THE TWO GEORGES
by Richard Dreyfuss and Harry Turtledove
Tor, ISBN 0-312-85969-4, 1996, 384pp, US$23.95
A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 1996 Evelyn C. Leeper
The cover describes Dreyfuss as an Oscar winner, and Turtledove as a Hugo winner. Of the two, the latter is perhaps more germane to the book--Dreyfuss won as an actor, not a writer. But Turtledove has said that Dreyfuss contributed heavily to the dialogue, so perhaps this is a more equal partnership than last year's team of Gingrich and Forstchen. However, this book does have the (apparently) obligatory sex scene. Mercifully, this one is shorter.
The premise of THE TWO GEORGES is that there was no American Revolution. The exact details of how this occurred (or perhaps more accurately, failed to occur) are not spelled out. This is actually a good touch, because too often the background is given as a sort of "lump," something like, "Fred mused how different the world would be if Queen Mary had died earlier and her bastard sister Elizabeth had become Queen of England." There's actually something refreshing about NOT getting all the details.
Of course, Dreyfuss and Turtledove don't entirely avoid this sort of thing. There are a fair number of references to what Washington or King George (the two Georges of the title) did and how that affected the present. Given that we rarely find ourselves thinking how different our world would be if there were no American Revolution, at least in our daily routine, this does feel a bit artificial. And the main character at one point is reading THE UNITED COLONIES TRIUMPHANT, an alternate history book about OUR world.
The book is alternate history but the plot is strictly mystery: the famous Gainsborough painting "The Two Georges" has been stolen while touring the North American colonies and just before King-Emperor Charles III was due to speak in front of it. The radical separatist group, the Sons of Liberty, has stolen it and is demanding a ransom for its return, and Colonel Thomas Bushnell and Samuel Stanley of the RAMP are assigned to recover the painting, which is a major cultural icon (sort of like the original Declaration of Independence).
Turtledove is good at research, so it's hard to find errors per se. One of my complaints is more a stylistic one: I find it difficult to believe that two hundred years after the break point we would have any of the same people as we have in our world, and in very similar positions. In particular, I find it difficult to explain how Martin Luther King, Jr., would have been as involved in politics in a society with far fewer racial problems that our own as he was in ours. I also question whether the Irish would be as prominent, since a change in politics preventing the American Revolution might very well have prevented the Irish Potato Famine as well. Other references that served more as stumbling blocks than stepping stones were Beethoven writing his Third Symphony to celebrate Napoleon's uprising against Louis XVI, and the use of "To Anacreon in Heaven" as the North American anthem. Language-wise Dreyfuss and Turtledove sick fairly closely to British English (with references to serviettes rather than napkins, for example), but do occasionally slip, calling trousers pants, or vests undershirts. (I am reminded of the recent report of the British MP who was found dead in "pants and suspenders." To most Americans, this doesn't sound too shocking; however, the American translation is that he was found in "undershorts and a garter belt.")
Unfortunately, the mystery part of this novel, which is the main plot, is not particularly well-constructed. Clues are telegraphed, and in general there is a lot of fairly standard stuff going on. There is also a fairly standard romance with Bushnell meeting a professional woman with whom he initially does not get along, and so on.
I liked the background of THE TWO GEORGES, even with my reservations, and would recommend it for that reason to alternate history fans. But it is the alternate history aspect that makes this book worthwhile. If that aspect doesn't appeal to you, you can skip it as a mystery.
%T The Two Georges %A Richard Dreyfuss %A Harry Turtledove %C New York %D March 1996 %I Tor %O hardback, US$23.95 %G ISBN 0-312-85969-4 %P 384pp
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