On Reading “The Twelfth Album”

I wrote earlier in the month about putting together “God,” the Beatles album from Stephen Baxter’s alternate history story, “The Twelfth Album.” The Wikipedia article on the story gave the track line-up, and it was easy to put together the playlist in Windows.

But I hadn’t read the story.

Thankfully, I found a used copy of the book on Amazon. For a penny. With shipping, it came to three dollars.

And…

It’s actually kinda disappointing.

It’s not a bad story. Two guys, going through a friend’s effects after his death in a Liverpool hotel, discover a Beatles album that can’t exist. So, they listen to it, wonder at the world that created it, consider the stories their friend had told them about the places he had visited in his travels, and that’s pretty much it. It’s an alternate history. There’s a world — the “God” world — where the Beatles made another album after Abbey Road. The characters have two theories, neither of which they can prove — the Beatles stayed together due to the threat of imminent nuclear war or the Earth was struck by comets. Personally, I favor the former; the latter may be a case of two guys trying to convince themselves that humanity wouldn’t exterminate itself in a nuclear firestorm.

There’s a final twist in the story — a twist that’s fairly obvious from the first few paragraphs — that may be the point of the story, but it’s really quite pointless. It’s Thade Memorial pointless-level.

No, I suppose the point of the story is really the reactions of the two characters to hearing something new from a band that’s become familiar. It’s like hearing a bootleg of the “Get Back” albums the Beatles rejected. It’s like the reaction to hearing the Beatles Anthologies the first time or hearing LOVE for the first time or, if rap is your thing, hearing The Grey Album for the first time — it’s the same as what you know, but the pieces are different and they produce different reactions. It’s the armchair quarterbacking — why did they choose this mix, when they could have chosen that mix?

And usually, with alternate histories, we look at the big things. Wars. Presidents. Plagues. This one’s smaller, just an album. And maybe that’s the point, too. That even the little things in pop culture can be different with great consequences.

I’m not sure that I can recommend the story. For a Beatles fan there’s not a lot of content there — the track listing is probably the major thing. And Baxter’s written far more involving stuff. It’s amiable. It’s inoffensive. It’s there.

And, on a final note, “God” as an album has really grown on me over the past three weeks.

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