Authors: Bryce Zabel
Copyright © 2013 by Bryce Zabel
212 3rd Ave North, Suite 290
Minneapolis, MN 55401
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination, or used fictitiously.
is a trademark of Stellar Productions, Inc. that refers to creative works of alternative history.
Cover art and
images by Lynda Karr Design.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written prior permission of the author.
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken, 1916
The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie —deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.
President John F. Kennedy
Commencement Address at Yale University
June 11, 1962
hen I was a kid, I noticed that my parents — and everyone else of their generation — could (and, at the slightest excuse, would) tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. I thought that was pretty strange... until November 22, 1963.
I was a high school sophomore that November. It was not quite half past eleven in the morning. I was walking from Spanish to PE when a guy who’d snuck a transistor radio into school (for those too young to remember them, tiny transistor radios were what the benighted ’60s had to use instead of iPods) told me John Kennedy had been shot. I said the first thing that popped into my head: “You’re crazy.” But maybe a minute later, I heard somebody coming the other way say the same thing. I started to think Frank wasn’t crazy — I only wished he were. I turned out to be right about that, worse luck.
Anybody my age can tell you a story like that. As with my folks’ generation all those years before, it won’t take much to get people my age to tell you what they were doing when they heard Kennedy was killed.
Eventually, I had three kids of my own. For a long time, they didn’t understand how every so often my mind would slip back to that dark day in fall, 1963. Then September 11, 2001 rolled around. Two of them were in high school at the time, the youngest still in middle school. Now they get it, and their kids (I just had my first grandchild) will wonder what they’re going on about... till those kids have their own black day on the calendar. And I’m afraid they will. Such horrible things do happen, however much we wish they wouldn’t.
Even after half a century, we remember — or, if we aren’t old enough to remember, we think about — John Kennedy’s brief presidency with fondness. Those of us with white beards (guilty) recall that we were young then, and had seen and been through a lot less sorrow. We remember the Kennedys’ own youth, their vigor, their flair, their style.
And we remember their beauty. Has a more photogenic couple with prettier children ever graced the White House? I don’t think so. One of the reasons JFK won the election in 1960 is quite simply that he was better-looking than Richard Nixon. Not a high standard to meet, I know, but he flew high over the bar.
Because we remember the times and the handsome martyred man with such affection, to this day we don’t want to hear anything bad about him. We didn’t hear much bad about him then. The press was different in those days, and cozied up to people in power. Reporters didn’t try to catch them with their pants down; they mostly didn’t write or say anything when they did catch them like that.
All of which went a long way toward keeping John Kennedy’s reputation burnished bright. By what’s come out since his death, he made later philanderers like Bill Clinton seem pikers by comparison. He would and did screw anything that moved, and gave it an experimental shake to see if he could get it moving in case it didn’t. Some of the ladies of his intimate acquaintance had other intimate acquaintances who could easily have embarrassed or wanted to kill the President because he was boffing their women.
He and his brother Bobby, the attorney general, weren’t always the Constitution’s best friends either. Bobby, let it not be forgotten, was appointed by Joe McCarthy as assistant counsel for the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in 1951. Bobby had also served as John’s campaign manager in 1960. He was, perhaps, not completely objective about everything he did in the attorney general’s office. After all these years, we still remember the Kennedys as ruthless, too.
So we could wonder whether John Kennedy’s reputation shines so bright precisely because he was assassinated so early in his presidency. We could wonder what it would look like had he lived past that day in Dallas, campaigned for reelection in 1964, and gone on to a second term with all that added time for his excesses to become visible to the power brokers in Washington and to the American people as a whole.
We could, and Bryce Zabel has. That’s what
Surrounded by Enemies
is all about. It’s an alarmingly believable look at what might have happened had Lee Harvey Oswald missed. Some of you will know that I’ve written a lot of alternate history, which is the usual name for this what-might-have-been kind of story. One of the things about which you need to warn readers, and especially readers unfamiliar with this sort of story, is that people don’t write them to tell you what
have come next had the world turned left instead of right. By the nature of things, what would have come next is unknowable unless you happen to be God. People write alternate histories for two main reasons. One is to tell you what plausibly
have come next in a world after a particular kind of change. The other, and closely related to the first, is to make you think in a whole new way about what
come next. Imagine alternate history as a funhouse mirror, squeezing this and stretching that, and giving you a different picture of the way things did work and all the myriad way they might have.
Plausible development, building from what we know about what really did go on, and a whacking good story are the two things you can reasonably expect from a good alternate history.
Surrounded by Enemies
delivers on both, big-time. So hold on to your hats, folks. You’re in for quite a ride.
June 7, 2013