Sunday, 24 May 2009

20 Years On: Day Trip to Düsseldorf

This was the single trip I made on my own when I was living in Köln, North up the Rhine by train to the next major city, Düsseldorf. I made a couple of trips down the river to Bonn, once with a friend visiting from the UK and once with a set of my British friends from Köln (and I remember it raining that day too). Though it would have been nice to go to Düsseldorf with someone it was surprisingly successful. I do not know why I left it so late in the morning to depart; I never make impromptu decisions to go anywhere so it must have been planned. I went back to Düsseldorf in 2004 and it did not seem to have changed at all.

I remember being intrigued by the amount of signs in Japanese there were throughout the city which seemed to jar with the very European looking canals and buildings in the centre of the city. Düsseldorf has always had the greatest presence of Japanese of cities in West Germany. Of course, in the 1980s the Japanese were seen very much as the Chinese are now, the people you had to do business with if you were to prosper.

I also remember seeing a lot of bad contemporary art in both Düsseldorf and Köln. I suppose it went with the territory of having all these wealthy business people. In Düsseldorf I remember a life-sized reconstruction of part of the Amsterdam red light district you could walk around and a replica of a military equestrian sculpture tipped through 90° so the horse's backside was on the plinth, it had been daubed with colours and surrounded with plastic soldiers and military vehicles.

Interesting range of names of British students who formed The Raj. I never knew Biff's real name, she got it for being rather a boisterous girl in her youth. I remember Lynn ended up as that, rather than 'Lyn' or 'Lynne' as you would expect, as her father was drunk when her birth was registered. Joss's full name was Jocelyn, one of these names that has moved from being male in the 1920s to female by the 1980s like Hilary and Evelyn. I remember Ismail was a 20-year old Moroccan who spoke fluent German, French and Arabic, but also had some Farsi, Afghan (Pushtu?), Japanese, Italian and English.

'The Bunker' was one of the two bars and one tea room at the foreigners' blocks. Note, also that with no internet or emails and only some students having telephones in their rooms and most of us having to use callboxes (phone booths to US readers), the main way of communicating with people back home was still by letter, this makes 1989 seem a century away.
Again, I am not certain about all the locations shown in these pictures, so if I have made a mistake, please let me know and I will amend the captions.

Wednesday 24th May 1989
Today I woke promptly and after breakfast and a bit of reading I went to the station and caught the train - the 11.04 to Düsseldorf, going there by the West bank route, arriving at 12.00. I went to the Jagdhof and looked at the Goethe museum, then walked through the Hofgarten to two art galleries: one with poor modern sculpture and one with a good range of 20th century art. I then walked around the Altstadt and looked in the Ship museum and walked around more of the town before coming back via a few bookshops. I caught the 17.43 train back. Back in hall I chatted with Paul before we went to 'The Bunker' [bar] barbecue. We were joined by Jane, Emma and Jenny, then Matthew, after that Fiona came, followed by Biff, Lynn & Lee and finally Gabrielle and Joss. We sat eating and drinking and also danced. Paul and I stayed on the longest with Julie & Ismail and Julie's sister too. Monika also popped by and we had a conversation in German. Then Paul and I came back. I had had about six bottles of Becks. I began a letter to Barbara. I got to bed by 04.00.

Weather: Sunny and hot.
Ornamental Canal in Düsseldorf, West Germany in May 1989

Avenue in the Jagdhof grounds [?], Düsseldorf, May 1989

Spire close to the Jagdhof in Düsseldorf, May 1989

Statues close to City Art Gallery, Düsseldorf, May 1989

The Ship Museum, Düsseldorf, May 1989

Mobile Jazz Band Stopped for a Break, Düsseldorf, May 1989

This jazz band was driven around the pedestrianised area of central Düsseldorf playing from the back of their car.

The 'Studio Am Burgplatz' Puppet Shop, Düsseldorf, May 1989

Cat in Bookshop Window, Düsseldorf, May 1989

Seeing a copy of „Chronik des 20. Jahrhunderts“, i.e. 'Chronicle of the 20th Century' seems ironic given what was going to happen in the next couple of years after this photo was taken. Even the most ardent German nationalist would not have predicted a reunified Germany in less than three years. To think the events of the 20th century were almost done and dusted was a major mistake many of us made.

Statues and a British Telephone Box in the Forecourt of the 'Ssst' Gallery in Düsseldorf, May 1989

Friday, 15 May 2009

20 Years On: Part 5 of Account of Hitch-hiking through southern West Germany

When I had been inter-railing in August/September 1988 I had been conscious of getting too far from the UK so that I could not get back if there was any problem. However, I found that with a base in West Germany I was happier at being in the South of the country than I had been the previous year and wondered if I should always rent a property as a kind of 'bolt hole' when away. Of course I never had the money for such a strange approach, but it is interesting how I had a mental limit to how far I would travel alone without beginning to feel uneasy. At this stage, with the local authorities still holding my passport I was unable to leave West Germany; Becky had had to apply to them specifically to get hers back in order to enter Austria. We followed suit, making up all kinds of excuses for why we needed our passports back. The local authorities were incompetent, because unless I had been able to find a bureau de change which would change money for me without showing my passport as most asked for, I would have run out of money too. In fact they certainly showed the lie of the assumptions about German efficiency. I remember the Post Office being reluctant to give me post with my name on it because my driving licence (like all UK driving licences of the time) did not have my photograph on it and they could not believe that. They found out I was correct and had to accept it. I suppose this was a result of being in a suburb, even a well-off one, rather than in the city more used to foreign visitors.

I remember the health authorities were bad in a different way. You used to get a form called an E111 which allowed you free health care across the European Community. In the UK by this stage you got one for life but in West Germany they had a limited duration. I had to stand and make a scene in the health office for them to return it to me. They said it had expired and I said, if that was the case, then why did they need to keep it. They said they had to, but as a consolation offered me a photocopy of my supposedly 'expired' E111. This showed that they had over-stamped it with so many local stamps that many of the details were now illegible so it would have been useless anywhere else. At that stage I gave up and applied for another E111 when I got back to the UK. I wonder if my E111 is still lodged in that local office and whether I can go and view it in 2020 when the thirty-year secrecy limit has expired.

The man who drove me back to Köln took advantage of the unlimited speeds on the German autobahns (in those days most of which were still only two lanes) and was regularly doing in excess of 190 Kph. We passed a BMW which had hit the central reservation at such a speed that its engine had been gouged out and was left separate from the rest of the car which was turned to face the wrong way into the traffic some metres further on. The driver (I was in the passenger seat, another hitch-hiker, a woman was in the rear) thought I was tired as I kept my eyes closed most of the way, but that was from fear. He covered two-thirds of the length of West Germany in five hours. I have never got farther North in Germany than Essen in the Ruhr. This was the last hitch-hiking I ever did.

Rather embarrassingly despite having visited Munich three times and having written two novels set there, I cannot identify many of the locations featured in the photos I include here. If anyone can let me know where they are I would be very grateful.

Monday 15th May 1989
Today I woke promptly but dozed after breakfast and then walked to the station from where I caught the 09.59 to München. Becky is leaving Augsburg to travel to Innsbruck to see Ashley. On arriving in München around 10.40 I went to the Mitfahr centre just to the South-East of the city centre. I had just missed one lift to Köln but there was another at 15.00 so I went by U-Bahn back to the center of the town and walked through the back streets to the Englisches Garten where I had a lunch of sausages and chips, and, of course the compulsory litre of beer. I then walked through the city taking photos and then caught the car, with a woman as well, to Köln. The weather was much better [by now]. We arrived at 20.30, the driver having gone very fast. The total cost was DM45,- each. Dad said I should travel on a bit but I only have DM170,- left in cash and I have done most of the South of West Germany. I think I will use the Mitfahr to go to the North. I had a MacDonalds then came back. I chatted with Carol then unpacked and talked with Paul, Joss, Fiona and Gabrielle. Then I began reading "The Champion of Garathorn", then letters from "Wirral" Paul and Nick & Julie.

Weather: Sunny and warm, some dull periods.
Opera House [?] in Munich, West Germany in May 1989

Square in Munich, May 1989

Entrance to Weinstraße in Munich, May 1989

Pedestrianised Street in Munich, May 1989

Pagoda in Englisches Garten, Munich, May 1989

Archway Dedicated to the Bavarian Army, Munich, May 1989

Political Posters on Official Noticeboard, Munich, May 1989

I have cropped these two pictures as the background, with numerous men standing around selling cars to each other seemed less interesting than the political posters.

The parties advertised, clockwise, starting at the top left are: CSU [Christian Social Union - the Bavarian branch of the CDU Christian Democratic Union, a conservative party]; SPD [Socialist Party]; No idea, possibly the Grüne Partei [Green Party]; FDP [Free Democratic Party - centrist liberals]; Christliche Mitte [literally Christian Middle presumably a Catholic Party as opposed to the cross-denominational CSU; despite the name it is listed as being right-wing]; Christliche Liga [literally Christian League]; ODP [the Ecological Democratic Party, a green party]; Bayernpartei [The Bavaria Party].

The back of the noticeboard had the more extreme parties advertised, left to right are: DVU [German People's Union - Nationalist]; Die Republikaner [The Republicans - an extreme right-wing party who were gaining strength at the time], FAP [Free Workers' Party - I can find no details about this party, but I assume given the name it was another far right party], MLPD [Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany - a Communist Party; many of the other extreme left parties are missing probably certain of gaining few votes in conservative Bavaria].

Thursday, 14 May 2009

20 Years On: Part 4 of Account of Hitch-hiking through southern West Germany

This day showed again the difficulty of keeping yourself occupied in a town on a Sunday when you must be out of your hostel room for the bulk of the day. I fell back on the staple of German life on a Sunday - museums and the cinema. The Fuggerei is an alms village in the city built by the Fuggers, leading bankers of the Middle Ages. The others had gone to the famous castle of Neuschwanstein but there was not enough room for me in the car. Yugoslavia was still in existence at the time of this trip, hence the Yugoslav restaurant.

This day was also a bit of a revelation for me about things. Becky's initial conversation had been at a meal between four of us [with a gay man Paul and a straight lothario, Nick] some days before. Of course, just six weeks off an abandoned suicide attempt and feeling constantly 'a stranger in a strange land', homesick but not keen to return to the house with the landlord's step-daughter and concerned about my future, it is not surprising I was introspective. I suppose also I did not have the usual disasters of my holidays to preoccupy me. It shows that at 21, how naive I was, it was to be another 13 years before I would have sex. I had forgotten this was my attitude at the time, but it explains why I turned down Liz's wish for an encounter later on during this period in Köln. I also realise that quite expecting to have killed myself before I had finished my degree I had made no plans for what to do after university which is one reason why I was so ill-equipped when I graduated and so mucked up any potential career path.

