Alternate Kennedys

No, I am not doing a tie in to the upcoming U.S. presidential elections.

This will be a set up for a future posting.

Raw Feed (1992): Alternate Kennedys, ed. Mike Resnick, 1992.alternate-kennedys-2

“Introduction”, Mike Resnick — Goes into the myth of the Kennedys and some interesting facts about them: the Kennedy daughters, JFK’s son who died, Bobby Kennedy’s wiretappings, Joe Kennedy Sr’s disgrace as Ambassador to the Court of St. James, the valid contention that the Kennedys were the last politicians (except Ted Kennedy — and even he tries) to control the press.

A Fleeting Wisp of Glory”, Laura Resnick — An amusing and grim post-holocaust fable where the Kennedy Camelot and the Arthurian Camelot are being strangely mingled into a legend that explains the poor state of a post-atomic war future yet gives hope to the survivors by reminding them the world wasn’t always so bad.

In the Stone House”, Barry N. Malzberg — Generally I haven’t liked Malzberg’s stories. But he’s done some good work with the alternate president idea. His “Kingfish” in Mike Resnick’s Alternate Presidents was good and this story is too. I don’t know if Malzberg tapped into some conspiracy theories which have the Kennedy family behind the assassination of JFK (I’ve just seen such publications sold but have never read them), but I liked the bizarre notion of ex-president Joe Kennedy, Sr gunning for his president brother JFK. One can argue with the plausibility of an ex-President with Secret Service protection being able to plan the assassination of another president, but the story seems very realistic from a psychological standpoint. I don’t know how closely Joe Kennedy, Sr.’s actions, attitudes, and motives match the same man in our history, but he seemed a plausible mixture of man obsessed with slights to his family and Irish heritage, a man driven to make his sons presidents, and a domineering, inconsiderate, bullying father. Joe Kennedy, Jr. and his relationship to his father seemed quite believable. Junior goes along with all his father’s requests. He sometimes resents his father’s demands but always complies, seldom rebels. JFK is the rebel, the man who breaks free of his father’s psychological grip to destroy the latter’s plan. And, as Junior realizes, there is ambiguity in his assassination of JFK. It may be to please his father, punish JFK’s betrayal. Or it may be to punish his father by killing his president son. There is something to remark on in this story, common to a lot of alternate history story. Authors seem to feel it necessary (perhaps as an inside joke, perhaps just to provide a reference for the reader) to put alternate historical events in places famous in our time. For example, why have Joe Jr kill JFK in Dallas at the Texas Book Depository? Is it really credible to believe that events would have worked out so neatly in another world, that JFK wouldn’t have been a better target (or Joe Jr. had a better opportunity) somewhere else? I think the obvious answer is no, but the ploy is used in alternate history stories for historical reference and irony and reader identification.

The Kennedy Enterprise”, David Gerrold — A funny story of JFK and Bobby Kennedy in Hollywood and an alternate history of Star Trek or, rather Star Track and those associated with it. We also get alternate versions of some famous movies. Some of the better bits: Harlan Ellison as a laidback, compliant (hardly a word associated with Ellison) writer for Star Track; Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner fired from Star Track and replaced by JFK (and other changes are made to the show which make it like Star Trek: The Next Generation; JFK as a bad actor (who never meets Marilyn Monroe). I also liked the irritable, conversational style of this piece.

The Best and Brightest”, Kristine Kathryn Rusch — Refreshingly, this story takes aim at the Kennedy reputation as civil rights leaders. Rightly or wrongly, the Kennedys, as the opening epigraph of the story shows, did not avidly support Martin Luther King. In this reality, for no clearly stated reason, Bobby Kennedy is implicated in an assassination attempt on Martin Luther King.

