Originally in : Postscripts 20/21.
A frustrating story, but only in the sense that you’re frustrated at wanting more. It’s ponders the effect of the finding of another source of energy at the same time as Edison and Tesla’s work on electricity, one that made their experimentation with electricity redundant and put them into the category of eccentrics, rather than visionaries who would create the world we live in.
Roberson puts some subtle characterisations and touches to his story, where many would have left a fairly blank or cod-steampunky background. He sets the story in Chicago around the time of a World’s Fair, with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World drawing business away from the other attractions. The protagonist is Algerian, with a layer of racism added to the story, and reference to the American South. The story, as such, revolves around the finding of a naked man, unaware of who or where he is, at the same time as Edison meeting a grisly end at his carnival sideshow. The only bum note for me, which can be a failing of Alternate History, is in having the protagonist ponder what the world would be like if the world was powered by electricity, which rather breaks the conceit that the reader is engaged in whilst reading the story.