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I am nowhere near old enough to remember the USA student riots of the 1960s. What little I know comes from period films like The Trial of Billy Jack and Zabriskie Point, both of which are so nauseating that they make me side with the authority figures. So I don’t know how much of this history is alternate in this story, just that it’s a strong story in its own right.

The student riot takes the form of students taking over a college and tinkering with a nuclear reactor until it becomes a bomb (or so they claim, at least). They use this as a threat to demand the president’s office be liberated from LBJ, and generally fix the problems with the country. This being a Barry Malzberg story, things do not end well.

It’s an excellent piece of rising tension. Some of the students see the whole exercise as a bit of fun (the Chemistry Department wouldn’t know how to turn a nuclear reactor into a bomb, LBJ should know that). Others feel that this is the only way to enact the changes necessary to save the country, and that they have nothing to lose. And then there’s another student, quietly fearing that LBJ might take their threats seriously and order the air force to bomb them: “For [LBJ], we’ve turned into Viet Cong. He thinks he’s got the Viet Cong right here at home and he’s going to trash us out, that’s what I think.”

Turpentine by Barry N. Malzberg

Availability: Print only

Word count: 3,600

First published: What Might Have Been vol 3: Alternate Wars, edited by Gregory Benford and Martin H. Greenberg, 1991, Bantam Spectra

Where to find it: In the Stone House, collection, 2000, Arkham House

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