STARS & STRIPES TRIUMPHANT BY HARRY HARRISON

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Copyright 2003.

It is 1865 and Lincoln has won reelection to the presidency. The country is enjoying an economic boon and after the defeat of Britain enjoys high prestige on the world stage. Great Britain is still way too pissed off at these defeats and shows no sign of toning down their belligerence. Their navy raids coastal towns of the newly independent Irish Republic causing wonton acts of destruction. Ethnic Irish both Catholics and Protestants living in Britain are rounded up and put into internment camps. Now the British have declared a blockade of US cotton and seize American ships and confiscate the cargo.

The US government knows that only the total defeat of the British will bring about peace. Thus begins a plan for the invasion of England itself. Using devastating ironclad gunboats and self-propelled Gatling guns they easily defeat the British, send Queen Victoria packing into exile in Belgium and bring about a regime change to a democratically elected government. Oh yeah and Scotland decides to take this opportunity to reestablish it’s independence.

The final book in the trilogy comes to it’s logical conclusion, the invasion and defeat of England. I thought that this book was the least interesting of the trilogy. It was just too predictable and easy for the Americans. In fact that is my criticism for the trilogy. Everything just went too easy. The military battles, how the North and South reconciled their differences on slavery, how both Protestants and Catholics reconciled theirs and finally the ease of regime change for the most powerful country at that time. It loses a lot of dramatic tension when everything goes so easy. I would have liked the story to have the British ally with the South and that would have been a much more challenging and realistic scenario.

Still the trilogy was an interesting read. Harrison did his research on the people and technology to make a possible if not probable alternate history scenario.

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STARS & STRIPES IN PERIL BY HARRY HARRISON

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Copyright 2000.

It is April 1863 and two years after the Americans were able to set aside their differences and defeat the British invaders. The newly industrializing South is bringing prosperity to the newly reunited States. But there are signs of trouble. There is still resentment from many Southerners over freeing the slaves. Violent vigilante groups called the nightriders have formed to terrorize the newly freed slaves.

The biggest threat on the horizon is Britain. Still angry over their defeat they are planning for revenge. Troops are brought over from India to Mexico. A road is being constructed across Mexico to bring these troops to the Gulf were they can then strike into the underbelly of America. General Sherman the commander decides on a bold plan. Instead of getting bogged down in a war of attrition in Mexico he will strike at the heart of the British Empire. A secret invasion is planned to liberate Ireland.

The second in the Stars & Stripes trilogy continues with the conflict with Britain. Once again its an entertaining book filled with a cast of historical figures from America, Britain, Ireland and Mexico. Once again the British are some cartoon villains. And once again the Americans win the day with their ability to employ innovative inventions like breech loading cannons on ironclads, repeating rifles and Gatling guns to defeat the enemy. You get to see Gurkas fight Confederate troops. It is once again a fun ride in this interesting alternate world.

STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER BY HARRY HARRISON

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Copyright 1998.

November 8, 1861. The US Civil War is in its first year. The blockade imposed on the South has been effective in cutting off exports of cotton. This is causing mills in England to close down. European countries are concerned and seriously thinking of recognizing the Confederate government. At this time a US ship the San Jacinto stops and boards a British mail ship the Trent. On it they find two Confederate envoys to the British and French governments. The stopping and boarding of a British ship at sea causes a diplomatic firestorm. Britain threatens war and moves troops to Canada. Thankfully the intervention of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband averts the crisis. His rewrite of the harshly worded ultimatum gives Lincoln a face saving way out. The envoys are returned and Britain finds alternate ways to grow its own cotton in Egypt and India. Eventually the South’s practice of slavery makes it politically unpopular to recognize the South.

Now this is how the events happened in history. This story alters the fateful moment that Albert became ill and died. Without him the harsh ultimatum is delivered and rejected. The British launch a full scale invasion of the North. It’s southern invasion makes a fatal error. It gets lost and instead of attacking the Union blockading base they instead attack and massacre the Confederate garrison at Biloxi. Then the soldiers get drunk and go on a rampage of raping and pillaging of the city. Now the North and South unite to defeat a common enemy. Using advanced Spencer repeating rifles and new iron clad gunboats they defeat the British and drive them out of Canada and the Caribbean.

This was a fascinating book. The author really did a lot of research to get the people, arms, tactics and politics of the time. While the Trent affair is a historically plausible point for a British intervention the mistaken attack on the South makes it highly improbable. Harrison is an Irishman, he lives in Ireland according to the biography and like any Irishman has a bias towards the British. I don’t think that all the British were so arrogant and incompetent as portrayed in the book. Yes Queen Victoria was probably somewhat of a fruit loop, she always refers to herself in the plural. And it also seems to rely real heavily on John Stuart Mills ability to convince the South to do away with slavery. I don’t think that was a very realistic scenario.

