September 16, 2009

Indians in Stars & Stripes in Peril

Stars and Stripes in Peril (Stars & Stripes Trilogy) (Mass Market Paperback) Review

Harry Harrison has been publishing science fiction for half a century; this novel appears in 2000, the year of his 75th birthday. His 1998 Stars and Stripes Forever was a foray into alternative history at the time of the U.S. Civil War. An opportunistic British invasion is so badly bungled that it unites warring Union and Confederate forces against the common enemy, and the course of events is rousingly changed.

Now it's 1863 and perfidious Albion is making a comeback via the Pacific, establishing a Mexican beachhead and planning attacks on united America's "soft underbelly" in the Gulf of Mexico. Gurkha and Sepoy troops build roads while sweaty white officers express nostalgia for England: "I despair of ever seeing her blissfully cold and fog-shrouded shores again."

An early coup of misdirection makes the British advance seem unstoppable--but America forges ahead with new guns and naval armor, and General Robert E. Lee devises an audacious counterblow. What better way to disrupt Britain's wicked schemes than to strike at her own rebellious province of Ireland?

Better than the first, but still lacking, December 11, 2000
By Ian Fowler (Denver, CO United States)

"Stars and Stripes in Peril," as stated, is an entertaining read overall, but it does suffer many of "Forever's" faults. Harrison uses a third-person omniscient narrator to tell his story, which I must admit is not my favorite means narration. What is worse, while Harrison uses this method to further his plot at a rapid pace, he does so at the expense of characterization and effective sub-plots. The reader is allowed briefly into the minds of nearly every character that appears int his novel. The end result, however, is that no single character develops any actual depth, and the reader does not care one way or another who lives or who dies.

Alternate Fantasy--A New Genre?, February 3, 2001
By A Customer

He portrays every character in one-dimensional descriptions, based along the lines of U.S. = good, everyone else = bad. He doesn't even take the time to develop any of the non-U.S.-and-allied characters beyond their immediate motives relating to the war and their own pompous convictions, regardless of what kind of person they were in reality. Though I know little about the actual Queen Victoria, I am more than a little suspicious that she did slightly more than scream at bad news and throw incessant fits.

You can speed read you way through this alternate history, June 11, 2001
By Lawrance M. Bernabo (The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota)

Ultimately these characters are but chess pieces, moved about by Harrison who is obviously more concerned with the invents in his giant game of "what if." In the end, "Stars & Stripes in Peril" reminds me more of MacKinlay Kantor's "If the South Had Won the Civil War," which was essentially a series of events briefly sketched out, than Harry Turtledoves "Guns of the South," with its detailed character study of Robert E. Lee and which remains the best alternative history of the Civil War I have read to date. There are certainly some provocative idea in this book, but Harrison could have advanced them just as easily with a short essay than with this novel.
Comment:  Indians don't appear in Stars & Stripes Forever, the first book of the series. But they do appear briefly in the early parts of this book. As the British build a road across Mexico, they're the ones who lead the spies and rebels. They're the inheritors of ancient and stealthy guerrilla fighters...more committed to the land than the European conquerors and elites.

As one character puts it:[H]ere, in the jungles of Yucatan, there are the Mayans. They have never been defeated. Not by the Spanish invaders--or anyone since. They still speak Mayan and refuse to learn Spanish. With people like these on our side the English will never build this road. So they will never invade the United States--at least not by this route.In other words, they're the precursors of today's Zapatista movement. Nice to see Mexico's Indians portrayed as something other than sleepy, backward peasants.

Alas, I'd say the criticisms above are accurate. Too much military action and too much focus on minor characters. Stars & Stripes Forever is probably suitable only for dedicated fans of alternative histories. And for those who want to see the Americans kick the English's butts out of Ireland. <g>

Rob's rating:  7.0 of 10.

For another alternative history, see Review of 1824. For more on the subject in general, see "What If" Stories About Indians and The Best Indian Books.


dmarks said...

I'd not heard of these. I've been reading Harrison for many many years and have liked so many of his novels a lot.

Stephen said...

Yeesh sounds like something that the little turds in ogra sinn fein would write.

dmarks said...

The precursors of the Zapatista Movement around found in Mao's Chinese rebellion and Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. The ideology is there, but the Zapatistas are too small to turn it into a totalitarian state of mass slaughter.

Stephen: You would probably like Harrison. He wrote a series of alternate history books in a sort of version of Charlemagne arose out of Northwestern Europe (those Scots, Vikings, and others that you place above all others).

Stephen said...

I've tried a few of his books before I didn't really enjoy them.

"those Scots, Vikings, and others that you place above all others"

I didn't make supremacist comments about Norse or Gaelic cultures, I mentioned them in a few debates but that's about it.

Rob said...

Their ideology combines libertarian socialism, libertarian municipalism, libertarian Marxism, and indigenous Mayan political thought. They align themselves with the wider anti-globalization, anti-neoliberal social movement and seek indigenous control over their local resources, especially land. The New York Times called the Zapatista movement the first "post-modern" revolution: an armed revolutionary group that has abstained from using their weapons since their 1994 uprising was countered by the superior military might of the Mexican army. The Zapatistas quickly adopted a new strategy by trying to garner the support of Mexican and international socialist anarchist societies. They try to achieve this by using the Internet to disseminate their statements and to enlist the support of NGOs and solidarity groups.

Rob said...

You must be talking about The Hammer and the Cross series, DMarks. I wouldn't compare its protagonist Shef to Charlemagne, since he spends most of his time in England, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe.

But yes, that series was decent. I rate the three books 7.5, 8.0, and 8.0, which makes the series better than Stars & Stripes.

For more information:

The Hammer and the Cross is the first in the series of novels written by Harry Harrison and John Holm, the pseudonym for the Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey. The book chronicles the rise of the protagonist Shef, a bastard son of a Viking and an English lady. The book is set in the 9th century England where Viking raids are common and presents an alternate history to the one we know.