fiction

has always fascinated me.  A quick scan of my science fiction shelves (always a dangerous practice: those books are still there because I want to read them again!) turned up several, but I’ve just finished reading a new collection of old favorites, Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy.  Once upon a time I read these tales in three long-out-of-print paperbacks, the story collections Murder and Magic and Lord Darcy Investigates and the novel Too Many Magicians.  Most if not all were originally published in science fiction magazines and anthologies.

Lord Darcy is the Chief Investigator for Richard, Duke of Normandy, the brother of King John IV, ruler of the Anglo-French Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, New England, New France, and several other territories.  The stories are set in the 1960s and 70s (when they were written) in a world quite different from our own.  For one thing, Lord Darcy solves mysteries (many involving the Polish Secret Service of King Casimir) with the aid of Forensic Sorcerer Sean O Lochlain.  The people of Darcy’s world don’t have automobiles, airplanes or telephones (the technology in general is rather Victorian), but they do have a carefully formulated science based on the laws of magic.

Garrett clearly had fun with Lord Darcy on several levels.  The stories are all good mysteries, often of the locked room variety, with frequent references to mystery novels, movies and TV shows.  Too Many Magicians is a tribute to Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels: Wolfe appears as the Marquis de London, and his legman Archie Goodwin as Lord Bontriomphe.  “The Napoli Express” reworks Agatha Christie’s Orient Express, with quite a different outcome.

Then there’s the “forensic science,” much of it based on the magical laws of similarity, which Master Sean loves to explain to anyone who will listen.  Locks and privacy spells are keyed to their owners.  Food is preserved not in refrigerators or freezers but in storage containers with preservation spells, rather expensive because the magic has to be refreshed frequently.  Lord Darcy, however, has no magical Talent himelf, just a Sherlockian gift for deduction.

The turning point for this particular alternate history, the event or circumstance where it left our own, came in 1199, when Richard the Lionheart survived the arrow wound which killed him in our history, returned to England, and took his job seriously.  As a result, the Plantagenet dynasty still rules a vast empire, which Garrett fills with enticing people and places, like the Journeyman Sorcerer Lord John Quetzal, son of the ruler of Mechicoe, or the New England colony of Robertia, where tobacco is grown for pipes and cigars.  Characters drink caffe and ouiskie, travel by carriage and train, and communicate by handwritten notes and teleson.

If you enjoy mystery, magic, or historical world building, the adventures of Lord Darcy will delight you.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. D'Ann
    May 02, 2011 @ 09:39:24

    Hi, Kay!
    Good to see you out on the web!



  2. Laurie A. Green
    May 04, 2011 @ 19:56:20

    Hi Kay! I’m fascinated with alternate history, too. In fact my next project is an alternate history, though it falls into the science fiction romance arena more than historical.

    Love the way you describe Lord Darcy and the twists like “caffe” and “ouiskie.” Sounds like a fun read.

    And since I haven’t visited your blog before, I’ll also say congrats on the Golden Heart final (again)!



    • Kay Hudson
      May 04, 2011 @ 20:50:14

      Welcome, Laurie, and thanks for the congrats (and back atcha, twice). I’ve done one manuscript (Far Between) that comes close to alternate history, but it’s really parallel worlds, three versions of the Gulf Coast. Too much science fiction for most romance contest judges, I’m afraid, but I may find it a home one day.



  3. Trackback: Speculative Fiction for History Buffs | Kay Hudson
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