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