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am 6. November 1999
I finished reading this book with an empty feeling about the plot of this novel. Probably because it the plot was empty. Like many other reviewers, I had previously read Turtledove's Guns of the South, and enjoyed it immensely. So going into this story, I also had high expectations. Unfortunately, this novel never lived up to the billings that drew me to it in the first place. The plot has too many dead ends and loose ends. For instance, there are two steamy forages into the sex lives of George Custer and Teddy Roosevelt, which contributes nothing to story other than to suggest that the two were ready for action in any situation. The author uses nearly 600 pages illustrating how the U.S. has blundered again, while he mentions potentially interesting characters such as the alcoholic U.S. Grant only once. The reader learns that the C.S. is invincible thanks to the genius of Jackson early on, but the length used to illustrate this stretchs on, suggesting a change will happen soon, yet none appears. Other characters, like Douglass and Stuart, seem unnecessary other than to alert the reader they were alive and well when the story takes place. They take up roles that prove nothing, just speculate on how they would act in a certain situation. This book could be made much better if the characters and plot were analyzed more carefully, with implications expanding beyond how famous people of the era would react to a second civil war.
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am 9. Februar 1999
I enjoyed Turtledove's World War series, but this book is more disappointing than entertaining. For one thing, it has no climax. It unravels several subplots, but they are seldom woven into a whole or brought to a satisfactory conclusion. I would also argue with his historical assumptions. For instance, if the Confederacy had won the Civil War by an invasion of Pennsylvania, why wouldn't the border be at the Mason-Dixon Line instead of the Potomac (making Washington, DC the capital of the Confederacy?). And why, other than the author's desire to bring the young Teddy Roosevelt into the plot, would the British/Canadians want to invade 19th century Montana (even if they could somehow manage the logistics). And why is this second "War Between the States" such a very small-scale affair compared to the first? Aside from medium-sized armies fighting over Louisville, KY (for no apparent reason), all the battles are fought with nothing larger than a few regiments. I would also argue that Rosecrans was a far better strategist, and Custer a far better tactician, than Turtledove portrays them. Perhaps most important of all, he overlooks the likelyhood that secession, once successful, would have been employed again, and again, reducing North America to to the same fate as Yugoslavia. All in all, I was left with the impression that the primary purpose of this book (other than the profit motive) was to set the scene for the sequel in which the USA and the CSA duke it out during World War I. Will I read that one? Probably. If I can find a good cheap used copy.
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am 13. Januar 1999
I've read and throroughly enjoyed Mr Turtledove's previous works: Agent In Byzantium, The Videssos Cycle, The Tale of Krispos, The WorldWar tetralogy, The Two Georges.
The above titles had historical elements and figures given a sharp twist but each story has a plot, some action, the plight of the main characters was tops in the reader's concern. In the course of the books, a lot of things happen and come to change the main characters.
In this offering, Mr Turtledove gives this formula one more try but several elements are stretched too thin. I found none of the characters interesting or endearing. In the end, I couldn't really care less about what happened to whom.
The author correctly surmises that to win the first Civil War, the south must push for an early armistice: 1862. The author does this. Mr Turtledove lays a solid foundation on which to build his speculation.
The slave owning south is pictured favorably throughout the text, but being a reader from the XXth century, I can't warm up to individuals or to a society that openly espouses slavery.
The bumbling racist North doesn't earn anything as underdogs either.
Teddy Roosevelt and the Custer brothers come across not so much as historical figures but as Bad B Movie Cowboys from Hollywood.
Only Mark Twain brought some light to an otherwise dim and dark environment.
The sin of below average character development is not the worst. Nothing really happens.
The "war" is a series of small go nowhere commando raids lead by incompetent boobs.(Stonewall being the exception)
But overall, not much happens. And shortly after the war begins, the ending is telegraphed to the reader (and represents the book in a nutshell) when the South offers the North another quick Armistice (with some arm twisting by the European Powers) with the borders reverting to pre-war conditions and the USA accepting the sale of Mexican Territory to the CSA.
In short, the situation described at the beginning of the book becomes the conclusion. Whatever happens (or happened) in between does not change anything. Nor has it. The only real change is that Tom Custer and Jeb Stuart and many many infantry grunts died. The rest go back doing what they were doing in Chapter 1.
