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.

The problem I have with this alternate history is its lack of exploration of the divergent history. It’s hard to do that without clumsy explication, but it can be done. I did like certain scenes – the raid on the Queen Charlotte Island Sons of Liberty hideout, the descent into a coal mine, and the Six Nations. I really can’t detect any element of Richard Dreyfuss in this novel in either style or content. I thought maybe the well-done resentment of Bushell for Sir David Clarke (though he comes to hate him less at novel’s end) and the uneasy relationship of Bushell with his ex-wife were Dreyfuss’ contribution, but Turtledove has also been divorced and strife between ex-lovers is an element in Turtledove’s Worldwar series. I also liked the French Ambassador hinting to Bushell of Bragg’s treachery.

 

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