Claudio Chillemi and Paul Di Filippo. The Via Panisperna Boys in ‘Operation Harmony’ (Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2014)

fsf040102An alternate history that doesn’t quite do it for me.

It suffers on one of the basic rationales for AH, in that the person whom the story revolves around will be unknown to the majority of readers. We’re told in the intro that the authors take on the question of what happened to Ettore Majorana in 1938. For me it wasn’t a question of what happened to him, but more ‘who he?’

Turns out he was a theoretical physicist who went missing in 1938 (presumed dead by suicide), who was in the top echelon of brainiacs, and worked with the likes of Enrico Fermi (now he is someone I do know of!). And the titular Via Panisperna Boys refers to Majorana, Fermi and others who played jazz and ‘did science’ together on a street of that name.

The story revolves around Majorana escaping Italy by subterfuge and submarine, to make his way to the US, where he rejoins his colleagues, and they immediately get to grips dreaming up some clever gizmos. The one around which the story revolves is a ‘peace ray’, which is tested on a strange creature in the American woods, and then flown over Nazi Germany to nicen the nasties.

Having brought a peace, there’s a bit of double dealing on the Allies side of the equation, but Majorana does escape through another disappearance, in an ending that rather disappoints. So really not as much in it as I would have come to expect from Paul Di Filippo (not knowing Claudio Chillemi). Having said that, if you’re seriously into theoretical physics, and have spent years pondering what did happen to Majorana, the story might be the best thing you’ve ever read!

more from this issue of F&SF

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