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Making History

From Academic Kids

Making History (1997) is Stephen Fry's third novel. The plot involves altering history to create a new reality—specifically one in which Hitler never existed. The book won the Sidewise Award for Alternate History.

The story is told in first person by Michael "Pup" Young, a young history student at Cambridge University on the verge of completing his doctoral thesis on the early life of Adolf Hitler and his mother. He meets Professor Leo Zuckerman, a physicist who has a strong personal interest in Hitler, the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust. Michael assumes this is due to his Jewish heritage, however it is later revealed that Leo was born Axl Bauer, the son of Dietrich Bauer, a Nazi doctor at Auschwitz. Leo has developed a machine that enables the past to be viewed—but it is of no practical use as the image is not resolvable into details. Together, they hatch a plan to modify the machine such that it can be used to send something back into time. They decide to use a permanent male contraceptive pill, stolen from Michael's girlfriend, who, due to his continual distraction, has left him to take a position at Stanford University. They send this pill back in time to the well in Braunau am Inn so that Hitler's father will drink it, be made infertile, and Hitler will never be born. Michael sends the pill back and everything changes.

When Michael awakens he is completely disorientated. He soon discovers that he is in the USA, at Princeton University. Everyone he encounters is surprised that he is speaking in an English accent. It takes some time for Michael's memory to return. He realises that his plan was successful, history has changed and for some reason his parents must have moved to America. Initially he is elated and tells his new friend Steve how happy he is because Steve has never heard of Hitler, Braunau-am-Inn or the Nazi party. Steve corrects Michael and reveals that he is well aware of the Nazi party. Michael begins to discover the history of this new world. It turns out that without Hitler a new leader emerged, Rudolph Gloder, who was just as ruthless as Hitler and, unfortunately, more efficient. The Nazis won the war, and are now the ruling party in Europe. The Third Reich's plan for genocide of the Jewish race came to fruition, although this is only implied, never explicitly stated (everytime Michael attempts to ask someone what happened to Europe's Jews, no-one answers him). The USA is engaged in a cold war against the Nazis, supporting Soviet guerrillas fighting in Siberia. As a result, the USA are far more conservative. Homosexuality is still a crime and racial segregation is still active. The Jewish people were wiped out in Europe, but no one is quite sure how.

Michael is apprehended by the authorities, who believe that he is a possible spy. Michael learns that the water from the well in Braunau was used to create "Braunau Water," which was used to sterilise the European Jews, wiping them out in a generation. In a cruel twist of fate, the person who perfected the synthesis was Dietrich Bauer. Once more his physicist son, Axl, is racked with guilt and has developed a Temporal Imager. With Michael and Steve's help (they in the meantime have become secret lovers) they plan to send a dead rat to the well such that it will be pumped clean of the sterilising water. As they attempt to do this, they are interrupted by the federal agents that apprehended Michael earlier and they end up shooting Steve, who dies in Michael's arms as the time process occurs.

Time changes again. Expecting the change, Michael comes to his senses faster this time and discovers that almost everything is back to how it was, except that his favorite band never existed. He gives up his career in academia, figuring he can at least make some money "writing" the songs that he remembers from the previous reality. Finally, Michael is reunited with Steve, who also remembers the previous reality.

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