Birthday Reviews: Ben Bova’s “The Café Coup”

Birthday Reviews: Ben Bova’s “The Café Coup”

Cover by Michael Garland
Cover by Michael Garland

Ben Bova was born on November 8, 1932.

Bova won the Hugo Award for Best Editor six times, including a solid run from 1973 to 1977 as well as a Balrog Award for editing in 1983. In 2007, his novel Titan won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. He received the Skylark Award from NESFA in 1974 and the Gallun Award from I-CON in 2005. In 2008, the Heinlein Society recognized his space exploration advocacy with the Robert A. Heinlein Award and in 2016 he was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame.

He took over the editorship of Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact in 1972 upon the death of John W. Campbell, Jr. and edited the magazine until 1978, when he left to help start up Omni Magazine, which he edited until 1982. Bova has collaborated on fiction with Rick Wilber, A.J. Austin, Gordon Dickson, Bill Pogue, and Les Johnson. He has also collaborated with numerous other editors on a variety of anthologies. Bova was the author Guest of Honor at Chicon 2000, the 58th World Science Fiction Convention held in Chicago. Bova has also published as by Oxford Williams.

“The Café Coup” was first published in the September 1997 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Gordon van Gelder. The next year, it was reprinted in Bova’s collection Twice Seven and was translated into German by Michael K. Iwoleit, Cecilia Palinkas, Horst Pukallus, Chris Weber, Manfred Weinland for inclusion in Der Tod im Land der Blumen. Van Gelder included the story in One Lamp: Alternate History Stories from the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 2003 and in 2017, the story was included in The Best of Bova, Volume III.

One of the primary focuses of alternate history fiction is a way to change the outcome of World War II or prevent the war from happening. Bova takes the latter route in “Café Coup,” in which a time traveler from a future in which pockets of technologically advanced societies are beset by barbarians at their gates who are intent on destroying the last vestiges of civilization, decides that the root of his world’s problems is World War II and the best way to change the world is by making sure the Germans win World War I.

Bova’s narrator has thought through his plan to the extent that he realizes he would never be able to return to the world he has helped create. He convinces his wife of the importance of the project and the two travel back together, effecting the change and living their lives in a German occupied Paris in 1922.

Alternate history often considers the great man theory of history, in which one person makes a difference and his removal can change the course of history, and the idea of steam engine time, in which the historical forces mean that an event will happen because other events build up to it, forcing it to happen by any means. In “Café Coup,” Bova’s narrator is listening to a Frenchman complain about their occupation while reflecting on his role in subverting the historical narrative, only to find that his coffee partner is attempting to lead a coup against the Germans similar to the early attempts to gain power the Nazis attempted against the German government after World War I. The attempt is unsuccessful, but it points in the direction of World War II eventually happening, even if it is begun by down-trodden French rather than Germans. The predicted behavior of the Germans towards Charles de Gaulle in “Café Coup” makes one think of Harry Turtledove’s exploration of the way the Nazis responded to Gandhi in “The Last Article.”

Reprint reviewed in the collection The Best of Bova, Volume III, by Ben Bova, Baen Books, 2017.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Webinar: Web Sites” in The Tangled Web. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.

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