Still the whole story was a fun idea. Having all the greats from the Civil War united against a common enemy. Its not very difficult to envision that such a united force at the time could easily defeat the British and drive them out of Canada. And its was nice that the country was able to solve the issue of slavery so easily. So in story was not a very probable alternate history outcome but it was a fun and enjoyable read.

SPURLOCK: SHERIFF OF PURGATORY BY JIM MORRIS

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Spurlock is one mellow dude. It could be from his daily routine of nude yoga. Or possibly his meditation and Zen outlook on life. More than likely its that he smokes more weed than Willie Nelson.

Well whatever the reason he seems to be an effective sheriff for Purgatory county Arkansas in this reality of 1996. In this timeline the US has lost a war in the Middle East in 1988 and are now under Soviet occupation. The details of the how are vague but its largely ineffective just troublesome. Except for guerillas operating outside town the residents of Purgatory would hardly notice any change from before the war.

Spurlock’s quiet life is interrupted by the arrival of Senagliero. Senagliaro is the mafia boss from New York who has come to throw his weight around. He is a psychotic who likes to kill people but his shrink says its ok so he just goes with it. He comes to inform Spurlock that the mob is moving in. The cities are becoming unlivable and many of the suburbanites are moving out to the country. The mob plans to offer them drugs, prostitutes and gambling.

Now there is nothing more terrifying to Spurlock than hordes of middle class suburbanites descending on his quiet little town. He tries to make a deal with Senagliero. There are some old mansions outside of town that can be used by the mob. He figures with the mob’s family around they would keep out the unsavory criminal elements. Before he can make a decision Senagliero is humiliated by the local guerrilla leader. He blames Spurlock for this loss of face. Psychotic mobsters can be very temperamental.

After Senagliero leaves Spurlock begins to thinking about his teenage son and daughter in New York. If its as bad in the cities as Senagliero says then he has to help his kids. He resolves to go to New York and bring them home. With his girlfriend who happens to be a witch, they pack up the VW minibus with guns, food and lots of weed.(The weed comes in very handy later on.)

After their zany cross country road trip they arrive in New York and find the largest floating guerilla war going on. To find his kids Spurlock has to deal with Port Authority bureaucrats, transit cops, street gangs, Soviet Spetsnaz, mob hit men, and special mushroom pizzas.(You have to read it to understand.) It all comes to a climactic showdown with the psychotic Senagliero.

Wow. This book. I love it. Its a stoner action book. Everybody in this is smoking weed. Books where the Soviets occupy American always has them sinisterly efficient. The Soviets are in this minor background players that are largely ineffective. True to the spirit of this book they seem to be getting stoned like everybody else.

So this was really an interesting book. It has a fascinating premise with new age hippy crap, eastern mysticism and philosophy, social satire and commentary. And lots and lots of drug use. I don’t think there’s any other book like it.

FIRST CITIZEN BY THOMAS T. THOMAS

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This is the fiction autobiography of James Granville Corbin with alternating chapters told by his sidekick Billy Birdsong.

In this alternate timeline the US decides to do something about the national debt. They repudiate it. Constitutional amendments in the 1990’s repudiate the debt and forbid the federal government from borrowing or raising taxes. A terrorist nuke going off in Washington decapitate the government and allows congress under a powerful speaker of the house to seize power.

Corbin is an attorney from a wealthy family that makes a fortune in the recycling business. When the US decides to annex Mexico after its government collapses, Corbin forms his own division in the Gentlemen Volunteers; the privately formed army the US uses to seize Mexico. His division distinguishes itself and Corbin is elected to congress.

He eventually rises to one of the triumvirate that takes power after the old speaker retires. A dispute with his rival results in Corbin bringing his army across the Rio Grande and the start of the Second Civil War.

This book is clearly an attempt to insert the story of Julius Caesar into modern America. The author has to stretch history to get the desired result. It does result in a very bizarro world but a fascinating story.

The only problem I have with the book is that the main protagonist is well.. an asshole. It’s not real uplifting that the civil war is fought over two assholes in a dispute over insurance legislation. Yes his opponent is a bigger asshole but rooting for the lesser asshole is more like a presidential election then a satisfying story.

Even with its faults I found this a very interesting book and would still recommend it.

I also wonder if the T in the author’s name stands for Thomas. The guys parents had a weird sense of humor.