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The Alteration

3.53  ·  Rating Details  ·  666 Ratings  ·  74 Reviews
In Kingsley Amis’s virtuoso foray into virtual history it is 1976 but the modern world is a medieval relic, frozen in intellectual and spiritual time ever since Martin Luther was promoted to pope back in the sixteenth century. Stephen the Third, the king of England, has just died, and Mass (Mozart’s second requiem) is about to be sung to lay him to rest. In the choir is ou ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published May 7th 2013 by NYRB Classics (first published October 1976)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,750)
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Nicholas During
May 03, 2013 Nicholas During rated it really liked it
Kingsley Amis does sci-fi well. If you're willing to call this sci-fi, which I'm sure many aren't. But whether you want to call it genre or not, Amis gets into the mood with this book and does what sci-fi, or speculative fiction, is meant: imagines a world very different from own. In this one the Reformation never happened. Luther became pope. England stayed Catholic. And the world is therefore a much more backward place. Science is a dirty word and the rituals and power of the Romish Church are ...more
Erik Graff
Aug 25, 2016 Erik Graff rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: alternate history fans
Recommended to Erik by: Martin
Shelves: literature
This alternate history novel was given me as a birthday gift. Well chosen it was. It is cited by Philip K. Dick as "possibly the best" of the genre and introduced in this edition by William Gibson--both of whom appear, indirectly, within it. Dick, I'd imagine, liked its context, that being of a contemporary western world dominated by a reactionary and repressive Roman Catholic Church. Gibson praises it, exaggerating a bit, as representative of steampunk literature. I note it as being erudite, su ...more
Luke G
Sep 19, 2007 Luke G rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Before this I had only read a little of Lucky Jim, and Kingsley Amis seemed a little too macho and mean-spirited a writer for me. This book has that feel too, but it is still pretty good. This is an alternate history narrative, like Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. Events take place in a social-conservative's wet-dream version of England, circa 1970: almost every instance of technological or social progress starting with the renaissance has failed to happen. The Vatican still rules the we ...more
Dec 31, 2014 Keith rated it it was amazing
What an incredibly ingenious novel...and what an incredible story. This book is a good lesson in not being swayed by genera classification, or any classification for that matter, when deciding what to read. Although listed as alternative history or more generally as science fiction, it could be either or neither as it works so well on so many levels. The creation of an alternate present day reality, complete with familiar yet transformed, language, culture and customs works elegantly and the sub ...more
Oct 25, 2013 Fred rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Another quick review. This is a very fun novel, but one that took me three or four tries to get into. Once I did, I read the whole thing in about three days. The beginning is very dense - the central idea takes some time to manifest itself, and in the meantime the reader is left puzzling over what the hell is going on. A melange of highbrow culture is referenced and re-figured in the alternate world Amis has created, and it takes some time to work through it. At least one course in Art History o ...more
Sue Davis
Fantastic! Why no African slavery in the southern part of North America? Without the reformation, many fewer settlers, thus less need for labor? Note the names of the priests in the second to the last part of the book: Maserati (designed car for Mussolini), Satterthwaite (mathematician, theorem for determining statistical significance, inferences, and Berlinguer (leader of Italian communist party); in the other world of the novel, the three discussed with the pope various ways to solve populatio ...more
Jul 11, 2014 Nazim rated it really liked it
Shelves: golden-age-sf
A young boy Hubert has got a very brilliant voice. His father, mother and brothers are very proud of him. Certainly they wish cloudless future for him. An Abbot in one of the churches in England heard him singing many times. His voice captivated him. He thought up a nice plan. And here who said that radical religious monks are complete illogical folks? So the Abbot proposed a deal to the Hubert’s family.

Hubert was to be altered to serve for “the will of God” as a singer in the Abbot’s church. Wh
Fascinating book. The Alteration is a treasure simply for the wonderful uniqueness of its premise: a 1970s dystopia controlled by a Catholic church that never experienced the Reformation and Protestantism. It's a singularly fascinating riff on Philip K. Dick's Man in the High Castle, and written with a quality that makes me wonder if it is a taunt more than an homage, a flamboyant gesture seemingly saying 'that's all you did with the idea?' I'm sure Amis intended it as a clever homage, directly ...more
Fábio Fernandes
Apr 25, 2014 Fábio Fernandes rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014
I can't believe I never heard of this book before. I always liked Kingsley Amis' novels, but apparently I hadn't read too many of them. Early this week I found it in a bookstore here in São Paulo and I was amazed by the synopsis - and by the William Gibson introduction (you can't go wrong with such a recommendation). So I bought it, naturally.