The 1960 Presidential Campaign, Considered as a World Wrestling Federation Steel Cage Match or Short Count in Chicago”, Jack C. Haldeman II — This wasn’t quite as funny as the reviews said, but it’s a fun idea: world affairs of 1960 seen through the metaphor of professional wrestling. And it grows on you, particularly Chicago Dick (Richard Daley) giving the long count to the Hyannis Kid (JFK) and the short count to the Trickster (Richard Nixon).

Siren Song”, Susan Schwartz — Another story that’s rather unflattering to JFK. Here he abandons love, peace, and bliss with a mermaid to knowingly go back to a life he knows will end with his murder in Dallas. He comes across as a driven, ambitious man obsessed with power and glory and sex. This story, along with Barry Malzberg’s “In the Stone House”, portrays the Kennedys’ childhoods as bereft of compassion and forbearance if not comfort.

Them Old Hyannis Blues”, Judith Tarr — This story reminds me of Howard Waldrop’s “Ike at the Mike”, another tale of president turned musician in an alternate reality. I found this story kind of boring. Maybe for a Boomer audience and Boomer (and older) readers role reversals (Elvis Presley as President, the Kennedy brothers as rock singers) have more “resonance” but I found the exercise trite and a bit pompous (Mick Jagger as underground leader, John Lennon as Secretary of State for instance).

Rosemary: Scrambled Eggs on a Blue Plate”, Alan Rodgers and James D. Macdonald — The tale of the lobotomized Kennedy, Rosemary, and her nightmares of aliens killing her brothers, replacing JFK, and lobotomizing her. It may be delusion or truth. Interesting style, some nice working of details (JFK’s bad back, the state of his brain at his autopsy, the missing remains of his brain) into a paranoid frame of reference but and a bit too long.

The Missing 35th President”, Brian M. Thomsen — This story proves Thomsen is much wittier and interesting at writing stories than blurbs for the Questar books he edits. This funny, delightful tale takes some tabloid-style stories (Resnick notes, as an ex-tabloid editor, the style and tone is authentic) as rationale of why some future cloners/archaeologists can’t find JFK’s remains and description of his post Nov. 22, 1963 activities (marrying Marilyn Monroe and being Earth’s ambassador to the Galactic Congress no less).

Freedom”, Barbara Delaplace — A story whose main point of interest is the portrait of domineering, bully Joseph Kennedy, Sr. who badgers his children to achieve his agenda. Joe Jr. decides death is the only escape. The death of Richard Nixon seems a mere contrivance to make this an alternate history. Nixon was in the Navy, so the author manipulates reality on several points. That’s ok in an alternate history. But changing one event and examining the consequences is usually more interesting.

A Massachusetts Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”, Harry Turtledove — A pleasant enough story with a simple idea: take JFK back to the squalor of the real Camelot. Humor derives from his womanizing and trying to resurrect his rusty Latin.

President-Elect”, Mark Aronson — This story belongs to that group of alternate histories that explore how a seemingly significant event does not really affect history. Here Robert Kennedy survives the assassination attempt against him and is transformed into a Republican Law and Order candidate. The behind the scene political maneuvering seems plausible even if it results in Democratic Presidential candidate Ted Kennedy and Robert Kennedy running against each other in 1968. President Elect Robert Kennedy dies in a car accident at Chappaquiddick. Vice president Richard Nixon takes over. Still, this story suffers from that desire to give a humorous and/or ironical historical reference in a place that has significance in both realities (here Chappaquiddick). Sometimes the ploy works. It didn’t quite work here. Still, I found the alternate 1968 election quite interesting.

No Prisoners”, Pat Cadigan — This story didn’t do much for me. It painted Joseph Kennedy, Sr. in a good light (the first story in this book to do so) and seemed to be a bit worshipful of the Kennedys and its feminist emphasis bored. Nor did I find Robert Kennedy, radical, self-immolating Jesuit interesting.

Lady in Waiting”, Mike Resnick — Story of a pathetic Norma Jean Baker (aka Marilyn Monroe in our world), a waitress, obsessively waiting JFK’s marriage proposal. It seems she mistook a brushoff from JFK after they had sex as a future promise to marry.