Sunday 14th May 1989
Today I woke promptly and had a day to "do" Augsburg and I did it quite well. It was pouring with rain so first I hung around until the museums opened at 10.00. I first look around the Roman museum, not even mentioned in the Michelin guide. Then I went onto the city gallery. After looking at the Rathaus I went to the Maximillian museum before lunch in MacDonalds. Then I went to the cinema and saw „Zwillinge” ['Twins'] which was easy to follow and was funny. Then, as the weather had got better I went to the Fuggerei and the museum there, then to [Berthold] Brecht's house. I came back to the youth hostel and watched a little television.

I know I have been going on about the impact Becky's revelations had but what she has done is shown me that normal, non-flirty, intelligent people can have pleasant sex within a relationship which has wiped out some of the unpleasantness and sordidness I saw around sex, and to see it just as an extension of embraces and kissing, not something apart.

Also with Becky's conversation on plans for the time after leaving university and even about retiring, has been useful as previously this was a void for me and thus a source of worry. I think this trip down here was good for me and I have seen another nice town.

Tomorrow is both a Monday and a bank holiday. All the sights are closed in München on Mondays anyway but I have found that the 'Mitfahr' offices are open so I can look around them, there may be a lot of demands for lifts to Köln but maybe I can go tomorrow or on Tuesday. There are three offices in München and which I am going to by train. I just hope that there is room in the youth hostel.

I caught the tram and the bus to the Studentenwohnheim hoping to get something on the way but everything was shut. I got there by 19.00 and met up with Becky, Diana, Sara, Breda, Debbie, Karl, Paul and the others. We sat talking for a while and then went to a good Yugoslav restaurant, where we had pola-pola for nine (the German had something different). It consisted of a plate of meat, sausage, vegetables and salad. Then I came back just getting to the youth hostel in time [before the doors were closed for curfew].

Weather: Rainy at first, sunny later.

Rathaus [Town Hall] in Augsburg, West Germany in May 1989

Pedestrianised Street in Augsburg, May 1989

River Running Outside Front Doors close to Berthold Brecht's House, Augsburg, May 1989

Entrance to the Fuggerei Alms 'Village', Augsburg, May 1989

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

20 Years On: Part 3 of Account of Hitch-hiking through southern West Germany

On this day I finally got to Augsburg, a town I had missed the previous September and I was pleased I did. I remember my underwear being strapped to the back of my rucksack smelling so much that I had to shove it inside as the woman offering us the 'Mitfahr' had read the slip wrong and had expected three women and was unimpressed by having to take one ugly-looking foreign man (she had expected Germans) who had to have everything translated for him by the others. She wanted to abandon me but Becky persuaded her and, of course, I paid up as agreed. I sat silently in the back of the car while Becky kept her entertained with her usual very jolly manner in good German.

I remember the youth hostel being very clean and surprisingly empty. I guess most people do not stop in Augsburg but go on to Munich. I remember the South African woman staying there had the principle when visiting towns of seeing one thing in each, but a different thing in consecutive towns, e.g. a cathedral in the first, a castle in the second, a museum in the third. Of course to fill my days I always saw as much as I could of everything in every town.

In contrast to the student halls in Augsburg, in Köln I was paying about DM247,- per month for just a room (no balcony) with two showers, two toilet cubicles and a kitchen shared between 12 students. This was the first time I had had Weizer beer with a tiny piece of lemon in it from which bubbles stream. In Köln they drank from 0.2 litre glasses or 0.5 litre only if you were drinking Guinness in a specialist pub.

I am reminded by the photo I have uploaded that I always used to be fascinated by taking photos of roads disappearing off into the distance and when cycling northern France was always trying to capture the perfect French tree-lined road. In part I blame the television series 'Secret Army' (1978-9) which started and ended with vistas across the Belgian countryside. It was only in the mid-1990s that someone pointed out to me how dreary this kind of shot was, it showed nothing, not an interesting building or a beautiful landscape. However, I include this photo for completeness and to show the kind of view that, for some reason, fascinated me at the time.

Saturday 13th May 1989
Today I woke promptly again. The youth hostel was filling up with Italians for a function. I went round to Sara's room then we caught the tram into town and met up with the woman who was giving us a lift to Augsburg. We stopped once. It cost DM24,- to register originally and then DM60,- for the petrol.

In Augsburg I walked to the youth hostel which is almost empty and in a pleasant part of town. I had to wait until 17.00 to occupy my room so chatted with a South African woman and a German woman. Then I walked through the centre of the town and got the tram and a bus to the South of the city and went to the hall where Becky's friends are living. Each room has a shower, toilet, cooker, sink and balcony for DM128,- per month. We had a good Mexican meal in the function room. There was an American, a Dane, a German and seven British. After that we went to town, to a quiet pub and drunk half litres of beer and played table football. It was near the youth hostel so I was able to get back in time to have a shower and re-pack my rucksack. Becky seemed much happier this evening, she must be desperate to see Ashley [her boyfriend] but is having a pleasant time now.

Weather: Dull and mild.

Road leading to Youth Hostel in Augsburg, West Germany in May 1989

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

20 Years On: Part 2 of Account of Hitch-hiking through southern West Germany

From this day in Freiburg-am-Breisgau, I remember Becky being unsettled by how long the eyelashes of Peter, another Briton and boyfriend to Sara, were. I also remember how elegant the trams in the town looked, very 1950s style. Unlike the trams in Köln they only had doors on one side and with the small lamps and tables, they looked like a series of dining cars moving through the evening streets. One part of the route ran across a lawn with grass grown intentionally between the tracks and it looked like the trams were moving over the grass. I had not experienced the delights of tram travel on my previous visit when I had walked everywhere.

'Mitfahr' literally 'with travel' was a sensible scheme to make hitch-hiking safer. There were offices in West German towns and you would go there in the morning saying you wanted to travel to another town and for a fee they would put up your details and people offering lifts would come in and put up their offers too. The office would match you up. The person giving the lift would get a small fee from you for the petrol. You could pick the sort of lift you wanted, in case, say you only wanted to travel with a woman. You were safer as the office kept the details of the driver. In West Germany you have to re-register your car to wherever you live even if you just move a few streets and cross and administrative border, so it is always easy to tell (if you know the town designations on the numberplates and they are easy to guess, B is Berlin, D is Düsseldorf and so on, even the size of the town is shown as cities have a single letter, large towns and some cities, two letters and small places three letters) where the car and owner are from.
This was the first time I had ever met a French Canadian (at the youth hostel) and was surprised to find that he spoke no English. He was motorbiking around Europe. With the warmer weather I experienced the problem of the Freiburg-am-Breisgau youth hostel: the noisy stream outside that keeps you awake.
It was seeing all the wonderful wooden toys and being told that if your foot slipped into the stream channels that run alongside the roads throughout the town that you were destined to marry a woman from the town, I think that prompted my thoughts. Also I think Becky, in the third year of her degree was thinking ahead to her future with the boyfriend she was going to visit and the possibility of them raising a family in West Germany, that got me all wrapped up in my own fantasies. This was the first time (of very few) that I ate in a food court and was very impressed by it. Cars and lorries are banned from the centre of Freiburg-am-Breisgau and it looks wonderfully historic, just how you would imagine a German town to appear. The notebook I bought there I used for about the next ten years before it disintegrated. I still have the poster.

It is interesting to note, that even though I had been in West Germany six weeks by this time, the money situation had still not been sorted out and I was desperate for my LEA (Local Education Authority) grant. It shows how poorly everything had been organised. My parents had to send me £50 notes concealed in cards to keep me going. In the end I never opened a bank account as it was so difficult. In those days you needed to be earning DM60,000 (about £25,000 in those days) to get a credit card whereas in the UK they gave them out to every student who opened an account. Of course, having stayed away from suicide only on the promise of partying and sworn not to return to West Germany I had little interest in continuing to attend class and saw no point in learning German. In fact I have never had a use for it since.
Uploading the photos I have been beginning to wonder if it rained almost all the time when I was in West Germany both in 1988 and 1989. I certainly remember my first month in Köln almost having incessant rain which made it even more gloomy.

Friday 12th May 1989
This morning I woke early and after breakfast, dozed then went to Sara's room. After some more breakfast we went into town and looked around the shops, then market and craft stalls. I bought a poster of Freiburg and a small jug as a present, also a replacement notebook. Then we ate in the Markthalle which has a variety of food stalls - Chinese, French, pasta, pizza, potato, Turkish, Asian, champagne, coffee, salad, sweet and so on. I had Chinese stir-fried vegetables and pork. Then we came back and sat talking. A lot of it was irrelevant to me, but it is interesting to see how other students live. After that at around 16.00 Iwent back to the youth hostel which was far less crowded and I got in a larger room with its own shower and toilet and for DM3,- less.

I returned to Sara's room, she and Becky had been shopping and we had the usual tomato-sweetcorn-pasta mix and some tasty yoghurts. We talked some more. It seems that people on a year abroad have terrible problems with their relationships and spend a lot of time contacting their fellow students and travelling to see them. After dinner we caught the tram into town and went around a trendy pub, then a studenty one, before meeting Peter in the cellar of a traditional pub. We came back by tram.

I had telephoned Dad before going into the last pub and he said my grant had arrived alright and he is sending mr £200 in cash next week with which I will open an account and it will make other transfers easier. He asked how much work I was doing which combined with Mum saying I should do some German lessons has put me to worrying again. Tomrorrow us three [me, Becky and Sara] are going to the 'Mitfahr' an agency which puts hitchers and drivers together. It costs us DM8.50 each.
Weather: Rainy at first, sunny and warm later.
Pedestrianised Street in Freiburg-am-Breisgau, West Germany in May 1989

Stalls in Freiburg-am-Breisgau Market, May 1989

Becky and Sara Looking at Stall Selling Wooden Toys in Freiburg-am-Breisgau, May 1989

Notice the very Eighties style padded jackets with geometric patterns.

Monday, 11 May 2009

20 Years On: Part 1 of Account of Hitch-hiking through southern West Germany

I have said before that I often envy those people in a position to put up accounts and photos of their trips to various parts of the World and last August/September I posted entries from my diary and photos from my trip by train through West Germany and Austria twenty years to the day in 1988. I then thought of another trip that I made it what was then West Germany in May 1989, the only time I ever went on a hitch-hiking trip anywhere. I had been living in Köln since the start of April and was to remain there until late July. This was part of an exchange organised by my university and funded by the European Community's (predecessor of the EU) ERASMUS scheme which apparently still runs today. This meant I took out a term (we had three terms in those days in a university year rather than the semesters of now) and went to study at a German university. My department was very poorly set up for the trip because they expected me still to submit all my course essays from West Germany even though I would be attending lectures there on different subjects rather than my subject lectures back in Britain. They also did not take into consideration that I would miss the examination period, so I had to do the examinations with the people doing resits in September.

