This book includes the novella, “The Lucky Strike,” along with an essay and an interview. The novella is an alternate history story, in which Col. Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay, crashes his plane and dies a few days before he’s supposed to fly the mission to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. A backup crew flies instead. I can’t say more about that, and exactly what changes, without giving too much away, but it’s an excellent story. I have never read Robinson’s short fiction before, but I was impressed.
Next is an essay, “A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions” that uses the novella as a jumping-off point to looks at different models of historical analysis, from the point of view of a world where the first story is the true history. This was pretty dense, but it was interesting.
There are some great bits in the interview. I liked what KSR had to say about writing The Years of Rice and Salt:
“It came to me in the late 70s and it was indeed a kind of AHA moment, in that I was thinking about alternative histories, wanting ideas, and thought of the one for The Lucky Strike, too, and looking over the alternative histories I decided what was needed was the most major change you could think of. that did not simply change the game so much that it wiped away everything… Because you want comparison. So I was thinking, well what would be the biggest change that would still work in terms of comparison to our history, and it seemed to me that Europe’s conquering the world was so big that if it hadn’t happened — and then it hit me, and I said Wow and ran to write it down quick before I forgot it … So, once I had the idea, I knew I couldn’t write it, that what it implied was beyond what I was capable of expressing. I wondered if I would ever be capable of such a thing (I have a couple of good ideas I’ve never written because I can’t think how to yet) but after the Mars novels I figured I had worked out the method, and I was feeling bold. I’m glad I wrote it when I did; I don’t know if I have the brain cells for it now. Although that’s partly that book’s fault, because I blew out some fuses writing that one that were never replaced.”