I read it in three days - and that's because I had work to do, alas. The Alteration is Alternate History of the best kind. Imagine PK Dick's The Man in the
Kingsley Amis's clever alternative fiction novel, "The Alteration" is equal parts disturbing and engaging. The world of the novel is one in which the reformation never took place and in which the church and the state remained closely intertwined and corrupt. Amis's deft and creative imagining of such a world is offset by his signature dark satire and the overall pessimistic tone out of which the characters of the novel are unable and indeed ultimately unwilling to escape. The story centers aroun ...more
Jul 12, 2013 Robert rated it it was amazing
One of the most clever alternative history novels (or CW, as it's referred to in the book) that I've had the pleasure of reading. On one hand, you have the puzzle of figuring out exactly what happened to turn the world into a repressive, anti-science theocracy. On the other hand, you have a compelling account of a young boy's struggle to understand the importance of sex and love in the face of losing out on those experiences forever. In other words, Amis combines the grandiose sweep of history w ...more
Aaron Mcquiston
Oct 26, 2015 Aaron Mcquiston rated it liked it
Shelves: nyrb-classics
"The Alteration" is an alternative universe where the Reformation never happened, and the Catholic church still had as much influence over the world as it had before. Even though Amis does not go too in depth with how this has changed the world, you get a good sense that there are things that never progressed due to the church. So it is 1977 and still the superstitions and dogmas are in place in a way that cause the church to still be the ultimate authority. Bring in Hubert Anvil, a ten year old ...more
Muath Aziz
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I originally rated this three stars when I finished it last night, because I did enjoy reading it and it went very quickly, but upon reflection am downgrading it to two stars because of the ending.

(view spoiler)
May 10, 2011 Chipgc rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recently reread this clever, amusing, and rather frightening attack on the Roman Catholic church and found it as good as I first had over 30 years ago. The skill and thoroughness with which Amis imagines a world which had taken a different turning in the early 16th century is remarkable; the events of the novel are highly plausible given the initial premises; the characters are given surprising depth considering that the novel is short. There is some good evocation of scenery, and some remarka ...more
David Schwan
Aug 27, 2013 David Schwan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I somewhat uneven novel. The authors descriptive abilities are impeccable. The plot was fine until the ending. It felt like this was written under a deadline and that the author had grander plans for the book. Late in the book we are introduced to a plot line that the Pope and his advisers are thinking about, that plot line was either filler or something that was to be bigger in scope. The split between Europe and North America was interesting with Europe Roman Catholic and North America Protest ...more
Peter Dunn
Dec 23, 2015 Peter Dunn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Kingsley Amis is a writer whose star appears to be undeservedly waning but which I am increasingly warming to, especially as he was more than happy to add a number of science fiction stories to the his literary output. This includes two alternative histories of which this is one.
I remember picking this book up in a school library 37 years ago but being put off by the blurb on the black which focused on the possible castration of the protagonist. However I am glad to have encountered it again. SF
Brian Clegg
Sep 04, 2015 Brian Clegg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've come back to this book after a couple of decades and it still holds up well as one of the two great alternative history books where there is no Reformation in Europe, leaving the Catholic church with a stranglehold that limits the development of science, technology and society (the other, of course, is Keith Roberts' lyrical Pavane).

The central theme to The Alteration is whether a ten-year-old boy with a superb singing voice should be turned into a castrato to preserve that voice for life a
Kirk Macleod
Apr 14, 2015 Kirk Macleod rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alternate History novels have always been pretty interesting to me, whether the classic "What if World War II" had gone the other way of Phillip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, or having the alteration to history occurring further back like in Keith Robert's Pavane.

Kingsley Amis' 1976 Alternate Fiction novel The Alteration asks (sorry for the mild 38-year-old spoiler here) what if The Reformation hadn't occurred? How would our modern world (modern being the 1976 the book was published) loo
Joel Zartman
Jun 02, 2015 Joel Zartman rated it really liked it
When Kingsley Amis first published a novel, I understand, it was generally felt that here was a witty writer of comic novels in the wicked vein of Evelyn Waugh. I have to wonder if The Alteration is not, in a way, a response to the notion. Waugh in the end wrote to promote his Catholic religion; and The Alteration is not a document calculated to win friends in the Vatican.

The Alteration is set in an alternative history, England AD 1976. The Reformation has not taken place. Instead, Luther became
Feb 08, 2010 Lee rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Entertaining and engaging, a tale questioning the perspective of morals. I very much enjoyed the idea of this book.

