The American Civil War and World War II bear the scars of incessant strip-mining from alternate historians. That other major war of the early twentieth century, the Spanish Civil War, earns little attention in fiction. This war in the bottom left corner of Europe drew thousands of international volunteers to fight side by side with Spaniards against what they perceived to be the forces of evil. The testing grounds for World War II were fought on the plain, mountains and cities. German brigades ranged the countryside and Stukas and Junkers pounded cities to dust. Joseph Stalin’s heavy hand crushed the backs of Spanish Communists who sought their own future, while at the same time dipping into the country’s golden pockets. This is a rich breeding ground for fiction and speculation, yet until now, rarely worked save as historical windows in time. With Anarquía, and repair this gap with a fine new novel that boldly ponders the question: What if the anarchists won?
Anarquía flies an ambitious black flag: the theater in Spain dealt maintly with Soviet-supported communists and socialists battling the Hitler-Mussolini-Franco triumverate of fascism. A handful of forgotten syndicalist anarchists also fought in the war, yet while in real life they suffered at the hands of both Communists and fascists. In and ’ novel the anarchists in Spain are joined by individualist anarchists from America (including counter-economic Agorists á la Samuel E. Konkin III), and prevail against collectivists of all stripes.
Two of the main protagonists in Anarquía are actress Hedy Lamarr and scientist Wernher von Braun. We meet the former during a dinner party hosted by her industrialist husband, for no other than Adolph Hitler. Lamarr stands up against Hitler, to the anger of her husband, who sees the young beauty as little more than a trophy wife (Lamarr’s most famous role at this point was her nude scene at age seventeen in Ecstasy). Lamarr chafes in this role, and soon flees her husband for Hollywood. Along the way she encounters von Braun on a train, along with his childhood friend Konrad Zuse, and thus begins a long and hot relationship between Lamarr and von Braun.
Lamarr reaches Hollywood, meets and sleeps with actors and actresses. She enters an affair with the charismatic co-star of her new movie, later to meet his wife, a playwright and author based in New York called Ayn Rand. The depiction of Rand in her brief scene conveys the electricity of Rand’s personality. There’s little humanity in the authors’ depiction of Rand, who comes across as obsessed with the human mind.
Meanwhile, in New York, two science fiction pulp writers and close friends debate the decision of one of them, Howard Davidson. He plans a trip to Spain to write about the conflict. This fictional writer joins the ranks of other writers, famous then and in our time for their actions in the war. Homage to Catalonia is perhaps the most famous non-fiction account of the war. On the other end, ’s superb novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1939), condensed the pain, grit, and agony of the entire war in one small locale, one single incident. Both and participate as supporting actors in Anarquía. comes off as the better character, noble and thoughtful. seems more like a cruel bully, not so different from his real personality.’s
Once the war begins in earnest, in July 1936, the next two years fly past in brief episodes. The Germans discover to their shock a secret weapon used against them by the Spanish. Powerful rockets bring down their aircraft. Wernher von Braun is in Spain, working against Franco and Germany. Allied with Buenaventura Durruti (in our world killed in late 1936; in Anarquía he lives and plays a greater role in the war), von Braun’s rockets turn the tide. The anarchists divert the gold headed to Russia into their own hands, financing more weapons. Lamarr leaves Hollywood and rejoins von Braun, and the course of events take a different path from our own, into the wild black yonder.
The book at times seems too slim. Just before we become acquainted with one character, off we zoom to the next. The novel feels smaller than its 193 pages, due to the addition of photos reprinted on each page. At times it has the feel of a screenplay, swtiching scenes rapidly and rarely lingering in one place.
In addition to the main narrative, the book includes afterwords from Bill Patterson (publisher/editor of The Heinlein Journal), William Alan Ritch (former editor of Prometheus), one each by Prometheus Award-winnersand (Prometheus reprints afterword on page 5 of this issue), Randall N. Herrst (president of The Center for the Study of Crime), and (fictioneer and collaborator).
A list of fictional and real characters, a brief chronology of real events surrounding the Spanish Civil War, and glossaries on personalities and acronyms are appended after the main narrative. These fill in the historical background, but also detract from the fictional story. Nearly unforgivable is the publishers’ own insertion of photos of people and posters on virtually every page of the novel. No doubt the intent is sincere. In a different setting it might even work. Yet the images are the size of postage stamps, and act like rocks amidst the flow of the plot. I found myself constantly lifting my eyes from the text to glance at the pictures, then gazing around the page to find where I had left off reading.
Look past the occasional narrative skips and the over-zealous pictorial info-dump and you will encounter an imaginative and powerful work of fiction. Anarquía may be the most important book on freedom and alternate history since The Probability Broach. The level of research and historical detail is staggering, the passion for liberty unflinching, and the power of story enthralling. This clearly is a must-own book.and nearly persuade the reader that the stories and events in this novel are true, or at least makes you wish they were true.
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