Bewildering Stories

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American Front: An Alternate History Lesson

by S. Francis Murphy

It is the year 1914 and the war has not granted either the United States of America or the Confederate States of America the victory they expected in six weeks. Two nations, each tied to their European allies, are locked in a deadly, 50-year-old blood-feud deep in the trenches of North America.

Harry Turtledove is the author of The Great War: American Front, a work in the comparatively new sub-genre of science fiction literature known as Alternate History. Alternate History is built on the premise of a simple question: What if? From any point in history, the possibilities and combinations for an imaginative writer such as Turtledove are endless.

The Confederate States, in this history, achieve victory over her Northern opponent in 1862. Great Britain and France mediate a conclusion to the War of Secession. The African-Americans do not achieve liberation at the hands of the U.S. Army and the bloodshed continues sporadically over the course of the next fifty years. The Confederacy eventually becomes Great Britain's ally, while the United States becomes Germany's partner. Each American nation is deeply embittered with her counterpart.

Will President Theodore Roosevelt of the United States be able to fight the C.S.A. and Canada at the same time? Will African-Americans of the South finally bring to reality the plantation owner's nightmare of servile insurrection? Will the U.S. Pacific Fleet survive its encounter with the Navies of Great Britain and Japan?

This novel does not simply follow the soldiers and sailors as they march off to combat. From the Socialist Party's activism in New York to the Marxist African-Americans in the Deep South, Turtledove gives the reader a pantheon of diverse characters to sink their teeth into. He realistically illustrates the horror of war and slavery in their turn, emphasizing the individual acts of humanity through his characters.

Turtledove's other works involve the invasion of aliens during the early years of World War II, the aspect of intelligent life on Mars and time travelling South Africans who give AK-47s to General Lee's Army in 1864. As entertaining as this fiction is, I am glad that it is only fiction.

Of course, there are historians who do not approve of Dr. Turtledove's work in Alternate History. However, if a PhD in Byzantine History does not provide the credibility the reader requires, then just keep in mind that it is fiction... science fiction.

Copyright © 2003 by S. Francis Murphy