My first KA book and was pleasantly surprised by the 'mordern', for want of a better term, feel of the book. I've read a few of Martins books, which appear to be an echo of this style, with quality to match.

I will definitely be keeping my eye for other titles.
Jul 19, 2014 Charlene rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating setting . . . Europe and the Americas if the Reformation had never happened, if Martin Luther became Germanicus I and ushered in an era of northern Popes, including Thomas More. But what would have happened to science and technology if there had been no separation between church and government? This vision of the current world (mid-1970s) envisions electricity as being banned by the church. Only New England, the homeland of English Separatists ruled by their First Citizen, have it. S ...more
Pat Cummings
Jul 30, 2016 Pat Cummings rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Possibly the most disturbing in my recent trio of religious-tyranny-themed science-fiction novels, Amis' novel of an English choirboy faced with castration to preserve his soprano voice shows the expertise he developed writing earlier works like Lucky Jim, That Uncertain Feeling, The Anti-Death League, and The Green Man.

His alternate-history scenario has as its diversion-point the elevation of a certain German cleric to the See of Rome: Martin Luther became Pope Germanian I, and the Protestant R
May 23, 2016 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't give many five star ratings, but this certainly deserves it. A well -thought out alternate history, where the historical changes are not given in an "information dump," but implied throughout the book. Not to give any spoilers, but the ending was a complete surprise. However, thinking back, it made sense. One in-joke: The boys surreptitiously read books that are not approved by their elders. What do they read? Dick's "Man in the High Castle" and Keith Roberts' "Galliard." "Galliard" is a ...more
Jan 20, 2015 Bev rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My first Kingsley Amis novel, long-awaited.... The title refers to several circumstances in this novel -- it takes place in a very different England and world, completely ruled by the Catholic Church (in its fictional form) -- history is not as we know it, and politics and power are managed very differently. The ten-year-old hero is a phenomenally gifted singer and composer whose talent is deemed to be too valuable to the world for him to be allowed to mature and lose his "soprano" voice -- so i ...more
Feb 17, 2010 Bill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting piece of fiction in which the setting is Europe in 1976, but...the reformation never happened. The story is fairly unpredictable and the word pictures are vivid. Worth reading.
Aug 12, 2016 Rory rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alternative history where Martin Luther never kicked off the Protestant Reformation, so a Christian England is forcing a young boy to get castrated to preserve his singing voice.
May 11, 2015 Sean rated it really liked it
A very peculiar counter-factual world novel, in which the Catholic Church rules the world and technology, in the present of 1976, doesn't include cars or airplanes or electricity. About a boy singer destined to be 'altered' to keep him singing with a lovely high voice, and his efforts to escape his fate. The writing is very sharp and clear and precise. Tipping his hat to his inspiration, Amis has a scene where some of the boys read an illegal book, a counter-factual history book called The Man I ...more
No, Mirabilis is no worse than most of us, and he has more wit than many. He sees that in our world a man does what he's told, goes where he's sent, answers what he's asked.

The Alteration by Kingsley Amis is an alternate history tale. It is 1976 but England and the world are very different from our 1976. There was no Reformation, Henry VIII was deposed and Martin Luther became Pope Germanius I. So the the Catholic church remained supreme and in 1976 holds much more power over Europe and the worl
Roddy Williams
‘The year is 1976 and we are living in a Europe-that-might-have-been. It is a Europe that never underwent the Reformation of the 16th century, peopled by – among others – Monsignor Jean-Paul Sartre, a Jesuit theologian and Heinrich Himmler, a papal envoy… and Hubert Anvil, a faultless boy soprano. When the clergy discovers the rarity of this sublime voice, they conspire to ‘alter’ him and preserve Hubert’s genius. The plot against this defenceless creature then swirls in a whirlpool of piety, te ...more
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NYRB Classics: The Alteration, by Kingsley Amis 1 11 Oct 18, 2013 01:01PM  
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Sir Kingsley William Amis, CBE, was an English novelist, poet, critic, and teacher. He wrote more than twenty novels, three collections of poetry, short stories, radio and television scripts, and books of social and literary criticism. He fathered the English novelist Martin Amis.

Kingsley Amis was born in Clapham, Wandsworth, Couty of London (now South London), England, the son of William Robert A
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“Lyall felt he could not say which of two things was harder to put up with, the Abbot's conversational style, with its bland coherence and assumption of severely limited cogitative powers in the hearer, or his recurrent look of pleased surprise as each fresh piece of evidence of his wisdom or moral worth turned up, but between them they were likely to implant in certain minds a hardy seed of revolt.” 0 likes
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