I think it was a book. Might have been a novella. Definitely not a short story.
In any case, it was delightful, but I read it so many years ago that I can’t remember the author or the title. Can you help me find it?
Joel blogging about the mysterious causes of World War I — ultimately tracing back to the personal quirks and insecurities of the so-called leaders — got me started & you’ll see why.
The plot: Aliens crash-land on earth near the beginning of the twentieth century, A crucial part on their ship is damaged (I’ll call it an anti-gravity device, though I don’t recall exactly what it was — definitely something you and I would still consider futuretech).
No way can the part be recreated with the earth technology of that time — not even with the aliens’ greater knowledge. Without the part, they can’t go home. So the aliens, seeing that the planet is already on the cusp of political chaos, come up with a scheme. Everybody knows that wars advance technology, right? So they’ll travel around the world, visiting heads of state, and doing everything they can to provoke the war.
Agitating their way across the globe, they meet with Kaiser Wilhelm — and just by the way cure his withered arm. They meet with Czar Nicholas — and just by the way cure his son’s hemophilia. And so on.
I’d put the rest behind a spoiler tag, but the simple tag I know doesn’t work here and the HTML spoiler codes I’ve found online are more complicated than Obamacare and the rest of the federal tax regulations, combined. But you can probably guess the rest, and I’ll come back later and put it at the bottom of the comments section after others have had their say. (And I do hope somebody will have a say about the title and author of that book.)