How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove

All fiction asks “what if?” (What if a boy named Huck Finn ran away with a slave named Jim and sailed the Mississippi?)  Science Fiction and Fantasy do this to an even greater extent (What if a scientist was able to re-animate a human corpse using lightning?) Within Sci-Fi & Fantasy the sub-genre of Alternative History takes actual events from History and asks what if they had happened differently (What if Hitler’s Germany had won World War II?) Harry Turtledove is considered the master of Alternative History and in this novel he asks: “What if The North rises again – in the stunning saga of the Second Civil War?”

It’s been a generation since the South defeated the North in the Civil War, and a disgraced Abraham Lincoln now roams the United States preaching the gospel of socialism. Meanwhile, the Confederate States have purchased territories from the Empire of Mexico. This would extend the CSA’s rule from the Atlantic to the Pacific and the United States decides that they should not be allowed to expand, and thus begins the Second Civil War. Many familiar names appear as the story unfolds: George Armstrong Custer patrols the frontier of Kansas using the new fangled Gatling guns against the Indians; General Stonewall Jackson is the supreme military commander of the Confederate forces and directs the Battle of St. Louis; Frederick Douglas is a journalist from Rochester, New York who travels to the dangerous border covering the war; J.E.B. Stuart leads the CSA forces in the newly annexed south-west territories; and Samuel Langhorne Clemens is the editor of a newspaper in San Francisco with a loving wife and two children. The characters are all as vivid as one could hope for and the action of the war – both on and off the battlefield – moves the story along keeping the reader wondering what “happened” next.

I’m a huge Sci-Fi & Fantasy reader, but have never been much into Alternative History for some reason. Also, I must admit that I have been reluctant to try Mr. Turtledove due to my own preconceived notions. You see, being from the North, I was never very interested in a story in which the South won the Civil War. I now freely admit how wrong I was – this novel was thoroughly enjoyable! If you like Historical Fiction, then chances are good that you’ll enjoy Harry Turtledove’s exploration of “what if” there were a second Civil War in the 1880s. I listened to this book on audio, and while it took me a while to finish it (21 CDs), I enjoyed listening to the talented and prolific George Guidall. (As of this writing, there’s even an excerpt from this audio book on George’s website!)

One of the hallmarks of great fiction (speculative, or otherwise) is that it makes you stop and think – and maybe even reconsider what you thought – about the given subject. How Few Remain certainly made me reconsider my views of the historical figures and events surrounding the Civil War.

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