23 May 2006

5. Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove

So I finally finished another book, only my fifth of 2006. It's been a slogging spring. I have been getting a lot of stuff done, just not reading.

I just finished reading Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove. HT is the master of alternative history fiction. A bunch of his books look really intriguing. When I was in HS I read Dick's Man in the High Castle, and have been a casual fan of the alternative history genre since. I mean, having an answer to the "What if..." question can be fun.

So the premise of this story is that just before things go really bad for the Confederacy, when things look their bleakest, a guy shows up offering some AK47s to the South. Because of these amazing guns, the South is able to push north, eventually capturing Washington DC. That's about half the book's worth of story. At first the Confeds are super willing to go along with the gun sellers, but then they start to get nervous – just what are these men capable of. To allay Lee's fears, the gun-sellers explain that they are from 150 years in the future, and that they have a machine that can bring them back exactly 150 years into the past. They explain to Lee that the South loses the Second American Revolution and that Lincoln lords it over them, putting them in a worse position than the slaves they are fighting to keep. Lee has trouble believing it, but eventually swallows the whole story.

The rest of the story discusses the political aftermath of the South's victory. The politicians quickly realize that they won't be able to keep all of the black people as slaves. And this question becomes the focus of the first election after the end of the War. In some areas Northern Armies gave the freed slaves lots of freedom, and to re-enslave them would be impossible. And the Union's black troops fought so well that even the most hardened slavery supporters had to admit that the slaves might be capable of learning. But even then, freedom doesn't mean equality in the eyes of the law.

Once the men from the future get wind of this, they freak out. They supported the South to ensure a place for the continuation and success of slavery. So the Confederate Government has to decide what to do about that, which brings us to the tidy close of the book and the story.

Overall it was an interesting book and you don't have to be a Civil War scholar to be able to read it.

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