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Romanov, German

Entry updated 28 July 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1964-    ) Russian author of copious Alternate History and Military SF novels, a vocation to which he turned after a career in actual history, having earned his PhD for a dissertation on the Cossack population of his native Eastern Siberia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Retiring as an assistant professor, he returned to what had formerly been his hobby. The speed with which his works reached publishers soon afterwards suggests that many of his books were already written (compare to Ye Yonglie, who similarly deferred his career, albeit for different reasons). Much of his fiction uses the device first popularized by Mark Twain in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889; vt A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur 1889), which is to say a trope of "accidental" Timeslip or Identity Transfer, in which historically aware figures from our own time are magically transported, often with no explanation, into the minds of historical figures at key moments. The Checklist below repeatedly translates the common Russian genre term popadanets as "time traveller", although its usage contains other nuances, including "gate-crasher", "fish out of water" and "random passer-by".

Romanov's early work excelled at hunting down what-if moments that cast new light on Russian history. In particular, his Spasti Kolchaka ["Save Kolchak"] series drew heavily on his personal and local knowledge of Irkutsk to create a stirring tale about the fate of the White Russians, whose rear-guard action in the real world led to the brief flourishing of an anti-Soviet "Far Eastern Republic" on the Siberian coast. The first volume of the sequence, "Popadanets" Admirala ["Time Traveller Admiral"] (2011,) imagines a veteran of modern-day wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya, putting his military know-how to good use in the Russian Civil War to hold off the advancing Red Army, retrieve missing gold reserves, and protect Admiral Alexander Kolchak (1873-1920) from conspirators and intrigue. With a certain hectoring tone, implying that the real-world White Russians were cowards lacking the requisite fighting spirit, Romanov's later volumes see Tsar Nicolas II saved from the executioners, and an uneasy truce between the Whites and the Reds, the latter of which seek to carve a new realm for themselves by advancing westward to meddle in World War One, where a young Adolf Hitler enlists in the Red Army. His later works periodically returned to the same historical era, and the same figures, including Tayna generala Kappelya ["The Secret of General Kappel"] (2019), in which Kolchak becomes a pawn in the hands of Scientists from the future enacting a Changewar, and Zaslannyye kazachk: Samozvantsy iz budushchego ["Mismatched Cossacks: Imposters from the Future"] (2013) in which a group of cocksure military re-enactment hobbyists from the present day are transported to the grim horrors of 1920s Russia.

Krestonosets iz budushchego ["Crusader from the Future"] features a Parallel World in which Islam has almost overrun all of Europe, and a counter-attack from Russia and Poland, led, of course, by a modern-day Russian veteran transported thither, can effect a Reconquista. It is unusual in Romanov's work because it is set in a milieu that has already been altered, perhaps through Changewar, perhaps as a simple alternate reality. However, like much of the pulpier end of such fictions, it continues to assume that relatively mundane figures from our time, honed in the modern Russian army, could single-handedly become Great Men of history in times past (see History in SF).

In the series that began with Popadanets na trone: Buntovshchikov na fonar ["Time Traveller on the Throne: Your Name is Glorified by Victory"] (2012), Romanov imagined a Jonbar Point in 1762, when in the real world, the German-born Tsar Peter III (1728-1762) was overthrown and subsequently killed in a coup instigated by his wife, the future Catherine the Great. Instead, informed by foreknowledge of history, Peter crushes the revolt and stays in power, transforming Russia in the process. By the sequel, Samoderzhavnyy popadanets: Petr Osvobodite ["The Time Traveller in Command: Peter the Liberator"] (2012), Peter has instigated an accelerated industrial revolution, pushed for an early conquest of Russian Alaska, and is preparing a campaign to "liberate" Constantinople. In much the same way that Harry Turtledove's Basil Argyros stories co-opt historical enemies as alternate-history allies, a young Napoleon "Bonapartov" is inspired to join the Russian army, and performs heroically as Peter's commander in the war against the Turks as outlined in Tsarskiy blitskrig: Bozhe, «popadantsa» khrani ["Tsarist Blitzkrieg: God Save the Time Traveller"] (2012). Field Marshall Suvurov leads a Russian force across the Himalayas, where the Indians "welcome their Aryan brothers" as liberators from the British, and with a march south from Russian Alaska, Peter is soon a ruler over an empire "on which the sun never sets". Inevitably, the real-world Napoleonic War is restaged as a conflict between the empires of Britain and Russia, with Nelson defeated at Trafalgar ahead of the events of the final volume, London dolzhen byt' razrushen. Russkiy desant v Angliyu ["London Must Be Destroyed: A Russian Landing in England"] (2014).

The Tovarishch fyurer ["Comrade Fuhrer"] series, beginning with Triumf blitskriga ["Blitzkrieg Triumph"] (2012) tried a similar tack with Adolf Hitler (see Hitler Wins) glibly suggesting that his greatest error was in allowing Nazi Germany to embark upon a suicidal betrayal of and attack upon the Soviet Union. The sequel, Tovarishch Gitler: Povesit' Cherchillya! ["Comrade Hitler: Hang Churchill"] (2012) begins to grapple with the likely aftermath, along the lines of works by Len Deighton and Robert Harris, considering whether a Nazi victory in Europe would ultimately lead to a duplicate Cold War stand-off between the Nazis and the Soviets. At least in the beginning, they are reluctant collaborators in a nuclear programme that races against the United States to develop an atomic bomb. Romanov would return to similar material, at a slightly less inflammatory level, with Nepristupnyy bastion ["Impregnable Bastion"] (2018), first in his Liniya Stalina ["The Stalin Line"], which once again catapulted a veteran of Russia's Chechnya conflict back in time, on this occasion to halt the advance of the Nazis on Stalingrad, and thereby to turn the tide of World War Two.

Repeatedly in Romanov's novels there is a sense that Russia's long twentieth century could have been less troublesome if only good Russians had had the gumption and guts to make a braver stand at crucial moments, or indeed, that the world in which the reader dwells might itself be a wrong-turn that only True Heroes can rectify. Such rhetoric seems tailor-made to appeal to a specific sort of readership: the very veterans, armchair generals, re-enactors and would-be macho men who support the idea of a tougher, more aggressive Russia (see also Gleb Bobrov; Fedor Berezin). There is already a sense, on the streets of today's St Petersburg, that the twentieth century never really took place – that in its architecture and attitudes, the city leapt straight from Tsarist baroque to Putin's skyscrapers. Such an attitude permeates the fiction of Romanov, subjecting the Soviet era to a series of respawning experiments, each designed to reduce its length and impact, to bring about a brave new world. Whereas Keith Roberts ends Pavane (1968) with a plea that his imagined world, for all its faults, "had no Passchendaele", Romanov seems to call for more Passchendaeles, and bigger, all the better to forge Utopia. [JonC]

German Ivanovich Romanov

born Irkutsk, USSR: 13 July 1964


works (selected)


Spasti Kolchaka ["Save Kolchak"]

Krestonosets iz budushchego ["Crusader from the Future"]

  • Samozvanets ["Impostor"] (Moscow: Eksmo, 2012) [Krestonosets iz budushchego: hb/]
  • Komandor ["Commander"] (Moscow: Eksmo, 2012) [Krestonosets iz budushchego: hb/]
  • Pomirat', tak s muzykoy! ["To Die, So with Music"] (Moscow: Eksmo, 2012) [Krestonosets iz budushchego: hb/]

Popadanets na trone ["A Time Traveller on the Throne"]

Tovarishch fyurer ["Comrade Fuhrer"]

Liniya Stalina ["The Stalin Line"]

individual titles


previous versions of this entry

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