I was the only person who applied to go on the trip to West Germany, everyone else knew that it would damage their grades for their degree. I was keen to get away from the house I was sharing where the landlord's step-daughter, a Music student-teacher at our university, who lived there, was making my life a misery. My parents were always nagging me to go abroad, they were constantly trying to get me to emigrate. These reasons are why I broke my promise of the previous September never to set foot in West Germany again. My department had to send me otherwise it would have had to go back to the university to say, no it could not use the grant ERASMUS was giving and it should go to another department. So off I went with very poor German skills. West German universities are in sharp contrast to British ones, there were no personal tutors for pastoral care and students were very much left to themselves. My university was seen as a large one in the UK, with 6,500 students, Köln University had 53,000 students, the English department alone had half as many students as my entire home university.

I was lucky to be allocated a room in the 'foreigners' block' outside the city limits, because the accommodation office, behind a thick, black steel door was only open one hour per day. Being in a suburban area, West of the city, we encountered great prejudice and dealing with the local government bureaucracy took almost the whole of my first month in Köln. The local council took my passport and only returned it when me and other British students got the British consulate in Düsseldorf involved. Government offices in West Germany were only open three hours per day, longer on Thursdays and the staff were openly racist and xenophobic; even the university administration was hostile to foreign students and one woman staffing the desk in the university registry told me, English, 'get back on the ferry!', I said 'Das ist nicht möglich!' (that is not possible) which I think was a twist of a quote. Ironically I had almost ended up in the West German Army (the Bundeswehr) because I was at Köln station the day young men were being sent off to their military camps and I was there aged 21 with a suitcase and they assumed I was only pretending to be British to escape national service. I fled on the first local train I could get on having been pursued by the Feldjäger (Military Police).

While in Köln I attended a conference about the ERASMUS exchange system which asked why only 1 British student came to West Germany for every 8 West German students who went to British universities. I was able to give them a long list of reasons not only from personal experience. Since then I have read loads of articles about how difficult and depressing it is to go abroad during your degree, because university is handled so differently in various countries. For the British it is the toughest as our universities have the best pastoral care and we are the least travelled people of any country sending students abroad. The liaison women for me and other British students, Monika, described going to a West German university as like 'being parachuted into jungle warfare' and I could not describe it better myself.

I was so depressed by my reception that I tried to hang myself on the second day that I was at the university. The only reason why I stepped down from where I was standing on the foot of my bed with the noose around my neck, tied to a hook in the ceiling was that I had been given £670 by ERASMUS and received a grant of £280 per term all of which went on my rent of the room. I thought I might as well spend the ERASMUS money before killing myself. Being in the foreigners' block (well, in fact blocks, they were two 13-storey blocks of rooms) meant that there were a lot of British and Irish and foreigner-friendly Germans around and I made a good group of friends, I nicknamed 'The Raj'. Even though they were all doing German or French & German degrees they rarely spoke German and never attended many classes so we spent our time drinking beer, partying and picnicking. I embarrassed myself attending classes as I could not properly understand even what our liaison woman, Monika, was saying and in the Politics classes I taught, which were taught in English, the tutors could not understand my English accent.

Anyway with £670 of ERASMUS money, £280 of British local education authority money and £250 brought and sent from home, after the first month, I was able to have an enjoyable, drunken time and survived to return to the UK. My university had worried I would 'go native' and stay in West Germany and get a job (apparently one predecessor of mine had been found working on a pig farm). However, the opposite was the case. Without the bribe I would have come home after the first week. My treatment in West Germany built up such a resentment, that though I made friends I have kept in contact up until the 2000s, I swore not to return. I did not go abroad again for six years and I did not go back to Germany until 2004, by which time it was no longer West Germany and the scars of the trip had been able to heal a little. The trip did purge me of any desire to live abroad again and I ignored all the pressure from my parents to emigrate. When I foolishly took a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) qualification, I realised I could only get a job teaching in Britain as the thought of being alone in some European city utterly terrified me, to the extent that completing the course I had nightmares about being back in Köln during that first month.

Anyway, this is a huge background to what is going to be an account of a very short trip. In May 1989, Becky one of the other British students there, wanted to go and visit her boyfriend who was on a similar trip in Innsbruck in Austria. She also wanted to visit friends from her home university who were at universities across southern West Germany. She did not have the money for a train ticket (and being in West Germany we could not get an Inter-Rail ticket which would cover West Germany, there was always that home country rule) but she was an incredibly experienced hitch-hiker having been all over Europe and experiencing lots of exploits which I may recount on another occasion, but she wanted someone (male or female) to travel with her for safety. I had intended to go to Hamburg (though in fact given there was only 5 months until the Berlin Wall came down I should have gone to West Berlin) but agreed to accompany her, so for the second time in 8 months I set off for Freiburg-am-Breisgau but this time hitch-hiking. I fell in love with the town again and foolishly, not yearning for Melissa this time, dreamt of meeting a nice German woman and having a family there. Given the hostility I experienced in West Germany even attempting something like that would have led to more abuse than even the level I have experienced in my town here in the UK.

Hitch-hiking was very common for students in those days, my university's students' union ran sponsored hitch-hikes across Europe for charity, but it was something that terrified me and Becky's stories did not help. Anyway, even though this trip was trouble-free I never did it again, probably sensible given my luck.

I remember Becky was annoyed because the first man, in his early thirties, who gave us a lift invited us to a wedding for when we got back to Köln, but I refused to go as I found such a random invitation embarrassing and had no desire to attend a wedding of strangers speaking a language, which, by now I knew for certain I would never grasp. The second man was surprised to find Becky spoke German and was British, he assumed we were Dutch. He said to us in flawless English that he had heard that in Britain 'only fools and spies speak foreign languages'.

Thursday 11th May 1989

Today I woke up at 07.00 but fell back to sleep and re-woke at 08.15. After breakfast I met up with Becky and we went to the main road to hitch to Freiburg. We were lucky as after only thirty minutes we got a lift to the motorway and then from the service station from a middle-aged ITT employee to just outside Karlsruhe and he was very friendly and bought us some tea and gave us an atlas. Then we had a lorry driver to just outside Freiburg and from there to the centre of town in a battered Mercedes and then by tram to Becky's friend's Sara's hall. Then after chatting we went to the youth hostel which was almost completely full up. Then we went to a studenty pub and had some pasta. We then walked around town looking in the shops and returned to the pub where we were joined by Sara and her boyfriend Peter, then went to another pub. Then I came back to the youth hostel by taxi; Becky is staying in Sara's room.

Weather: Rainy at first, dry later, mild.

River Valley outside Freiburg-am-Breisgau, West Germany in May 1989

This was the 'noisy' river which ran passed the youth hostel. You can see how shallow it is despite its breadth and make out some of the stones on the bottom that made it so noisy.

Monday, 4 May 2009

'What If?'s of the 'Sliders' Television Series: Part 1

Probably the most successful and long-running programme featuring worlds where history has turned out differently was the US television series 'Sliders'. It ran 1995-2000 with 70 episodes being shown. In the UK we saw only the first three series (of five), though after that stage, it got very complicated with almost an entire cast change by the end. The first three series, covering 48 episodes were shown in the USA on the Fox Network. After 1998 the series moved to the Sci-Fi Channel which showed 22 episodes before the series came to a final end.

What was interesting about the series was that the hero, Quinn Mallory, a young scientist, had developed a device that allowed him and companions to 'slide' into alternate versions of world. For the first two series the 'sliders' never travelled geographically more than a 3.2 Km from where they jumped into the vortex that took them to the next world. In later series they could be deposited up to 640-800Km from where they started.  For much of the time, they generally visited locations close to San Francisco, though, ironically for the first two series, it was filmed in Vancouver, Canada, which often stands in for US cities in movies.  Subsequently it was filmend in Los Angeles. To some extent, this geographical limit had an impact on the different versions of our world that were explored because they had a west coast USA focus, though, of course, that is a region that many people across the planet are familiar with.

The programme was meant for entertainment rather than any intellectual discussion so some of the alternate worlds seem pretty frivolous. In addition, in series four and five, which I have not seen, the battle against an evil alien species, the Kromaggs, became a dominant theme. I must say, though, that they are some of the most effectively unpleasant opponents I have encountered in science fiction series. They particularly prized eating the eyeballs of living humans and imprisoning them to such an extent that they could bribe people to do their bidding with the offer of the reward of one hour in a garden.

There were tensions at the time of the third series between the series writers and the company, Fox Network, that owned the series and subsequently the stories became more action orientated. Welsh actor, John Rhys-Davies (born 1944, Gimley in 'The Lord of the Rings Triology 2001-3 and as noted on this blog before, appearing as a Russian general in James Bond movies and an Egyptian in Indiana Jones ones) and Tracy (a man) Tormé who had created the series, both left the series in 1997. Apparently the fourth and fifth series returned more to the 'what if?' as in the USA the series moved to the The SciFi Channel, but this shift in channel is probably why they have never ended up being shown on a terrestial channel in the Uk.  The first three series had been shown on BBC2 only a few months after they were aired in the USA.

The initial characters were Quinn Mallory played by Jerry O'Connell (born 1974; the character is a year older) a post-graduate student in superstring theory from California University who invents the sliding device; Wade Welles (played by Sabrina Lloyd, born 1970, though her character was the same age as Mallory) a long-term female friend of Mallory's who works in a computer store; Professor Maximillian Arturo (played by Rhy-Davies) one of Mallory's professors and Rembrandt Brown (played by Cleavant Derricks, born 1953) known as 'The Cryin' Man' after his greatest hit, a soul singer on his way to sing at an American football match when sucked into the vortex made by Mallory's device. By the end of the fifth series Brown had become the prime hero as the other original actors had been sacked or left.

In this posting I am going to look at the alternate worlds the sliders visit in the first two series. I never saw the fourth and fifth series, but have been able to piece together details from across the internet. Some of the most interesting worlds that the sliders visited are only seen briefly whereas others are explored in depth. I am not intending to go through them all in great detail, but to discuss the ones which personally I found to throw up the most interesting ideas. Many of the alternate histories had minimal impact on the world as a whole and would not have led to that great change, some are only really different for the particular characters rather than for the global population, for example a world just like ours but in which Mallory's father did not die in the 1980s. Throughout, unless otherwise noted, I have assumed that the dates of the alternate worlds are roughly the same as the date when the episode was first aired.

