Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Dominion's Dilemma: The United States of British America

I just finished reading The Dominion's Dilemma: The United States of British America, and before I start picking at it, I want to emphasize that I enjoyed it very much and am looking forward to the sequel.  It's an alternate history story, my favorite SF subgenre, and it varied from our world when the American Revolution came to a negotiated settlement rather than an outright victory.  Franklin and Burke worked out an agreement whereby the revolting colonies became a "dominion," with internal self-rule, while remaining within the British Empire.

The first thing that I noticed initially seemed hokey — the "Governor-Generals" of the "United States of British America exactly correspond with the Presidents of the US in our history, right up to Andrew Jackson, with the exception of the first — the first was elected eight years earlier than our first Presidential election, and was, yep, Benjamin Franklin, and then Washington became Governor-General in 1789, right on schedule.  This, like I say, was annoying at first, like the maddening alternate histories that postulate a Confederate victory, and in 2013 Obama is US President while George Bush is President of the CSA.  Zero butterfly effect.

But in this book, it works.  Partly because it's not as much of a stretch as such things usually are, and partly because the author wanted everything to be as close to our history as possible in order to emphasize the drama of what happens in 1833 — Parliament in London decides to abolish slavery throughout the Empire (as it actually did in our history), including in the United States of British America.  In this case, it's a crisis not dealt with by Lincoln and Davis and Lee and the other names we all know so well, but by Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren and John C. Calhoun, and in a bit of a surprise, an old but vigorous Aaron Burr and the Duke of Wellington (whom I always visualize as Stephen Fry ever since that scene in Blackadder).  And there it gets very entertaining, because the author is clearly steeped in knowledge of the major players, and he makes them all seem very real.  If you enjoy alternate history, or just American history, you will enjoy this one.

Now some minor quibbles, all of which are linguistic in nature.  This book needed a more meticulous editor.  The first thing is the use of the world "sociological" in 1833, when it hadn't been coined yet.  Very minor.  Next, in a sort of subplot dealing with freed slaves, the word "uhura" is used as the Swahili word for "freedom."  Nope.  The word is "uhuru."  "Uhura" is the telephone operator on Star Trek.  And the worst is the use of the Russian language.  If you know any Russian, the mistakes will make you cringe.  There's a Czarist agent in the book using the name Karlhamanov, which can't be right, because Russian has no "h."  It has a "kh," but no "h."  And when actual Russian language is used, it's wrong.  It reminds me of bad English subtitling on Japanese cartoons.  Clearly done with a dictionary.  Cases are wrong, and the russian kak, which means "like" in the sense of "as" or "in a similar way," as in "He looks like a Russian,"  is used to mean "like" in the sense of "have affection for."  Also, the French term for "safe house," une maison sans danger, is misused.  In once instance, a character says something like "we need to find a new une maison sans danger," leaving an extra indefinite article dangling there.

So in the next edition, and in the sequel, the author needs to have the foreign language elements vetted by speakers of the languages.  Other than these minor quibbles, which most readers would never notice, I couldn't find anything wrong, which is pretty good for a 650-pager.  It's worth reading for the appearances by Aaron Burr alone.

2 comments:

  1. I would love to read an alternate history on what if the USA stayed out of WWI.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The stalemate would have eventually forced the nations of europe to settle for peace, so there would be no Treaty of Versaille, and the nazi party would not have formed. Germany would have also kept the Kaiser, my great grandfather fought for Germany in WWI and was deeply hurt when the Kaiser left and I have a feeling it was those feelings that allowed, in part, for the nazis to come to power.

    ReplyDelete