One of the things I love about books is that they are an excellent place to escape to when the real world seems dark and dire. In Things That Never Were, Matthew Rossi gives the reader plenty of interesting, incredibly detailed, glimpses into what the world might have been like if you take what we know of history, twist it around, and see where it goes from there.
The full title of the book is: Things That Never Were: Fantasies – Lunacies – & Entertaining Lies. I like to think of it as a series of essays that could be described as “intelligent conspiracy theory”. That being said, Rossi is not really trying to convince you that the essays in this book are factual (and this is where he differs greatly from actual conspiracy theorists). These are “things that never were”, after all. ….Right?
It took me a long time to read through Things That Never Were. Each essay is wonderfully detailed with just enough real-world events in them to make it feel like the alternate universe Rossi was describing might be entirely plausible. I found myself pondering the scenarios that they presented in an individual essay long after I’d finished reading it. I love books that make me think – and this one gave me so much to think about.
The back cover of the book describes it as “speculative nonfiction” (among things). I believe it is safe to say that you won’t find a another book that is quite like Things That Never Were. Sometimes, I am able to guess what will happen next in a book, or where things are going. All of my guesses were completely wrong for this book – and that makes me very happy.
In “Quantum Britannia”, Rossi starts with the murder of a man named Benjamin Bathurst, who may or may not have been killed by either Napoleon or his agents. Rossi then spins a scenario where Bathurst survived and disappeared. What follows is a fascinating technological arms-race in which the Napoleonic Oracle and the Electrical Mathematician keep each other in check.
Other essays discuss the Tunguska blast (which really did happen) and the potential behind-the-scenes reasons why it occurred. You can also find essays that discuss gods (be they mortal or immortal), dinosaurs, vampires, demons, green children, and all manner of other unexplained and mysterious – perhaps even creepy – topics. There are parts that mention time travel (and its limitations), pocket parallel universes (and why they appeared), and more things that I’ll leave you to find for yourself.
My initial impulse, when I started to write this book review, was to dive into a few of my favorite essays from it and spill out all my thoughts about them. But, that would create some major spoilers for those who want to read the book, so I refrained from doing so. In short, if you like books that play around with what we think we know about reality, this is the book for you.