October 27th, 2009

krazy koati

Brother Ephraim sold his Cow and bought him a Commission

So last week I read Robert Sobel's For Want Of A Nail, an alternate history of North America supposing that the British crushed the American Rebellion after the Battle of Saratoga turned out differently. It's been in my mind, not just because I was introduced to the outline from The People's Almanac 2, favorite reading of my childhood. (The People's Almanac also introduced me to the timeline of James Blish's Cities in Flight novels, among many other things which made that such a perfect book for me.) It's also an exotic case among alternate history writing in that it's got the form of a textbook, putting it in the mock-factual article that's so lovely yet rare to see done well. In short, American Loyalists remain in the 13 Colonies, reorganized as a Confederation of North America that takes up, basically, the real-world Original (post-Independence) United States, Louisiana, and Canada east of the Rockies, ultimately; rebels leave for the Texan vicinity and eventually merge with Mexico to form a United States of Mexico which occupies what we know as Texas, Mexico, and the Pacific Rim of North America. In a rather funny postscript critique written by an (imaginary) other professor, it's pointed out these nations separate the Age Of Reason We're One Revolution And Reign Of Terror Away From Utopia impulse from the British Let's Muddle Through And It Will Get Better Someday impulse, and I can see better than I used to the point that the United States works because it has got a generally overall effective balance between those drives.

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Oh, and a most trivial nit: Sobel has a capital for the Confederation of North America built around Fort Pitt. Even for a new-built city meant to be fairly neutral territory between the rebellious 13 colonies, Nova Scotia, and Canada, there's no way they'd put the capital out there. The Alleghenies are barely penetrable barriers to commerce even today; in 1780, you're nuts to imagine going out there for anything but foreign invasions.

Trivia: Terms of General Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga included that his troops were to be disarmed and transported to Britain. The Continental Congress instead detailed them as prisoners. Source: A Short History Of British Expansion, James A Williamson.

Currently Reading: Wizard: The Life And Times Of Nikola Tesla, Marc J Seifer.