The Inga-Binga Affair”, Michael P. Kube-McDowell — The story of how JFK willingly, deliberately destroys his political future by associating with an alleged Nazi spy (who happens to be a gorgeous woman). JFK wants to lead his own life apart from his father’s hopes. The reader, I believe, is supposed to draw some inferences about events past the story’s end: Joe Kennedy Jr still dies, JFK does not go into politics. That comes near the problem of this and many other stories in this volume. Many are about when history changes from our reality or just the consequences for the Kennedys. Most of the pleasure of alternate history is the world consequences of the alternation — not the changing event or just the consequences for a famous personage.

Bobbygate”, Rick Katze — The main point of interest in this story is the portrayal of the Kennedys as much more ruthless (Joe Kennedy, Sr. has people killed) than Richard Nixon in covering up a scandal. I think its a valid, true point (JFK introduced Nixon to the idea of auditing, via the IRS, political opponents and their relatives).

Now And in the Hour of Death”, Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald — An interesting story about Kathleen Kennedy surviving the plane crash that killed her. This story illustrates another weakness in this anthology. The idea of alternate lives of a family is probably too specialized to carry this many stories without some boredom (as well as the problems I mentioned under “The Inga-Binga Affair” entry).

Eoghan”, Nancy Kress — Not an alternate history but a fantasy version of the Kennedy clan. The story’s main interest are the historical bits. The Kennedy clan is magically blessed while they do good. JFK not pulling out of Vietnam is, in this story, bad so he dies in Dallas. As a story not very interesting.

’Til Death Do Us Part”, Charles von Rospach — A nasty story with Marilyn Monroe, obsessed with JFK,giving him over to a nasty fate in Hell.

Gloria Remembers”, Brian M. Thomsen — Tale of Joe Kennedy’s pact with the devil to have the Kennedy name glorified through his sons. He thinks it will be through their deeds.

Told You So”, Esther M. Friesner — Humorous story that makes much of JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” (translation: “I am a jelly donut.” instead of “Ich bin Berliner” — “I am from Berlin.”)

The End of the Summer by the Great Sea”, Ginjer Buchanan — A boring story about time traveling aliens who do awful things to the Kennedy clan.

Prince Pat”, George Alec Effinger — A too earnest, too naïve story about Patrick Bouvier Kennedy (JFK’s son who died in infancy) successful bid for the presidency on a platform of sincerity and honest talk with no need given to special interest groups or political handlers. Much of the interest of this story comes from spotting the parallels (down to certain speeches) to William Shakespeare’s Henry V.

The Disorder and Early Sorrow of Edward Moore Kennedy, Homunculus”, Robert Sheckley — This story has a sufficiently nasty fate for a politician I despise, but,as satire,it fails. In terms of this story, what has Kennedy done to deserve this? Is he treated like a toy by the aliens at story’s ending because he treats others (especially women) as toys? Even that isn’t very clear.

Rosemary’s Brain”, Martha Soukup — This was an interesting story. Like most stories in this anthology that are alternate histories, it mainly deals with the point things change from our history. Here, Rosemary Kennedy (who gets a lobotomy in our world) is rendered superintelligent by the same operation. The Kennedy ambition is still in her though and, when she talks about her plans, we see a little of what this will mean for the world. Her ambition seems to be driven in part by resentment for the way her family treated her.

The Winterberry”, Nicholas A. DiChario — An alternate history with an intriguing premise (JFK survives Oswald’s assassination attempts — but is severely brain-damaged and secretly cared for by Edward Kennedy and their mother with only them and doctors knowing about it) told from a warm, personal perspective. The personality that is the narrator doesn’t know he was JFK and is increasingly alone as his family dies around him. He poignantly awaits Jacqueline Kennedy’s return. (Ironic given the womanizing JFK of so many stories in this anthology.)


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

2 thoughts on “Alternate Kennedys

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.