JFK and Elvis Live
The first alternative that Mallory visits briefly sees President John F. Kennedy still president in the 1990s, Elvis Presley alive and 'go' on traffic lights is red rather than green. It is not too difficult to envisage Presley living. Many performers from his era have lived on and if he had taken more care with his diet and stayed away from drugs it is quite likely he would have still been around in 1995 (he would have only been 60 then). He could have easily gone on a health drive in the 1970s.

Kennedy being president in 1995 is much more interesting. Perhaps this is a descendant of the original John F. Kennedy, who would have been 78 in 1995. Perhaps he was beaten by Richard Nixon in 1961 and after a period of Republican presidents through the 1960s, not least Nixon 1961-9, then Kennedy might have come to office after George Bush, the way Clinton did.  This would have meant he would have come to power in 1993 at the age of 76 (compared to Regan who was 70-78 when in office) or perhaps Kennedy won the 1988 election (at the age of 71) with the waning Cold War, rather than Bush and is in his second term in 1995. I find it difficult to believe that Kennedy could have remained a contender, but, saying that, his brother Ted Kennedy (born 1932) [died August 2009] has remained prominent in politics, despite, as with John, scandal attaching to him. There is little exploration of this world, but it does throw up interesting thoughts about the US political scene.

The issue of the traffic lights suggests some earlier cultural diversion or perhaps that relations with Maoist China, the only country to have traffic lights that way around, rose to an extent that the USA adopted something similar or that, somehow, Communist China became the cultural leader of the world. These differences, I think, were added simply to lead members of the audience who were unfamiliar with the concept of alternate worlds being the same but different into that kind of context, rather than the writers aiming for an exploration of the concepts.

Ice Age Conditions
Not surprisingly the characters do not stay long in this world and, in moving from it quickly, damage their equipment, so, losing control over where they go to and for how long. This version of Los Angeles has the deserted remains of the city (though not overly damaged suggesting the harsh climate has only just kicked in) with ice tornados ravaging it. Since the television series, we have had the movie 'The Day After Tomorrow' (2004) which portrays a world with very sudden cooling, plunging much of the northern latitudes into an ice age very quickly, primarily caused by the shift in cold North Atlantic currents ironically caused by global warming. In the movie we see sudden drops down to -100oC taking aircraft from the sky and New York with the buildings intact but entirely frozen and ravaged by ice. A story set in this world would have been very bleak, just as the movie is, and there would be few people to interact with. We have no idea what caused the change and the ice tornado means it is hazardous for the characters to stay to find out.

Communist America
Of course, the concern over a Soviet invasion of the USA was a common one in the 1980s. The background to a Communist America (presumably the USSA as we have discussed before) is not given. Perhaps there was a Third World War in the 1950s as Mao Zedong expected, that led to the last continental power becoming Communist, as the First and Second World Wars had done the same for Russia and China. The suggestion is that America is under Soviet control but we have no indication when this occurred. There is reference to the Detroit Uprisings of 1983, with the suggestion these were against Soviet control rather than a revolution. Perhaps there was a revolution in the USA, maybe as a result of the Depression of the 1930s (maybe Roosevelt was never elected). Perhaps a longer Second World War, which, anyway, led to the rise in popularity of Communism in the UK and USA meant the party could gain in power until it became dominant. A cranky Communist tramp seen in 'our' world is influential in this alternate. I do not know if there have ever been outspoken Communists in the USA, there is a Communist Party there still, but it was not the sort of thing anyone, even a tramp, would usually spout out in public. The writers are clearly showing how broad alternates also impinge on the fates of individuals, something which it is common to explore in counter-factual fiction.

We have no clear idea of the causes of the alternate world, just the consequences. Professor Arturo is a Citizen General, a grand title for warden of a political prison. This title sounds rather like something from the French Revoultion rather than the Russian example, so perhaps suggests the revolution was domestic or maybe Arturo, a foreigner, was introduced by the Soviets as they did to Communist states they established in Eastern Europe.

California Oil
This one simply sees a shift of California's oil reserves from offshore to inland in San Francisco. This would have happened in some geological period, possibly millions of years earlier. It is only being discovered in the 1990s which is interesting and suggests California's economic development has been slower or perhaps there has simply been less exploration for oil. People's houses have been built over the field and property owners have the right to the oil on their land. Perhaps California has been some kind of reserve or there was another greater source of oil in the USA that meant that no-one sought it out there and it only appeared when San Francisco had developed to the size it is in our world. The fact that oil makes residents rich suggests demand is at least as high as in our world. Perhaps some war has led to huge consumption, exhausting the big supply that the USA had previously. Perhaps some seismic shift, not uncommon in California, has led to the oil coming closer to the surface comparatively recently. The sliders only stay there 20 minutes so there is little exploration of the alternatives, though to some extent this appears another 'easy' alternative put in to be quickly comprehensible to general viewers rather than being fully worked out.

No Pencillin
This is an interesting one, especially at the moment when we consider another pandemic. People forget the Spanish influenza outbreak of 1918-19 which killed 50-100 million people, certainly 17 million in India, 500,000 in the USA, 250,000 in the UK, 260,000 in Japan and 400,000 in France and 400,000 in Germany, both with populations weakened by war and food shortages. Influenza is a virus. Penicillin kills bacteria and can help you fight against viruses; you generally need specific vaccines for viruses. In this alternate world, Mallory is Patient Zero with the 'Q' disease and there is a $100,000 reward for his capture.

Clearly there was inspiration from the AIDS epidemic that was more in people's minds than it tends to be now. However, if the problem was that there was no penicillin it suggests that Mallory simply has been the first incubator for a particularly virulent bacteria which has mutated in him. Of course, even with penicillin in our world, this could happen. Currently the NHS in the UK is warning people about becoming immune to anti-biotics (i.e. anti-bacteria medicines) through over-use. It is possible we could become immune to the drugs and a new strain of bacteria could cause millions of deaths. This is an interesting point of discussion. Science fiction has touched on such hazards with things like 'Survivors' (1975 and 2007) and 'The Andromeda Strain' (novel 1969; movie 1971; TV series 2008).  With SARS and now Swine Flu such concerns are unlikely to go away as a theme, assuming millions of us do not die in the next few weeks and it becomes too horrific a topic to fictionalise ever again. [Fortunately we did not all die.]

Cannibalism Acceptable
This scenario is one I find rather difficult to accept. Cannibalistic societies have always been small tribal ones at war with other tribes. Such cultures cannot develop into the sophisticated society that we see in the 'Sliders' San Francisco, unless, for example, they farm humans to eat. I do not think that is discussed. We do not see a country of constant war with people eating their rivals. Perhaps the law has changed so that people killed in accidents or the homeless can be eaten, or being the USA, presumably some of the 1% of the population in prison, especially those executed, are now permitted to be eaten.

Again, to have the level of sophisticated society seen in the programme, cannibalism would need regulation. Is it that cannibalism has become simply acceptable or that other meat sources have been eliminated which historically has been the prime reason for cannibalism? A tribal, or at best, feudal society with cannibalism I could accept, but I would need more evidence for a developed society permitting it. I can only assume it would have been the next step from slavery, i.e., to actually treating people like livestock. There is no indication a particular race is the livestock, as far as I can remember. Any of these approaches suggest that the major religions that we know, have been absent from the USA, as none of them tolerate cannibalism, or sometime in history, morality has been twisted well out of line compared to that of our world. This could have been an interesting story, but needed more development.

No Atomic Bombs
I think this was one of the most interesting concepts explored in the series. The sliders arrive on a world in which a huge meteorite is set to crash into the western USA and expected to wipe out humanity in the way something similar did to the dinosaurs. People are behaving literally as if it is the end of the world and turning to religion or debauchery. The problem is that, on this world, for moral reasons, Albert Einstein (it may have been Robert Oppenheimer) had stated that there was insufficient fissionable material on the planet to enable an atomic bomb to be constructed and the early prototype was abandoned.

The Second World War was ended by conventional means and the inter-continental ballistic missiles of this world are huge as they have to carry vast quantities of conventional explosives; the Cold War has continued, though without (easy) mutually assured destruction. Arturo is able to construct an atomic bomb by developing the necessary concentration structure to enable critical mass. Fired at the meteorite it destroys it, saving Earth. Having left this world, we see Arturo has lost his plans for the bomb and we see a very manic science student with them giving us the implication that he is going to use them to equip the USA with atomic weapons in the 1990s and so trigger a new, more dangerous, phase of the Cold War.

This is an interesting 'what if?' regarding the different history that would have followed if scientists had held back on moral grounds from pursuing technology to its limit. Of course, what would have been likely is that chemical or biological weapons are likely to have been developed further than on our world. The other thing is, in contrast to the views of many people in our world, but in line with my own views, this episode shows that the Cold War would have happened even in the absence of atomic weapons. This is the first episode when we become aware of the implications of the sliders' actions after they have left. Arturo's carelessness has brought speedier atomic weapons to the planet which he has just helped save. Of course, him having exploded one atomic bomb would have shown to all that it was possible and research would have resumed. However, dropping the blueprints for an actual bomb and them falling into the hands of an irresponsible man must have a more immediate impact.

Flooded World
As with all the alternate worlds with harsh climatic differences, the sliders only stay here a short time. In this world sea levels have risen by scores of metres which suggests that all the ice caps have melted at once, though even then I doubt there is sufficient water on the planet to raise sea levels by this much: the top of San Francisco's Transamerican Pyramid shows that the flooding must be at least 260 metres. The only feasible explanation is some vast lump of ice has crashed on to the planet unleashing huge amounts of water across the planet. Clearly there is some parallels to 'Waterworld' (1995) and the concern about rising sea levels caused by global warming. However, the extremity of this alternative goes beyond what is feasible, but again hammers home the point to the audience in an easily accessible way.

British America
I have discussed this kind of scenario on this blog before with Britain winning the American War of Independence and keeping the USA in the empire. In 'Sliders' their take is that, by the mid-1990s Prince Harold (prospective Harold III; King Harold who died in 1066 was considered Harold II) who may have been born in 1966, hence his name, is the heir to the throne and Prince of the Americas. In our world this role is held by the Prince of Wales, so suggests that America and, to the extent of being in California, is part of the United Kingdom, presumably the most important part. There were suggestions in the late 18th century that the British monarchy re-locate to North America in the way the Portuguese monarchy did during the Napoleonic Wars (and never returned, becoming the emperors of Brazil). The compromise seems to be to have the Prince of the Americas resident in the country.