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am 13. Dezember 1998
I see no purpose for this book. It rambles and rambles, with no impetus to get to a conclusion. The brilliant South kicks the incompetent buffoons of the North's rear ends yet again. Getting there is a real snooze, folks, and any attempt to flesh out characters is nonexistant. They are all one-dimensional, and it is a pity because so many of the characters are fascinating historical figures. Teddy Roosevelt becomes a cartoonish glory hound, Custer a vicious racist and anti-Mormon (why is never really clear---what did the Mormons ever do to him?). Ol' Stonewall Jackson is a pure genius here, but the only thing I can see that keeps him on the winners side is that his opposition is truly moronic. Frederick Douglass' role in this book is unclear, except to continually expound on the evils of slavery, and somehow to put a dim spark in ol" Stonewall's thick skull that he may be as human as the General himself. But there it ends. Lincoln as a Marxist rabble-rouser? He also comes off one-dimensional in this portrayal. There is no big climax here, it just peters out to the status quo of before, except the South gets a piece of Mexico and Pacific ports, and they have to eventually give up slavery. I take it there will be a sequel to elevate Teddy and Custer beyond their feuding and fussing ways of this book. I'm not going to read it.
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am 20. Juli 1998
This book demonstrates the classic Turtledove alternative history strengths: very intersting, provocative opening premises, as well as the classic Turtledove weaknesses: often the premises are the most interesting parts of the book. The opening premise: that the Confederates did not lose Gen. Lee's battle plans before Antietam, and went on to win that campaign, is an excellent example of how capricious history can be -- minor events can have monumentous consequences. He also explores an interesting -- and not at all implausable -- foreign policy reprecussion of Franco-British support for the Confederacy: growing understanding between the Union and Bismarck's German Empire. (This also sets up the universe for his projected FOUR BOOK series on WWI). Where the book bogs down (and where Turtledove as a stylist often comes up short) is in the characterizations of his main players. Turtledove may have had great fun with his Samuel Clemmens, such as depicting him fighting wri! ters' block (an ailment the fecund Turtledove seems not to share), but overall the treatment of Clemmens is wordy and flat, and we learn precious little of the motivations behind his anti-war views. Similarly, the treatment of the Union war effort in 1881 seems unhistoric. One might expect that a main focus of the Union Army from West Point on down after 1862 would be how things went wrong and and how to correct said mistakes. Perhaps Turtledove deals with this by depicting Union commander Rosecrans as being astounded when he learns that Germans planned things before going to war, but it seems implausable that the War Department -- after a stinging defeat like losing the Civil War -- would do no thinking whatsoever on future conflicts, especially with the dreaded Confederacy. Anyhow, those disappointments aside, the book does raise some interesting questions and does demonstrate how major events can hinge in small doings. The concept of a pro-German USA and a pro-British CSA ! in 1914 is fascinating. I hope Turtledove's projected tetra! logy on that conflict makes better use than he usually does of a tasty premise.
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am 20. Oktober 1998
Though a wonderful premise, this novel lacks some basic research. The entire plot deals with a United States that could not possibly defend itself from a boyscout troop much less a combined colition of dubious allies. At the time speculated by this novel, victory for the Confederates or not, the United States Navy was very powerful. Neither the Brittish, nor the French could have projected Ironclads across the Atlantic. Science Fiction maybe, but when you are trying to convey an alternate history, there are still limits.
The character creation lacked research as well. Lincoln a Marxist? Custer and Pope anti-Mormon fanatics? Jackson a magical tactician? It goes on. Lets make this easy, the United States is full of bafoons, the Confederates are all crafty and brilliant. The only remotely amusing/entertaining character is good old Teddy.
The book never gets up any steam due to long and strained philosophical discussions that are constantly rehashed throughout the book. Gad! how painful.
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Harry Turtledove can write gripping alternative histories. Look at "Guns of the South" and the first volume of the "Worldwar" series for examples. "How Few Remain" has many sins, it is ponderous and cliche ridden but it's greatest sin is that it is boring. In the end I was left with the feeling that not only is the idea of editorial supervision dead and buried but, even worse, that I had devoted precious reading time to a novel that is only a prequel to his next one. It's one thing to imagine how history might have turned out differently but to imagine how people might have turned out (J.E.B. Stuart survives the Civil War) is merely alternative psychology. If I was Turtledove I would have had the blowhard Custer get slaughtered by Indians in exactly the same way as at Little Big Horn. That would show us that history often doesn't change all that much.
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am 16. Juni 1999
"How Few Remain" is going to be an accurate accounting of Harry Turtledove's fans if he doesn't wake up. Guns of the South was great fiction, so was the first WorldWar book. I agree with the reviewer who applauded them and compared them to the best in recent war fiction, brilliant novels like "The Killer Angels", "The Triumph and the Glory", and "The 13th Valley". It is very obvious that those authors are passionate about their books and aren't just cranking out half-baked manuscripts full of cliches and, like the earlier reviewer mentioned, laughable stereotypes. Turtledove has a lot of talent, and, more relevant to this discussion, a lot of talent left, because he hasn't used up much of it on this book.
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