Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bring the Jubilee (1953) by Ward Moore

I am a sucker for a good alternative history novel. But the genre has been around so long that it's starting to get dull. Recently I picked up a novel by a noted SF writer about might have happened if the Nazis had lived to fight a guerrilla war against the victorious allies. I'm still trying to get into it. In the meantime, I did manage to finish one of the grandaddy of all "Lee Triumphant" books, Bring the Jubilee.
Known for his science fiction novels, Ward Moore, didn't publish much, but what he did get into print was top-notch. Greener Than You Think (previously reviewed) and Lot are both considered classics. Too bad he didn't turn out much after the 50's.
In Jubliee, the South has won the civil war. The book begins in the 1920's, but not our 1920's. Hodge Backmaker is recounting his strange life, how it began on a poor farm in upstate New York. The United States consists of all the Northern states in the civil war that the victorious South let them keep. While the imperial Confederacy has conquered most of central and south america, the US is mired in debt, corruption and illiteracy. Many people sell themselves into virtual slavery as indentured servants in the North. Slavery has been ended in the South, but full citizenship is restricted to actual descendants of the whites. Hodge manages to acquire a basic education on his own before heading to New York City.
In New York, he expands his literacy horizon by working for a bookstore. In his spare hours he visits the Haitian ambassador, whom he's met while delivering books. Much of this section is taken up with him discussing the concept of free will between his employer and the ambassador. After getting involved with a secret Unionist "lost cause" army, Hodge manages to make the journey to a scholars colony in the isolated town of Haggershaven near York, PA. There, he achieves renown as a Civil War historian, but his very fame will alter the past.
As with his other books, Moore has no qualms about using science and fantasy to crictize his present world. This is a fascinating novel which served as the touchstone for all alternate history works.

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