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12 Mar 2006
Dracula Cha Cha Cha - Kim Newman - Simon & Schuster, 1998
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As I’ve remarked before, alternate world fiction is fundamentally a mug’s game. To anyone with an evolutionary sensibility, it is blindingly obvious that there can be few if any historical inevitabilities. As books like The Hinge Factor and What If? show, a tiny deviation in the course of historical events can swing the outcomes of wars and change the actions of history’s movers and shakers in the same way that a single nucleotide change in DNA can cause huge alterations in the morphology and behaviour of an organism. This means that even the smallest “what if” will lead to a massive accumulation of alterations that will soon result in a world that is utterly different from our own. To do an alternate world novel properly therefore requires a massive amount of preparation and imaginative thought which isn’t really possible for a jobbing author who has to produce a novel every couple of years. As a result, most alternate world novels are light-weight affairs, fluffy constructs that rely on amusing subversions of historical personalities to disguise their fundamental lack of plausibility.

Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series doesn't start with a small deviation from history but a big one - that the titular vampire isn’t defeated by Van Helsing, but marries Queen Victoria and founds a vampiric ruling class. Dracula Cha Cha Cha, the third and final book, is set in the 1950s Rome of La Dolce Vita and typically for the genre fails to follow through the repercussions of its premise. The world in which the story is set is still recognisably that of the historical 1950s despite the fact that vampires have been known about for over sixty years and a large number of the great and the good have been turned into immortal bloodsuckers. There is absolutely no way that history would not have changed radically - if there is one thing that would foment revolution, it is the general awareness that the ruling class can become immortal by feeding on the blood of the rest of humanity (yes, I know that a satirical point is being made about economic domination and exploitation by the aristocracy and capitalist plutocrats). Yet not a single country has a different leader or governmental system. To be fair though, Newman knows what he is about, and providing you can ignore the constructed nature of his world, it is quite entertaining.
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