The Alteration Critical Essays

Kingsley Amis


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Amis uses the simple idea of altering history in more than one way. He employs it, for example, as a serious thematic device to explore how religion—particularly in concert with totalitarian political forces— can exert seemingly benign power and influence against the best interests of the people. In doing so, he accepts the common view of historians that the Protestant Reformation was more than simply a matter of resistance to the overweening power and corruption of the Roman Catholic church in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance and that it was also the first sign of what later became the gradual movement toward democracy.

The 1976 of this book, though it includes some novel developments in the scientific world, is still far behind the actual world of comfort and convenience, serviced by the best elements of scientific discovery. Electricity, for example, is known, but its use is forbidden in Europe (although, significantly, Americans make use of it). Much of the day-to-day life of the civilized world is not much advanced from centuries before, and there is an implied sense that the backwardness of life, however quaint it may be, is related directly to the church’s pervasive dominance over religion, society, and politics. Perhaps most damaging is the tyranny exercised in Europe, whereby the individual, exemplified by Hubert, is simply a tool of the religious and political powers, which are prepared to reward him if he does what they want but...

(The entire section is 459 words.)