Its just another day at the computer repair shop before a tech guy is given an especially ancient machine.
By BRIAN BURNES
The Kansas City Star
The hardware is early 90s, and the hard drive is dodgy.
But what it contains, the tech soon discerns, is a daft history of the world, compiled by a basement archivist either profoundly distressed or dialed into a parallel universe.
In his increasingly frenzied forensic recovery, the tech reads that Christopher Columbus discovered his western route to Asia, young Adolf Hitler gained entry to a Vienna art academy, and Albert Einstein declined to support the failed Manhattan Project.
In these stories and others, Phong Nguyen, author of Pages From the Textbook of Alternate History, places large historical figures in small moments, such as Columbus arriving on the shores of Shanghai.
It began with that image in my head, of Columbus walking the streets of late 15th century China and still thinking in the same callous way, seeing the people he encountered in terms of pure profit, Nguyen said recently.
That story, which led to the book, appeared in the Iowa Review in 2007.
While an agent suggested Nguyen continue Columbus New World adventures, Nguyen already was considering the younger Hitler and how he might have mixed with his peers after winning admittance to the art school that in fact twice rejected him.
Other writers, Nguyen said, have pondered the world-altering possibilities of a successful Hitler painting career, but he wasnt thinking in such sweeping terms.
I am less interested in historical consequences and more interested in these incongruous scenes like Hitler, as an art student, railing against the rising tide of abstraction in modern art.
As detailed here, the young pub-crawling Hitler proves exasperating to his colleagues. If the subsequent death he suffers seems anti-climactic, it has the virtue of occurring about three decades before his actual one.
Others figures depicted include Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and Joan of Arc all of whom, Nguyen said, get what they once had wished for.
That is what separates these stories from other alternate history, Nguyen said. All the situations have to do with these individuals and their original intentions.
Nguyen, an associate English professor at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, speaks at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
For info, go to KCLibrary.org.