The Place: Virginia
The Year: 1864
The Situation: Confederate General Robert E. Lee realizes that the North may very well win the Civil War.
Harry Turtledove’s The Guns of the South is an alternative history story, but also hinges on the side of sci-fi. In 1864 Lee is approached by a group of radicals who have traveled 150 years into the past to arm the Army of North Virginia with AK-47s, thus finally giving the Confederacy an advantage against the superior might of the United States. This change in fortune also changes history as we know it, as the Army of Northern Virginia is able to capture Washington D.C. and thus win the Civil War (which now becomes known as the Second American Revolution.) It sounded like a good deal, until Lee discovers that there is more to this group who call themselves “America Will Break.” Read more
I recently discovered the wonders of Harry Turtledove’s works. Turtledove is clearly a master of alternative history, which can also be referred to as fictional history. Basically the author takes a key event that happened in history (called the point of divergence) and changes the outcome of that event, which then would have changed the course of history as we know it. While this is not a new theme in literary works, Turtledove’s novel, How Few Remain, definitely pits him as one of the best author’s to embrace the genre. How Few Remain is technically the first book in the “Southern Victory” timeline, though Turtledove never officially titled the series.
How Few Remain takes place in 1881 in a world where the Confederate States of America won the Civil War and maintained their independence from the United States. The point of divergence takes place in 1862; in reality, one of Lee’s officers drops details of the Army of Northern Virginia’s plans. These plans are recovered by Union soldiers, and the United States is able to take advantage of it and severely beat Lee’s army out of the North. In Turtledove’s world, these orders are indeed dropped, but are quickly recovered by another Confederate officer; thus the Union army never receives this information. This allows Lee’s army to continue North through Maryland and Pennsylvania, and eventually capture the city of Philadelphia. This major victory is enough in the eyes of Europe (particularly Britain and France) to recognize the independence of the CSA. With international support for the Confederacy, the United States has no choice but to call a cease fire and end the war, resulting in America being separated into the United States and the Confederate States. Read more
Last week I was close to finishing up the book I was currently reading, Starman, and I realized that I didn’t have anything lined up yet. So when I was at the mall and meandering around Borders, I came across a bunch of books by Harry Turtledove. I had never heard of the author, but when I Googled him on my Droid I was surprised that I never had before. Turtledove’s “thing” is to write “alternative history”. Basically he takes a key event that happened in history (called the point of divergence) and changes the outcome of that event, which then would have changed the course of history as we know it. For example, one series he wrote focuses on an alien invasion during WWII (“Worldwar Colonization”.) Another book series deals with Atlantis existing in the modern world, and another book series is based on some time traveling Confederate buffs who go back in time to help the South win the American Civil War.
The book series I decided to start with is titled “Southern Victory” and deals with an alternate history where the Confederacy wins the Civil War. I just got the first book in the series in from Amazon today, How Few Remain. I didn’t want to get too fictiony yet, so I wanted to avoid anything with aliens and magic. If I like the book I will definitely check out the rest in the series and see where I go from there. I’m looking forward to trying a new genre of fiction, and I have a feeling that I’ll enjoy this one. I’ll definitely give my impressions of it once I’m finished.
When attending Oneonta for my B.S. in History, I had to write up a research paper during my senior year. It was a relatively independent class, where all the history seniors had to select a topic, do their own research on it, and then present their findings to the class. I’ve always been interested in the history of space exploration, and at the time I was doing a lot of work with the Soviet Union, so I decided to write up my paper on the first man in space: Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. The thesis of my work focused on how the success of his flight lit a fire under the United States and actually was one of the contributing factors that allowed the U.S. to beat the Soviet Union to the Moon. Most of my research dealt with the American reaction to Gagarin’s space flight, and I spent little time actually reading up on the history of the man. In Starman, authors Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony present a well-written biography about one of the Soviet Union’s most famous and beloved heroes.
The story of Gagarin’s life is difficult to follow for many biographer attempting to take a stab at it. For starters, Gagarin was one of the first Soviet cosmonauts in the 1950-60s. This being the case, the super-secret, paranoid, and unorganized political system in place made distorting facts and records an everyday thing. It was challenging to unearth official records or anything like prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, especially in regards to one of its symbols of the victory of communism over capitalism (and the Soviets were obsessed with their symbols.) Secondly, first-hand witnesses and people who knew Gagarin were unwilling to talk for various reasons. Not only did they fear for their lives by giving away Soviet secrets or going against “official” Soviet reports, but people also loved Gagarin, and did not want to tarnish his name after his death. These only remained problems prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, as afterwards the authors were able to visit Russia and not only uncover many hidden records, but people were more willing to talk, either because twenty years had passed and they were ready or because they no longer feared persecution. Read more