The Two Georges

If I would have been thinking straight yesterday (I’m blaming my cognitive disability on a incipient migraine), I would have posted this in honor of Columbus Day (or, as it’s called in my native South Dakota, Native Americans Day) and Yorktown Victory Day (a state holiday in Virginia celebrated the same day).

Raw Feed (1996): The Two Georges, Richard Dreyfuss and Harry Turtledove, 1995.two-georges

This novel about the recovery of a famous painting symbolizing, with the presentation of George Washington to King George III’s privy council, the continued union of North America with England, was ok as a thriller with tours of the militarized frontier (the Queen Charlotte Islands and the border with the Russian), the semi-autonomous Iroquois Six Nations, the hellish and impoverished coal mines of Virginia, and the capitol of Victoria.

However, the treachery of Sir Horace Bragg was obvious about two-thirds of the way through, and the book had one of the oldest clichés in thrillers when Kathleen Flannary and Colonel Thomas Bushell fall in love.

As an alternate history, there is something lacking here, but I don’t know what exactly since there are lots of touches showing how different – and, generally, more pleasant – the culture of this world’s British Empire is. Policemen don’t regularly carry guns, and the vicious criminal that uses one is rare. TV exists but only as a communal activity. The rare person who can afford a private TV is regarded as odd for wanting one. While we can sympathize with the Sons of Liberty, they are a violent, racist lot and definitely regarded by most as a violent fringe group. John Kennedy is one of their leaders, and Irish in general are looked down on. (And Richard Nixon, murdered early on, is a notorious used car dealer.) The Irish are the main workers in the awful coal mines that power the North American Union. Unions seem totally absent, and the miners are naturally resentful of their horrible conditions, and Bushell, at novel’s end, will perhaps be involved in reforming their conditions. Blacks, after freed from slavery sometime in the 19th century, form a sizeable chunk of the civil service and have a reputation for fussiness. Not only have blacks fared better but so have the Iroquois (though the book is noticeably silent about the fate of other Indians). George Washington is remembered fondly by the Iroquois’ for enforcing a 1763 ban on white settlement west of the Appalachians. Whites eventually move into the land, but the Iroquois have time to reform their culture and learn modern ways and hold their own in the North American Union.

The neatest part about this alternate history is the maps of North America and the world. They show a world largely divided between three power blocs: the British Empire, the Franco-Spanish Empire, and the Russian Empire. The French revolution seems not to have happened (a reference is made to a Beethoven work written to commemorate those killed by Napoleon Bonaparte’s cannon while he served Louis XVI in quelling a revolt). In the absence of an independent America and the two World Wars, technological progress has been greatly slowed. Computer technology (and its effect on long distance phone calls which take a long time here as they used to do in our world) seems non-existent. Air transportation is done by charming dirigibles with aeroplanes (no one needs to be in that much of a hurry is the general consensus) reserved for military use. Military weapons seem stuck about 100 years behind ours. Continue reading

A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!

Since the recent Harry Harrison stuff was popular, I give you another of his titles.

Tranatlantic Tunnel

Raw Feed (1996): A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!, Harry Harrison, 1972.

I decided to read this book to see how it influenced Richard Dreyfuss and Harry Turtledove’s The Two Georges since Harry Harrison is specifically mentioned in the acknowledgements of the latter novel.  This novel is better than that one, and there are enough similarities between Harrison’s alternate universe and that of The Two Georges to show Turtledove’s and Dreyfuss’ debt is great.
Both feature worlds dominated by French and English Empires and lacking united Germanies though Harrison’s novel mentions Russia very little.  Both novels feature relatively genial worlds spared our two World Wars; indeed, one of the final scenes in Harrison’s novel is a psychic viewing our world and horrified by what she sees.  Both have North Americas with prominent Indian and Irish populations.  While both novels feature Iroquois Indians, Harrison’s novel mentions several other Indian tribes in North and South America who seem to have maintained sovereignty or, at least, respect and power.  Still, as befitting the pseudo-Victorian tone of this novel, the Irish and Indians are mainly there to be colorful, humorous characters.  The Two Georges really only mentions the Iroquois and the Irish but treats their situation (possible cultural death in the Iroquois case and discrimination and appalling labor conditions for the Irish) in a much more realistic manner.  Both novels postulate worlds more technologically backwards than ours though Harrison (as befitting the author who put steam powered robots in one of his Stainless Steel Rat novels) creates some delightful variations on current technology – typically large, unique, and underemployed.  His hero, Augustine Washington, travels by huge “helithopter”.  Large, mechanical computers and their new electronic counterparts are rare and unaccountably referred to as “Brabbage” engines not Babbage engines.  Transoceanic flight exists but in large, very ornately decorated airplanes owned by the Cunard line which views them as they once did ocean liners.  They prefer to go for quality of passenger and not quantity.  Both novels also feature the American Revolution as never (at least successfully) occurring.  In Harrison’s novel, unlike The Two Georges, Washington is a reviled traitor.
However, this novel features another turning point.  In the year 1212, Crusaders in Spain do not defeat the Moslems at Navas de Tolosa, and the nations of Spain and Portugal never come into being.  England discovers the New World and seems to have settled North America much more slowly.  Indeed, Washington works on the transcontinental railway when a young engineer though the novel takes place in approximately 1973.  Both novel feature a typical humorous aside of alternate history novels – characters alluding to or reading alternate histories describing our world.  Thomas Bushell in The Two Georges dismisses an alternate history describing WWII as absurd.  Here Harrison alludes to his friend and literary colleague Brian Aldiss.  Here he is the Reverend Aldiss who writes “popular scientific romances”.  While I normally don’t like fannish allusions to other sf authors, the joke and idea is much more palatable in alternate histories since part of their charm is seeing literary and historical characters in a new light.  As befitting Harrison, this novel features many humorous scenes using this element.  Another Harrison friend, colleague, and author is mentioned – Kingsley Amis, here Lord Amis, “foreign minister”.  The engineer who enthusiastically talks Washington into being the first human to cross the Atlantic via rocket bears the name Clarke, a suspiciously close resemblance to Arthur C. Clarke.  Dick Tracy even shows up and economist Keynes is mentioned.
This book is a quick, concise, charming read.  Harrison proves he can do the hard science when describing strange Victorian vehicles (I liked the carriages hooked up to electric cars controlled by horse reins.) and, of course, the charming and plausible seeming centerpiece of the novel:  the transatlantic tunnel (Though Harrison does a mighty bit of hand waving when explaining how his bridge across the mid-Atlantic fault zone will accommodate mid-ocean spreading).  Critic J. J. Pierce called this sort of story (he was talking about another novel featuring a transatlantic tunnel), “industrial science fiction”.  That’s a good description though there’s action and a bit of intrigue here too.
 More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Stealing Other People’s Homework: James Joyce and Science Fiction & Alternate Histories of the American Revolution

Andrew May looks at references to James Joyce in SF with attention paid to Philip K. Dick, James Blish, and Brian Aldiss.

Razib Khan looks at the complicated consequences of the colonies losing their war with Britain. I’ve reviewed one such alternate history, Robert Conroy’s Liberty: 1784. There are others: