NESFA Members' Reviews


by Robert Conroy

Lyford Books, ISBN 0-89141-537-8, 1995, 374pp, US$21.95

A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper

Copyright 1996 Evelyn C. Leeper

There are two kinds of alternate histories. The first is the kind that assumes some sort of change and then looks at what the world (or part of it) would be like years later. Examples of this are Philip K. Dick's MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, Ward Moore's BRING THE JUBILEE, and Robert Harris's FATHERLAND. The second assumes some sort of change and then starts following the affect of this change from that point. Examples of this are Harry Turtledove's GUNS OF THE SOUTH and Leo Frankowski's CROSS-TIME ENGINEER. I must admit to a preference for the first. In part, this is because while the second can be well-done, it all too often is just a detailed description of how the author thinks some war would have gone after the change. 1901 is precisely this sort of book.

The premise is that Germany, jealous of the United States' overseas possessions, attacks us in June 1901. Most of the book is spent detailing the land and sea campaigns resulting from this, with scant time given to what things are like in the areas of the United States not directly involved, or indeed even in the war zones except for a few somewhat perfunctory descriptions of fleeing refugees. As far as I can tell, Conroy does a reasonable job at what he does, though things work out a little too conveniently and pat. His characters are fairly one-dimensional: militarily, they're okay, but the emotionally they are trite and predictable, not to mention incredibly stereotypical. For example, it is the lower-class girl who gets raped, and who starts having "noisy" sex first, while the upper-class girl gets rescued after being merely groped, and who waits longer and then has more discreet sex.

If you are looking for an alternate history that dwells on "what- if" battles and wars, then you will probably enjoy this. The battles have a very World War I feel to them, though they are also reminiscent of Gallipoli, and it is interesting to read Conroy's speculations on how a German-American war would have gone fifteen years earlier, and on the other side of the Atlantic. By positioning the war when he does, Conroy gets to compare the styles of the commanders who fought in the Civil War with those of the commanders who fought in World War I (in our timeline). But if you're looking for a detailed look at a changed society, 1901 doesn't even start to do this.

%T      1901
%A      Robert Conroy
%C      Novato, California
%D      1995
%I      Lyford Books
%O      hardback, US$21.95
%G      ISBN 0-89141-537-8
%P      374pp

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