"Paul Levinson's It's Real Life is a page-turning exploration into that multiverse known as rock and roll. But it is much more than a marvelous adventure narrated by a master storyteller...it is also an exquisite meditation on the very nature of alternate history." -- Jack Dann, The Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History

Friday, April 2, 2021

For All Mankind 2.7: Alternate History Surges

A flat-out great episode 2.7 of For All Mankind up on Apple TV+ today, with some of the best alternate history gambits of the series, that propel it into being one of the best episodes of the overall series, in my never humble opinion.

The minor alternate history touches were fun as always, like Jimmy Carter being a Senator from Georgia.  But there were two major alternate history changes which were not only jolting, but put the narrative on a new course.

One was Thomas Paine in Korean Air Lines flight 007, shot down by the Soviets with no survivors in 1983.  In our reality, Paine served as NASA Administrator from March 1969 to September 1971 -- the period in which we of course landed on the Moon.  His ambitious subsequent plans for Americans in space, however, including a mission to Mars in 1981, fell on deaf ears with President Nixon, making Nixon in my view one of the worst impediments to space travel in our history.  Paine died of natural causes in Los Angeles in 1992.  In For All Mankind, Paine is reappointed to NASA by Reagan -- President Ted Kennedy went with someone else -- and he is a dynamic and important character.   His death on KAL 007, in addition to putting a real historical character into a real passenger plane that was notoriously shot down -- itself a bold move --  sets in motion all kinds of highly significant developments.  Ellen becomes acting NASA Administrator, Reagan becomes more aggressive towards the Soviets, and the Apollo-Soyez joint mission is stalled.

Which brings us to the second major alternate history development: we learn, almost off-hand, that the Challenger won't blow up!  The O-ring problem is discovered before it can do any tragic damage.  In a brilliant story development, the Soviets have stolen our plans for the space shuttle, including the defective O-ring design, before the defect was discovered.  Margo has a dilemma - she's ordered not to tell the Soviets about the O-ring flaw.  After all, they not only stole our shuttle plans, but shot down KAL 007 which killed Tom Paine. But as someone who is ultimately most devoted to humans in space, transcending national rivalries, she can't bring herself not to warn the Russians.  In effect, she embodies the series title, For All Mankind.  It's a difficult ethical dilemma, and I'd guess that Margo's decision won't receive universal acclaim from viewers.

The ending of the episode, though, in which Tracy on Reagan's order retakes the Soviet base on the Moon which they took from us, is indisputably a reason for cheering, and a good way to conclude this superb hour.

See also For All Mankind, Season 1 and Episode 2.1: Alternate Space Race Reality ... For All Mankind 2.2: The Peanut Butter Sandwich ... For All Mankind 2.3: "Guns to the Moon" ... For All Mankind 2.4: Close to Reality ... For All Mankind 2.5: Johnny and the Wrath of Kahn ... For All Mankind 2.6: Couplings

*** Note added 27 October 2023:  Check out my review of Jack Dann's new book, The Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History

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