Thursday, September 30, 2004

How Few Remain

How Few Remain Book Cover

I recently started listening to books on CD in my car. The second one I worked through is How Few Remain, which is an alternate history novel based on the assumption that the South won the Civil War. First of all, I have a problem with the plausibility of the premise. I don't think one minor event (as in the book) could have changed the course of the war -- I think the industrial might of the North pre-determined the outcome. I was glad to see an essay in the book Alternate Gettysburgs from a professional historian which supported this point of view. Still, it's interesting to think "What If?" (Warning, spoilers follow.)

This book is set in 1881, just after the USA has finally elected another Republican president. The Confederate States of America decide to purchase two Mexican provinces from the "Empire of Mexico." (Lack of a strong USA has let French interference in Mexico persist.) The USA, fearful of a stronger CSA stretching to the Pacific, declares war. The book is the story of the war told by looks at various famous people (Abraham Lincoln, George Custer, Samuel Clemens, Stonewall Jackson, Jeb Stuart, Teddy Roosevelt and a few more).

It was definitely well-researched, and I found it all very plausible, except for the whole idea that the North wouldn't wipe the floor with the South. Then again, with the CSA having English and French allies, the balance is tipped against the USA. One thing I noticed is that the author takes a lot of care only to include things that would follow from the premise --- nothing too unexpected ever happens. This is good for the believability, but takes something away from the excitement in the novel. Also, some of the details can be a little bit mind-numbing. Yes, Germans would be puzzled by American idioms. No, that doesn't need to be mentioned every time it happens. These flaws, however, are less of an issue for a book-on-CD, when I also have my fellow motorists to entertain me.

In my view, the major flaw was the sex scenes. Having a guy affecting a 19th century way of talking read you descriptions of Sam Clemens, George Custer and Teddy Roosevelt doing the wild thing is not an experience I recommend to you. Thankfully, that only occurred three times in the entire 21-CD book.

I did worry a little bit about potential pro-South bias in the book. (They were the ones with slaves, which in my mind makes them the bad guys.) I don't think there was any --- the author (also, I must admit, a professional historian) was following the original idea to its logical conclusion. The book did end with the CSA "winning" --- they got to keep part of Mexico, and the Brits annexed part of Maine. But that just made me want to read the next book so I could hear the USA get revenge (I hope). "Remember...Maine!"

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