Interestingly, attitudes seem rather dated in this world (perhaps reflecting US writers' views of the UK) because the Oakland district of San Francisco is a royal game reserve. Perhaps with such a huge UK spanning continents, this early superpower has been able to face down any steps to world war and so the social changes that these wars brought about in our world have been headed off. The organisation of the Principality of the Americas is not gone into nor its extent, though clearly British power pushed back the Mexicans as the USA did. We know Arturo is Sheriff of San Francisco, which is interesting given that in the UK High Sheriffs originated in Anglo-Saxon times, preceding the Norman Conquest. These days they are pretty much a ceremonial position, though in the Middle Ages they had judicial and tax raising powers and in Scotland the term Sheriff refers to judges in the second tier of court. The suggestion is, of course, that the term sheriff simply refers to the police position that it holds in the USA, but maybe it is that in this world, Britain has itself evolved a little differently, perhaps due to a different outcome in 1066 and more Anglo-Saxon elements remain throughout its wide kingdom.

The Spiderwasp Infestation
This world is visited briefly and ends up with the sliders bringing some of these genetically engineered creatures, the spiderwasps, into another alternate Earth with them, though we never see the outcome of that. In the story this crossbreed between a spider and a wasp was released in South America in 1987 to combat some other pest and have decimated that continent and Central America and Mexico and have reached California by 1995/6. There are clear parallels here with the release of cane toads from Hawaii into Australia in 1935 to eliminate cane beetles. They have spread through tropical Australia at the rate of 100 Km per year. They are eaten by indigenous creatures such as crocodiles, kangaroos, dingoes and lizards which their poison kills, though some snakes have adapted to cope with them. The toads' impact has not only threatened indigenous species, especially the quoll, but also the food supply of Aborigines.  The Australian government's advice is simply to kill the cane toads with a golf club or a cricket bat, a more 'humane' method is to put them in plastic bags in a freezer.

In the mid-1990s there was also growing concern about genetically modified (GM) crops and companies and governments were surprised by the public hostility to even single trial fields of these and the reaction has meant GM food is not marketable. This kind of problem of a GM predator is a very feasible one, and, as the cane toads have shown, almost impossible to stop. As with the other disaster scenarios in 'Sliders' this one is not followed up to a great extent in the programme.

Hippies Endure
In this world the suggestion is that the Japanese conquests of the 1940s were more successful, perhaps because they managed to eliminate more of the US fleet at Pearl Harbor. As a consequence, they invaded Australia, though the point of that is rather lost on me. It has to be assumed that as a result of their success that the Second World War went on 1-2 years longer and that coming into the fight in Asia in 1945, the Soviets not only advanced into Korea but were even drawn into Australia. Perhaps this world does not have nuclear weapons as we saw in the No Atomic Bombs world. The British seem to have been excluded as Australia has been divided into a Soviet-controlled North and a US-controlled South, though this is not too surprising given the level of US involvement in Australia post-1945 that made some Australians feel they were becoming the 51st (or at the time 49th then 50th) State rather the UK. War between the North and South resembles the conflict between North and South Vietnam in our world and it is still going on in 1996. This suggests that the Cold War is still in full flow. The continuation of the Cold War is suggested by the fact that Colonel Oliver North, the controversial officer involved in President Reagan's schemes in Central America in the 1980s, is now President, presumably having risen to be a general first.

On a personal basis, Brown is an Army sergeant and has had no music career.

What we see in this episode is the reaction of the US public to the war. It is very like the reaction to the Vietnam War in style, being about hippies, communes and protest songs. It is, as if, the 1960s of our world has been delayed by thirty years. Of course the late 1960s culture was actually predicated on a degree of prosperity and if there had been a longer Second World War and a sustained Cold War, even the USA may have faced the kind of austerity years that Europe suffered afterwards meaning the preconditions for the hippy movement would not have been there until the 1990s. All of these things are quite possible. Whilst having hippy culture in the 1990s might seem good to some people it would have only happened on the back of longer wars and austerity throughout the bulk of the late 20th century.

Intellectual Earth
This one is not massively different from our world. Granted there is more interest in study, quiz programmes and intellectuals and libraries are open for longer hours, but despite anti-intellectualism in many countries of our world, people who attend university still earn more and many libraries at UK universities are now open 24 hours per day. Serious quiz programmes such as 'Mastermind' and 'University Challenge' remain very popular in the UK and have seen revivals in the 2000s even though they are now alongside game shows in which contestants have to trick or exploit others.

This alternate Earth has a hybrid sport of basketball in which contestants also have to answer intellectual questions at the same time. Such a programme would not be impossible here, though it is unlikely that the contestants would attract the celebrity that they do in this 'Sliders' episode.  Saying that, even in our world Carol Vordeman and Stephen Hawkins are intellectual celebrities as A.J.P. Taylor and Carl Sagan were in the previous generation. There are some quirks that are unlikely to occur here, such as gangsters speaking Latin. Many generations of people have been struggling to make this kind of world a reality so it is not unfeasible that it would have occurred. However, making intellectualism more popular is unlikely to have had huge differences, except perhaps more industrial funding for research which could have had detrimental or beneficial effects.

Female-Led Earth
If we look back in history at the number of powerful queens in so many cultures it would seem possible that women could have become the dominant gender, especially as for many centuries men kept killing each other off. In this world Hillary Clinton is president in 1995, which actually does not seem too unusual a difference these days. A female pope is a different matter and suggests that centuries earlier, women, who often have a leading role in religious practice anyway, were able to assert this. Perhaps a different interpretation had Mary, mother of Jesus and even Mary, wife of Jesus, in a key role. Really it is they, going to find Jesus resurrected, who kick off the birth of Christianity as a religion even in our world.

With such a shift in the early years of Christianity, we could have seen a very different gender balance. Perhaps men remained the warriors, but women, as, in fact, they often were in the Middle Ages, have been the financiers and the estate managers then the tax officials and the politicians. There is no indication if this trend stretches across the world or just the western part. If it does, it suggests a religion different to Islam is in place in Asia and Buddhism shed its male focus earlier too.

The episode sees Arturo as a radical candidate in an election. He has no desire to win and so tries to appear weak. This backfires and moments after he has left the world, it is revealed he was won on the basis that he comes across as caring. In this episode we do see archetypes turned on their heads with chauvinist women and complaints about men's 'cycles' every 20 minutes compared to the women's over a month. There is no suggestion that there is any biological difference to our world, just that perceptions about what are the 'right' characteristics for a successful leader are different.

Authoritarian Justice
This is a pretty feasible 'what if?' in that minor misdemeanours (in the USA certainly), such as graffiti are punished by the death penalty. The 'Proposition 199' (which suggests it may only extend to California) means 'instant justice' with a judge making immediate sentences with minimal legal argument. Of course this approach has been common throughout history and the modern world in numerous dictatorships. Given the time the programme was running this episode may have been influenced by discussion at the time of punishment in Singapore, an undemocratic state, much admired by people in the West and in which people can receive corporal (as opposed to capital) punishment for littering and graffiti.

People advised me at the time that the UK would be a better place with such a legal system. In the UK hanging for shoplifting was only abolished in 1823, for stealing livestock in 1832, for sacrilege or letter stealing in 1834/5, forgery in 1836, arson or burglary 1837, rape 1841 and attempted murder 1861. The last public hangings were in 1868 and execution in the UK was abolished in 1965.

Of course, such sentences were retained much longer in other countries; in the USA 37 out of 50 states have the death penalty and executions have been steadily rising in number since the Reagan years. An authoritarian approach as seen in this episode would seem to be able to come to the USA quite easily, particularly in the face of rising crime.  It would seem appropriate in the USA where the death penalty remains and, in some states, three convictions for minor offences (even ones committed as a juvenile) such as shoplifting, can lead to a life sentence. No wonder 1 in 100 adults living in the USA is in prison. Proposition 184 was passed in California in 1994 introducing this legislation there, so presumably that impacted on the writers' thinking.

As I have often done with my own fiction, it is clear that the 'Sliders' series often sought to take a current trend and see what would happen if taken to its extreme and in this way generate discussion about what is actually happening.

Rembrandt Brown is 'The King'
Of course, Brown is a fictional character, but the fact that other singers, aside from the ones we know, might have become very successful on the scale of Elvis Presley or James Brown, is very feasible. Of course, many successful performers died young and we have no idea how Buddy Holly's or Richie Valens's careers might have panned out if they had not died so early, aged 22 and 17 respectively, but at the time of their deaths both were already very successful. Given that Bob Dylan's 33rd album has gone to No. 1 in the UK album charts, 47 years after his first album was released, indicates how unpredictable music careers can be and very minor elements could have left us with a very different musical legacy. This episode is interesting because the Brown from our world becomes a look-alike of the more successful version in this alternare world, who is supposedly dead, but is encouraged to come back to the business by the success of the Brown from our world filling his shoes. This is a novel way of the same person from alternate versions of Earth interacting.

Malthusian Earth
This one must rate as one of the most interesting alternatives, in my mind, alongside the no atomic bombs one. 'An Essay on the Principle of Population' was published in 1798 by Reverend Robert Malthus (1766-1834) in which he warned about the dangers of constantly rising population on the resources of the world. He applied ideas from animal husbandry to humans so laying the foundations for eugenic ideas of the 1860s onwards (though the term 'eugenic' was invented in 1883 by Francis Galton). In this episode of 'Sliders' the world's population has been kept at 500 million compared to 6 billion we currently have. In San Francisco, people can draw out sums of money from the government but each time they do they are entered into a lottery to be executed, the more they take, the higher their chance of being selected to be killed off. This means that families that lose a member largely have compensation already. The world is shown as much greener and less polluted. Malthus has had critics but if you think about it, the countries with the largest populations, India and China have both tried birth restriction policies, though not as extreme as that shown in the series.

To some extent, Malthus's ideas came at a time when many people saw hope of sustaining a growing population through improved farming methods and industrialisation. However, if his ideas had come out a century later he would have received a warmer response and, of course, regimes such as Nazi Germany adopted very Malthusian attitudes when talking about 'living space' for the population. Eugenics as a principle was even more popular with Sweden and parts of the USA adopting eugenic policies before the Second World War usually to prevent disabled people from having children.  Winston Churchill supported eugenic legislation before the First World War given the high level of rejected volunteers for the Army on health grounds; around 40% of British volunteers were rejected 1909-10 on this basis. So, it is quite easy to see, especially in the USA, that Malthusian attitudes could have been adopted, perhaps following a period of bad harvests.

