Remember this sci-fi book with steam-powered Vikings in alternate reality Boston?
June 26, 2012 9:28 AM   Subscribe

Help me remember the title of this science fiction book. It had body-swapping into an alternate New England that had been settled by Vikings. The hero ended up in the body of a Norse Preacher/Clergyman, and the society had steam-powered cars. The hero used his knowledge of Lenin and Stalin's communist party tactics to become successful enough to track down the conspiracy that had snatched him from his own (our own) version of Earth.

You know how people on Ask Metafilter will ask for help remembering a book they read a long time ago? This is one of those:

I read this book at least thirty years ago. And I have a nagging question as to whether or not it was a novel or a shorter work (novella, maybe). The protagonist from our own world somehow gets involved with a scientist who seems skeevy/sketchy, and is trapped in a cycle where his mind is sequentially swapped into the body of a different person in a different alternate reality. The switches were at fairly short interval-- once every day or every other day. He realizes that all of these other people are also switching back and forth in the same cycle with him. So if he is "A" and jumps into "B's" body, then "B" will have moved on into "C's" body, and so on. At one point he sarcastically suggests they form a book club by leaving notes to each other. Anyway, in one of the the realities he encounters, his body has been imprisoned-- presumably because every day there is a new, different "crazy" person in it.

Finally, for reasons I can't remember, he arrives in a body and somehow is able to stay there. He has to figure out this alien culture without arousing suspicion, and thrive enough to figure out how to stop the body-swapping cycle and get his revenge on the scientist who put them all through all of this.

He eventually figures out that he is in an alternate version of Massachusetts (maybe?) where the New World was settled centuries earlier by Vikings instead of by later European nations. There are steam-powered cars on the streets (this would have been decades before steam-punk became popular).

He learns that "his" body here is that of a highly respected clergyman in one of the dominant Norse religions. The original mind in that body was a bachelor, and had plenty of sermons written down, and so the hero is able to pass unnoticed with some effort. He becomes involved in some political process where he uses his own knowledge of our Earth's history-- namely Lenin and Stalin's consolidation of power in the early communist part-- to become more successful in this new world. Eventually, he finds out what had happened and how to stop it, but I think he might have chosen to remain in Norse Boston instead of returning to our own Earth.

That's all I remember, and I've probably gotten some of the details wrong. I think I read this when I was a preteen sometime in the late seventies or early eighties.

It seems like a long-shot, but does anyone recognize this story? I think about it a lot, and would love to track down the book and read it again. It's one of those mind-bugs you get where every year or so you say to yourself, "I wish I could remember the name of that story!" Please, help me squish this bug!
posted by seasparrow to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Is it this book? It was mentioned in a recent wired interview with Paul Krugman.
posted by MighstAllCruckingFighty at 9:47 AM on June 26, 2012

Thank you, MighstAllCruckingFighty, but sadly it isn't "metafilter's own" Charlie Stross's Merchant Princes books. I've read those books, and they are good, though! This would have been written decades earlier, since it is a childhood memory for me. Certainly before 1985, possibly back into the 50s.
posted by seasparrow at 9:51 AM on June 26, 2012

Score! That was it, dgeiser13. How did you know or figure it out? What did my googling for all of these years miss?

I see also that Harry Turtledove later wrote a "sequel" to "The Wheels of If", and the two novellas were frequently bundled and sold together in a single edition. Anyway, those books are on the way now from Amazon. Thank you, thank you, a million thanks to you!

Also props for the pointer to "Sidewise in Time". Not the answer I was seeking, but a great recommendation that will go on the list for future reading.
posted by seasparrow at 11:14 AM on June 26, 2012

Very cool. This was the Google search I used. I found it on the bottom of the 2nd page of results. After reading the Wikipedia article I didn't think it was the Leinster story but decided to mention it anyway. When I read the article for de Camp I was almost positive that was it.
posted by dgeiser13 at 7:00 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's the search I forgot to include above:"science+fiction"+vikings+settle+north+america
posted by dgeiser13 at 7:01 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Amazing. Sometimes I guess we all have some type of google blindness. I've tried variations on that search many times, but never those exact words. Well done!
posted by seasparrow at 8:12 AM on June 27, 2012

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