The execution lottery is not the only method of keeping down the population; contraceptive drugs are included in colas. This presumably is rather like fluoride in public water supplies. Of course, birth rates tend to fall when prosperity rises anyway, so a more prosperous world would more likely to have a slower rise in population as would a world with better opportunities globally for women. Though it is not mentioned in the Female-Led Earth story, the population there is likely to have been much smaller. In addition, a lot of money in our world goes into combating infertility and impotence and simply ending all drugs against these problems would have an immediate impact. In our world much of western Europe and Japan have static or falling population and Canada's is only sustained by immigration. To some degree, this flips Malthus's attitude on its head, saying that a prosperous world has a smaller population, though perhaps we have expanded too far already especially with arable land being destroyed by erosion and pollution. The best way is to make more people well off, but not in the way shown in this episode of 'Sliders'.

In this episode, the black woman, Vice-Admiral Jocelyn Elders (born 1933), Surgeon-General of the USA 1993-4, a paediatrician and outspoken on teenage pregnancy and AIDS has become president of the USA, presumably because her approach to contraception is seen as being in line with the Malthusian approach to the population. Possibly this also suggests that in a world with a smaller population, women can rise higher in society and racial discrimination has been less virulent.

Paranormal Earth
In this Earth, paranormal activity is accepted as 'normal' and there is regular interaction with the 'spirit world'. San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge is the 'Golden Gargoyle Bridge' and the head of the most successful company in the world is known as the Sorceror (though it turns out he is another slider who came from a different version of Earth and makes use of the technology he brings from there). Again, this is not unfeasible.

Given that a British woman was arrested during the Second World War for witchcraft and every town I have lived in has had at least on spiritualist church (a religion which believes in contact with the dead) it is not impossible that such things could have gained more widespread support especially during the 1970s when there was particular popular interest in the occult. Even though such trends have been channelled down paths in the USA which seem more Christian, widespread popular reference to contact with angels in the USA and in Islamic countries to the contact with djinn, show that the role of 'other' forces in our supposedly rational society remains strong.  Regimes such as Nazi Germany also put store by activities such as this. So, it is quite easy to imagine a world where such trends have become more popular, perhaps if certain politicians or celebrities were seen as embracing them in the 1970s. Perhaps more conventional religion has been discredited.

Of course, belief in the occult and it actually working are two different things. In this episode people use licenced shamans to get back at contract-breakers. In reality, many reported incidences of witchcraft were really about people believing it was real and suffering psychosomatic outcomes as a result. In the programme it is suggested that paranormal activity is real, at least on this alternate world, but even in our world, belief in such things could have become much higher than it did and so influence the nature of contemporary culture, especially in the West, beyond the fringes of society that it influences today for us.

X Chromosone Earth
This is almost a biological equivalent of the Female-Led Earth but also plays on fears of the 1990s about weapons of mass destruction and especially chemical and biological weapons. In this episode the Iraqis, presumably at the time of the war over Kuwait in 1991, have released a viral weapon which kills the Y chromosone eliminating most men in the world, there are supposedly 2,000 left in Australia (from around a level of 8 million), one of the least affected countries by the time of the episode, which must be set in 1995/6.

Men are kept in breeding camps as different countries struggle to raise their populations, though presumably there are still more than 2.5-3 billion people in the world with just women around, still 5-6 times higher than the level seen as suitable in the Malthusian world, so there would be no need for huge repopulation, just sufficient to allow the human race to continue. The big drop would come as the current female population died of old age, but it would take decades before the global population began to shrink down to below 1 billion. In the immediate period, with the population halved, many marginal areas would be abandoned and there would be more than enough food and resources for everyone.

The assumption is that the biological agent has been purged from the world or died out otherwise repopulation would be very difficult, but a smaller population might not be a bad thing. In addition, we would have a female-orientated take on everything from culture to politics and so development might be different, but I have met women who are as greedy and violent as any man, so there might be no difference especially if the maternal instinct was removed from the bulk of women's lives.

In our world, in most Western countries, women make up a small majority of the population and certainly of the workforce. Given how little sperm you need to create a baby it is more likely that a compulsory sperm donation scheme would be adopted rather than constant breeding camps. For one thing it would allow better control to avoid inter-breeding with that small base of genes. It is also likely that stem cell and embryo research would advance faster. Of course, that kind of rational approach is less exciting for a series than having breeding camps and having men shot if they try to escape. What is likely is that men would become privileged even if set into a repopulation scheme.

Female society would be divided sharply as millions of women would be denied any chance to have children and, presumably, only an elite would be permitted to reproduce. Previous sexual relationship patterns would be overthrown, with lesbianism becoming the norm for any woman who wanted a partnership.  However, 90% of women are not sexually interested in the same sex, presumably leading to a large increase in sex toys and, possibly, transgender operations female to male, which do already occur.

Monsoon California
In this episode, California experiences the type of climate seen in the Indian Ocean, with heavy rainfall. The population seems smaller but able to produce rainwear like that of our world. Perhaps with west coast of the USA being wetter, people live inland which in our world is quite hot and dry but presumably would resemble the lush areas of India. There is really no reason why California could not have ended up with a similar climate to India, it would have simply meant a different set of air and sea currents and something like this could occur even in our future, just look at the impact on sea temperature that El Nino has. It may be caused by global warming too, as people forget that warm air can carry more moisture than cool air and, being on the edge of a huge ocean, California certainly has enough moisture around.

Technophobe Earth
I have used the description that is given to this alternate, but it is rather extreme as a technophobe world would presumably resemble something like Cambodia under the rule of Pol Pot in 1975-9 when he tried to take the country back to 'Year Zero' and adopt a basic agrarian economy. In this 'Sliders' we see technology in the mid-1990s as having progressed to the kind of technology we had in the mid-1950s, as a reaction to the damage caused by the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima. I do not know if the Nagasaki bomb was dropped. In some ways this is a companion to the No Atomic Bomb alternate and reflects the extent to which nuclear weapons are particularly seen to feature in modern culture, especially by American writers.

There is a Bureau of Anti-Technology which is trying to prevent individuals developing new technologies. This is reminiscent of the Papacy trying to ban use of the crossbow, Pope Urban II in 1097 (banned used against Christians but not other religionists) and at the Second Lateran Council 1139. This has some interesting implications. In terms of the Cold War, slower development might have benefited the economy of the USSR which found it harder to respond. Presumably space exploration has not occurred. In addition, the world might be more polluted and be using resources in a more wasteful way as a lot of post-1950s technology has been about greater efficiency. Presumably there would be no nuclear power stations let alone solar power, so there would be more coal and oil burning power stations. Though, as discussed below, more diseases would be around to kill people, the population in the western world would probably be higher than in our world because of the absence of the contraceptive pill introduced in 1961 in the UK.

It is unlikely that there would be mass tourism and airflight would remain a luxury; ocean liners presumably would be more common and some technologies abandoned by the Second World War, such are airships, may have been revived. It would be a rather bakelite punk era, perhaps something like 'Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow' (2004) which seems to envisage a limited Second World War and so different technologies have appeared, though some commentators set it in 1939, I feel that it might be an alternate 1947 in which Nazi Germany never went to war or the USA never intervened and the Germans won in Europe.

The alternate version of Mallory Quinn has died in his youth in this world as no vaccine for polio has been developed. In our world the first polio vaccine was announced by Jonas Salk in 1955; developments had been going on since 1936 and Salk's work began in 1952. In some ways this harks back the the No Pencillin world in reminding audiences of what has been gained in combating disease in the past century.

Nudism the Norm
This would be less likely outside a location like California simply because it is too cold all year round to be nude. Even in civilisations we perceive as nude, loin cloths and penis gourds are worn because genitalia are very sensitive not just from knocks and from insects but also sun burn. It is likely that if nudity had been the norm for many centuries, hairy individuals would be favoured and human skin might be tougher or the death rate from skin cancer higher; putting on suntan lotion would be the morning ritual. Perhaps over the centuries, white people would have disappeared. Combat would be different as the first armour was simply padded clothing and then leather. Soldiers would resemble those of Ancient Egypt or the Celtish warrior thoughboth of these types of soldiers covered their genitalss; shields would be very important.

The whole fashion industry would be missing, but tattoos and body piercing might have become parts of modern cultures far earlier than in our world. You would probably find that cityscapes would be different, with more cleaning of streets, perhaps softer surfaces to pavements (or humans having far thicker skin on their feet); littering would be far more anti-social. Some environments such as deserts and polar regions would be uninhabited by humans. The design of things such as bicycle pedals to footballs would probably differ too. The perception of the body would be completely different. We could tell illustrations of the past by hairstyles and body markings rather than clothing fashions. A lot of what we associate with soft pornography would be meaningless, who would buy a magazine showing naked women when everyone you meet is naked and so perhaps the only pornography would be that showing sexual acts. Perhaps the reverse of stripping, i.e., putting on clothes, would be the taboo.

The other thing about clothing is that it is a good place to carry things. It might be that we would end up with de facto clothing as people would have to run belts and straps across themselves to hold their money, their keys and their mobile phones. Perhaps these items would hang from rings pierced into the body.

Desert Earth
This world is never seen, only mentioned. It appears to be a world covered in desert, though perhaps that is just California which is pretty dry and barren anyway, maybe it is the whole Earth. Either of these things is quite easy to envisage. Geological shifts, a longer ice age (because the glaciers hold more of the water, the Earth is actually drier during ice ages and sea levels fall), perhaps pollution or over-exploitation leading to erosion and desertification, perhaps on a planet where the population or industry has grown far faster (the Greeks develop steam power) or certainly in the Americas. Given the development of dust bowls in the 1930-36/40 when the USA experienced severe droughts. Dust bowls affected 400,000 Km2 in parts of Texas and Oklahoma West to Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. Over-exploitation of California's land or a longer period of drought or a return of drought in the 1970s-90s or current shifts in the Pacific could have all led to California and, perhaps, much more of the USA becoming desertified. The suggestion is it happened a while back so that there is no sign of life left in California, so perhaps it is an extension of the 1930s droughts seen sixty years on with people having left the South-West USA for other regions.

Of course, it might be a world of desert caused by the Earth being closer to the Sun or having started with less water than our world has, as 70% of our planet is covered with water. Reduce that to 50% or have more water trapped underground and you could have much more extensive deserts across the planet.

Texan California
I have sort of touched on something like this in my postings regarding alternate Americas. In this world, Texas never joined the USA and remained a separate republic and so never became part of the Confederacy. While the American Civil War 1861-5 was raging, Texas took the opportunity to expand westwards and take over California (which had been a state of the USA since 1850; the bulk of the population supported the Confederacy but Californian troops fought on the Union side). This might have not have been unpopular given the sympathies for the Confederacy in California and the fact that the Californian republic had been snuffed out in 1846. Without Texas, the Confederacy would have had 605,000 fewer people (out of a total CSA population of 9.1 million free people and 3.5 million slaves), so the war may have been shorter.

The stereotypical Texan attitudes have persisted, namely the right to bear arms openly. This has spilt over into modern corporate life with lawyers wielding guns rather than contesting in court. The society is pretty macho with a female gunslinger being underestimated because she was a woman. It is difficult to reconcile the sophisticated society of San Francisco that we see in the episode with the arbitrary gunfights however regulated. You would think violent men rather than intelligent and trained lawyers would be in demand, but it is to some extent an extension of the Western culture of the 'lawman' being able to use his gun legitimately, though interestingly the sense of 'right' is now based on what a particular company feels is right rather than any broader sense of morality.

To some extent, I think the writers were making the point about gun control in the USA and the fact that for many people from outside the country, the USA today seems not that far from the kind of 'Wild West' justice of the past.  There are 215 million guns in the USA (and many are not pistols) for a population of 306 million (including 74 million children); with half of all households owning at least one, often many more. Of course, in the past the 'gunman' was the outsider and often had to be on the move for fear of being arrested and executed. Today's gunmen often have a greater chance of getting away with it, despite the severe justice system in the country already noted. One could certainly envisage a bigger Texas being very proud and adopting what are seen as 'American values' in an extreme form. Also, given that Texas is the tenth wealthiest 'country' in the world and California the seventh, it would be a rich place, so corporate life would be a core element of the country.

War Zone
In this episode the sliders arrive in a San Francisco that looks like Somalia, with armed gangs fighting over small patches of territory. Apparently this has followed a global war in the mid-1980s. Perhaps it was a nuclear war, though there is no evidence of radiation in San Francisco, perhaps the USA elsewhere has been destroyed leaving a post-apocalyptic environment and the collapse of authority on the west coast. Of course, this was a common basis for stories in the 1980s, notably 'The Postman' (1985) by David Brin in which a separate California is arising in the post-nuclear war environment or perhaps it was influenced by 'Terminator' (1984) which features urban wastelands caused by the war between robots and humans. We know too little about the war that caused this alternate Earth but I guess it was probably some version of the Third World War as discussed a great deal in the 1980s.

San Francisco as a Prison
There are clear parallels between this and 'Escape from New York' (1981) which sees a world in which there was a Third World War coming to an end in 1997.  In that movie, back in 1988 Manhattan was turned into a prison to combat the 400% increase in crime, especially in New York which had suffered badly in the war. To broker a deal with the USSR and China the USA is offering details of nuclear fusion. In 'Escape from Los Angeles' (1996), set in the same world as the previous movie, following a severe earthquake in 2000, Los Angeles has become an island separated from the rest of California by the San Fernando Sea (the flooded valley of the same name). A Christian fundamentalist has been elected president who bans smoking, alcohol, red meat, swearing, non-Christian religions and sex outside marriage, and bizarrely carrying guns. Given that so many US fundamentalists believe God gives them the right to bear arms, this seems a little unusual. Anyone violating these laws is exiled to Los Angeles island. Interestingly the movie features the Plutoxin 7 flu virus which is hyped by the government so it is seen as likely to kill millions of people.

The San Francisco as a prison in 'Sliders' is much less brutal than those portrayed in these movies and it is clean and well run. San Francisco has been chosen as there is an expectation of earthquake activity that will send it into the sea. However, the warders are known as custodians and do not look vicious. Perhaps this is to contrast it to the movies mentioned which in fact have similarities to the War Zone world discussed above. All the prisoners are partnered and if one commits a crime both are killed, a very similar theme to 'Wedlock' (1991) which similarly sees future prisoners partnered up. The references to movies of the time was one criticism levelled at 'Sliders' as the seasons progressed.

There is no reason why an area could not be designated a prison. In the UK, the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea was turned over to such a purpose during the Second World War as even if a prisoner escaped they were 48Km from shore in a hostile sea. With such a large prison population in the USA (2.3 million in prison in 2008 out of a population of 306 million people, compared to 1.5 million prisoners in China with a population of 1.3 billion) it might seem a sensible policy for the USA, though strong air defences would be needed to stop assisted escapes. In addition, prisons are an important industry for many rural and poor parts of the USA and if large chunks of the prison population was concentrated in a vast pentientary then this would cut employment opportunities in many locations where jobs are needed (see 'Lone Star' (1996) for a dramatisation of the importance of prisons in creating work).

Bearded Women World
This suggests some genetic difference in the fact that facial hair is common on women and many wear beards. Humans have many anomalies and so it is not impossible that men and women could have evolved having similar forms of hair, some women are much hairier than others anyway. As noted with the nudist Earth, there might have been cultural reasons why hairier women were favoured through history as mates leading to it becoming the norm by the mid-1990s rather than women spending money diplatory creams and waxing.

Unrelated in this world the US Constitution, notably the Bill of Rights, has been abridged so reducing people's civil liberties. Campaigners are struggling to find a copy of the original full constitution.

Hoover's America
This is an interesting 'what if?' rather spoilt by having the police wear kilts or skirts. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (though in our world they were Soviet spies executed in 1953; presumably in this alternate they were not caught certainly before 1961) and the head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover became president, presumably beating Lyndon Johnson at the 1964 election. Martial law was declared following Kennedy's death and it is now illegal (punishable by death) to possess a copy of the full US Constitution, just like the one that the sliders picked up in the previous world they visited, where it was also illegal.

Society has been repressed and there has been no 'swinging Sixties' in the USA. In this alternate 1996 acceptable music is apparently 'Liberace Unplugged' (Liberace was an ostentatious gay lounge pianist), 'Jim Morrison Sings Irving Berlin' (Berlin being a show tunes composer and presumably Morrison could never access the drugs to kill him) and Kurt Cobain's 'The Christmas Album', though I imagine both Morrison and Cobain would never have existed in such a climate. Police wear kilts because Hoover was supposedly a transvestite. I suppose coming from the UK where you see Scots wearing kilts on a Sunday morning and Highland regiments with them as part of their dress uniform, they do not seem as odd as in the USA, but give a light tone which rather undermines the issues around an authoritarian USA.

Of course, the USA executed the Rosenbergs, though the exaggerated the evidence against Ethel and neither was executed effectively, then needed repeated jolts in the electric chair before they died. The USA of the 1950s was a repressive place in which 'beat' culture and other alternatives was squashed. The repression of Senator McCarthy wrecked the careers of many people and forced others into exile. It is quite easy to envisage this continuing into the 1960s and it is quite interesting that there was not a harsher reaction following Kennedy's death, I suppose because it was put down to a lone madman who was soon killed anyway and who did not seem to be being driven by any sinister group.

I think the US constitution is too well known and too widely available to be abridged so easily. However, as we have seen in the USA since September 2001, the US government is more than happy to adopt authoritarian measures and rapidly erode civil liberties. If Hoover had been elected it seems there would be no doubt, giving the ongoing Cold War, tensions with Cuba and in Vietnam, he could have easily introduced measures of the kind George Bush did during his regime with the abduction and torture of people of a type the regime disliked.

Compelled Truth
This world is only seen briefly and in it everyone has to wear an electronic collar which gives them an electric shock if they lie and can kill them if they continue to do so. We see the difficulty of this for relationships when Brown is trying to flatter a wealthy woman he has met. Attempting to remove the collars is punishable by death. To some degree this may have stemmed from the writers extrapolating electronic tagging of convicts which was becoming more common at the time and seemed to be heralding an era of electronic control of behaviour. We do not see how politicians dealt with such a system and also how advertising worked in such a context.

Dinosaurs Revived
This world is sometimes portrayed as one in which dinosaurs have not died out. However, that is not accurate. As Arturo points out, in such a world humans were unlikely to have ever evolved. In fact what we see is something like 'Jurassic Park' (1993) in which dinosaurs have been re-introduced by genetic engineering. The ones we see are kept in the San Francisco National Forest a natural reserve which is policed by holographically projected wardens. This suggests the world has a higher level of technology than our own but has also controlled urban growth and as in British America, San Francisco has been kept as a green location rather than a huge city. This suggests the development of California, for whatever reason has been different, though we have no clues about why that might be the case.

Advanced Materials
This is another world which is never seen but only discussed on the basis of a 500-year old arrowhead made of titanium. This is taken to suggest cross-fertilisation between alternate worlds which we know has been occurring, not least from the Paranormal Earth. It may also be harking back to the books of the late 1960s to early 1980s by Swiss author, Eric von Däniken (born 1935), the first being 'Chariots of the Gods?' (1968) that suggest that ancient civilisations had contact with extra-terrestrials who gave them advanced technologies. Certainly people in our world in the 15th century had no idea of working titanium; it was not discovered until 1791 and its use was confined to laboratories until 1932; development in aircraft use did not occur until the 1950s.

New India
In this episode, certainly the West coast of North America if not farther afield, has been settled by a Hindu culture from India leading to traditional Indian dress and tolerance of cattle in the streets. There has been a lot of discussion about the spread of Chinese explorers in the 15th century and the possibility of them settling the Americas, but far less about explorers from India. Interestingly it is more likely that Muslim Persian or Mughal explorers would have sailed across the Pacific to the Americas. The suggestion is that European penetration, at least of the west coast up in California as opposed to Peru, was delayed (perhaps by a more virulent Black Death or by exploration elsewhere in the world). In addition, given that in the 18th century the British and French were able to roll back indigenous control of India itself, this suggests they were unable to expel the Indian settlers from California or perhaps they were already autonomous and developed their own state separate from their home states in India.

Of course, the Europeans did not find it easy for them to defeat Sultan Fateh Ali Tippu (1750-99) of the Kingdom of Mysore. The British waged four wars against his father and him 1766-99 and they only won with allied Indian forces from the Nizam of Hyderabad and Travancore. One could easily envisage the Sultan, having repelled the British looking for overseas expansion in the Americas which was being fought over between the British and French; perhaps reviving the earlier Indian settlements on the continent. He was a Muslim ruling a Hindu state. Such an outcome would have meant a different history for Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, whose brother was viceroy of India and who made his name fighting there in the late 18th and early 19th centuries before returning to Europe to Britain's most successful general in the Napoleonic Wars.

This world suggests a very different history for the British Empire. Perhaps it had retained the Thirteen Colonies so invested more in North America rather than building an empire in India. The British had plans for an area West of the Thirteen Colonies in which Amerindians would be unmolested, so perhaps in such a context European settlement did not reach the West coast, Of course Spanish and later Mexican control of the region would have had to be defeated too. Yet, given how capable Indian armies were in the early 19th century they could have seen off such a threat to their American colony. With a non-European state being a colonial power, the balance between states and races would be different in the 19th century. Depending on which Indian state conquered California, we would see different languages coming to the fore. In Mysore they spoke Kannada, one of the Dravidian languages.

Despite the strength of Sultan Tipu and the Mughals, I think the most likely colonists would have come at the time of Mughal control of the bulk of the Indian sub-continent as this regime was expansionist through the 16th- early 18th centuries, though from 1707 there were successor states such as Mysore, Hyderabad and the Maratha Empire/Confederacy which had developed under the Mughals and remained until 1820. This state is a prime candidate for colonisation of America as it was a Hindu state (though it did not use the caste system and was religiously tolerant), it was militarily strong even against European incursion and vitally it had a strong navy especially under the Sarkel (Admiral of the Fleet) Kanhoji Angre (died 1729) who was successful against the British, Dutch and Portuguese. Presumably with bases across Indonesia and Pacific islands (he conquered the Andaman Islands for India) he could have led the colonisation of California, say initially in the 1710s at a time when even eastern North America was only newly under European control. He would have probably had later to have fought the more established Spanish, but that would not have been impossible given that both would be operating thousands of kilometres from home.

With Maratha colonisation you would probably have Marathi, a 1300-year old language currently spoken by 90 million people and is India's 4th most spoken language, being spoken in California and Hinduism as the state's religion though with Maratha tolerance for other faiths. Ironically rather than 'Bollywood' in Mumbai you could have New Mumbai where Los Angeles is now. Indian language and culture would be more prominent in our world as presumably would Hinduism, the only major non-monotheistic religion still around. This is an interesting 'what if?' which could really benefit from more investigation.

Psychic Earth
This is similar to the Paranormal Earth discussed above but with the details worked up more. In this world a psychic prevented the assassination of Abraham Lincoln leading to the creation of the post of Prime Oracle, second only in power to the president. Subsequently the attempts to assassinate John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King have all failed and John Kennedy died of an illness in 1996. Around 10% of the population in this world have psychic abilities and there are medical oracles who diagnose injuries rather than X-Ray being used, a technology which no-one has bothered to develop. Technology is advanced and gold mining is beginning on the Moon in 1996. There are parallels to '(The) Minority Report' (novel 1956; movie 2002) in that police can make preventative arrests if they determine that a person is planning to commit a crime. Again, this is not only a 'what if?' on a political basis but depends whether you believe psychic power is real or not. The suggestion is, certainly with the medical diagnoses, that in this world it is and that it is just an issue of particular developments leading people to accept that fact.

Litigation America
In this world 84% of the population has had legal training and to buy a burger and a coke you have to shown you have insurance and cholestrol below 200. With litigation on minor issues such as coffee from a fast food store being hot without a warning indication, coming to the fore in the 1990s and US style litigation spreading to countries like the UK and Ireland again the writers are taking this trend a little (and not much) bit further. As in our world such attitudes choke off certain activities and critiques of movie performances have stopped for fear of critics being sued by the performers. Many of the trends identified in this world are not that far away now and anyone in business let alone people working in education, have seen how things like school trips have been discontinued and despite rising obesity children are kept away from physical activity for fear of litigation if there is an accident.

The difference in our world is that legal training is not rising but there is a sharp increase in business for those lawyers in post and our televisions are full of advertisements encouragine people to sue. This often seems to work against morality. A colleague of mine was an ardent Christian. Two years earlier he had been hit in a car accident but suffered no injury. At that time the other driver took responsibility. However, two years later he was informed that he was being sued by this driver and his insurance company was paying out tens of thousands of pounds in compensation, they were not bothering to contest the claim. As a Christian he felt this was immoral on the basis that it broke the commandment of bearing false witness. As he kicked up a fuss, his own insurance company now saw him as a troublemaker and were reluctant to cover him any longer. Whilst this episode showed things taken to an extreme, in fact it was not that much of an alternate reality to what we are experiencing.

Prohibition Continues
In this story, prohibition of sale of the alcohol which occurred in our world 1920-33 has continued into the 1990s. As a result gangsterism of the 1920s style is still rife, rather than moving into narcotics dealing. San Francisco resembles Las Vegas, with casinos and neon lights everywhere. The federal government is weak, with families controlling states: the Greenfields in California and the Dabells in neighbouring Nevada. The FBI is still fighting gangsters with Brown as its deputy director leading 'The Incorruptables'; the movie 'The Untouchables' (1987) on this theme had been popular a decade earlier. Tracy Tormé's real-life father, jazz singer Mel Tormé (1925-99; in our world nicknamed 'The Velvet Fog'!) is not only a performer as here but also an FBI informant about the gangsters he sings for; though in this alternate world he sings country & western rather than jazz.
It is interesting that there has been no success in crushing gangsterism in the USA and you wonder how the country fared during the Second World War. Presumably with them so powerful, the presidents have been their men. Perhaps you could argue that the USA, especially California's cities has gangsters and drug dealers but still prospers. The other thing is that demand for alcohol remains so high given that three generations of people would have grown up without it easily available.

Of course some prohibition persists in our world. In 1924 heroin and cocaine were banned in the USA primarily, like alcohol, on moral rather than medical grounds. Up until then and persisting in Europe, these drugs were readily available; Coca Cola had had substances similar to cocaine in it and many cough remedies had contained opiates. Heroin which had been developed at the end of the 19th century was initially thought to be non-addictive, but the mistake was soon learned. The narcotics trade persists even now but not in the all-encompassing way that the alcohol trade is shown to do in this episode. I remember another episode in which the sliders encouter the TEA (Tobacco Enforcement Authority) which is stamping out illegal tobacco growing in Latin America as the alternate equivalent to our DEA.

In some ways this episode is like having the gunslingers persisting, it allows the sliders to interact with a genre which in our world has passed its time. A crime-ridden USA is probably not unfeasible, one only has to look at Russia in the 1990s and 2000s. Allegations about mafia influence on presidents and officials in the USA have long persisted.

Youth in Power
In some ways this alternate world is a little reminiscent of 'Logan's Run' (1976) though people are retired rather than executed at the age of thirty. The divergence from our world came in 1980 when 'shock' radio disc jockey, Howard Stern (born 1954) was elected as US President in at the age of 26. He reduced the voting age to 9. Brown and Arturo, being over 30 are second class citizens and get into difficulty when over age, they go into a bar. They are sentenced by a teenage judge more interested in chatting up the prosecutor but are successfully defended, by Welles if I remember correctly, on the basis of unclear signage. Quinn steps into his alternate's shoes finding himself married to the Welles of this world and promoting the EduLearn system(interestingly there is now an Edulearn company) which is selling online teaching as a way of reducing the need for teachers in state-run schools. However, the lessons are focused very much on marketing particular brands for their sponsors. This was no far removed from developments at the time, for example, in which McDonalds hamburger chain gave free educational materials to schools which asked children to identify where all the branches of McDonalds were in their neighbourhood. Not coming from a world where everyone has to make their fortune by the time they turn 30, Quinn resists the promotion of this system to the dismay of this world's Welles.

The retirement at 30 scheme seems mad. I accept that it would seem to reduce the impact on the environment and the risk of nuclear war that seemed such a hazard in the late 1970s, but the argument about reducing the social security burden does not work. Either you have to cull people over 30 or you have people in poverty not just for the last 15-20 years of their lives but for 45-50 years. This would lead to a major source of crime. In addition, research would fall away as in many cases it takes someone into their late 20s to become a doctor or a scientist and then their career would be very short, so healthcare would deteriorate badly. With parents being second class to their children, indiscipline and anti-social behaviour seen as a problem in our world would be even more severe and presumably with it, damage from alcohol and drug abuse as well as dangerous driving. The society would be much more unstable than the one pictured in the programme. To some extent this episode was another taking current trends and extrapolating them, but it is less sustainable than others.

Alien Invasion
This kind of scenario has been a common one in many stories, though as noted above, the Kromaggs are some of the nastiest aliens featured in series I have seen. They have the ability to travel with ease between alternate worlds enslaving people from them. They capture the sliders in French America and transport them to Earth 113 which they seem to use as a prison/torture planet.

French America and Spanish America
The sliders briefly visit a California in which French culture is in control. This kind of scenario was possible especially if the French had defeated the British in Canada and elsewhere in North America in the 18th century or perhaps if Napoleon had been more successful. As with all of these worlds in which a different culture is in control of California, presumably that language would be more dominant in the world. It would be fascinating to see whether a world in which a movie industry based on French culture would be like and whether the quality of our world would be maintained or if it would be reduced by commercialism. The suggestion is that French California is no different from France, but of course if it had been established before the revolution it might have been a refuge for royalists and be less democratic than France became.

In the following episode the sliders land in Nueva Espana, i.e. a Hispanic USA which is even more feasible given that California was part of the Spanish empire in the Americas and then part of Mexico. It is quite feasible that either could have held on to the region. Partly this scenario is about exploring the position of Hispanics in contemporary USA as in this story Anglos hold the menial positions that are often associated with Hispanics in the USA. In a reverse of the attempts by Mexicans to move to the USA in our world, illegal Canadian immigrants are deported back over the border. To some extent this scenario challenges the Anglo-Saxon US view of 'manifest destiny', that the USA was always intended to be as it is and as successful as it is. A Mexican California with gold in the mid-19th century and a booming economy today would of course be appealing to outsiders, especially if other, poorer, rural states of Mid-West and South-East America were Anglo.

'Time's Arrow' Earth
This one is very like the novel 'Time's Arrow' (1991) by Martin Amis in which time runs backwards. With the sliders jolting through events it is also now reminiscent of the movie 'Memento' (2000). There is not really much that can be said about this as presumably to the people of this world it makes sense. I have read a science fiction story in which time is different on different planets and travellers to a planet can find themselves coming back to be out of step with how time runs on their home world. Time running backwards is beneficial for the sliders as they start off in prison and then go back through the court case so are free when it is time for them to move on to the next world.

So, that covers the alternate worlds of the first two series. Three other series followed, two of which I have not seen, but will buy on DVD if I manage to get a new job. I have not mentioned some minor ones that are mentioned or visited in passing, but if I have missed any important ones I would be grateful if people would let me know. I think the sliders briefly go to a USA run by France, but I cannot remember when that episode came. Certainly the No Atomic Bombs, Technophobe and New India stories bear people pursuing further. Overall the series tells a lot about how trends were seen in the USA in the mid-1990s, though many of those concerns have not gone away even today, though we may emphasise other things more now. Overall, a counter-factual series was an interesting line to follow. Such stories are notoriously difficult to sell to the average audience as the experience of the 'Fatherland' (1996) movie showed, but we have to credit the writers with pursuing this line and generating some very interesting settings.

P.P. 31/03/2010: The worlds shown in the second and third series of 'Sliders' are covered in my posting at:

P.P. 03/05/2010: I have now finished my analysis of the 'Sliders' worlds, looking at those from the fourth and fifth series in the following posting: