12 February 2011
Post 322: A New Birth of Freedom
First off, Happy 202nd Birthday to President Lincoln, who I am sure would love blogs and his recent resurgence in fame between this and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. For some reason I get the feeling Mary Todd would have really loved Vampire Hunter. That Grahame-Smith kid just has a flair for writing like other people.
Since this is part of a blog tour, I'm going to tell new visitors, this is not going to be a review. I don't write reviews on my blog, those are over at my Goodreads account. I have also started linking to my reviews, or reviews I agree with at the bottom of my posts. Otherwise, what you get here is a reflection based on my reading of a particular book, its themes, characters, quotes, or some combination thereof. This post will be focusing on my experience with alternate histories.
While I've always been fascinated with alternate histories, and I think most of us have, I did not really become aware of exactly how fascinating it could be as a literary device until about the seventh grade. At the time, my mother was stationed on Guam, going through a divorce, and preparing to move, and I had switched schools yet again. One of my many distractions from this was to read a lot, which coincided with one of several book reports my literature teacher assigned. I was already reading Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus. This is another novel which uses time travel to create an alternate history where there wasn't one before. In some ways I feel it uses it more effectively than A New Birth of Freedom, but I will say that Lincoln is an infinitely more sympathetic character than Christopher Columbus. What can I say, it's easier to like a guy who freed the slaves, at least in The South, than someone who put Native Americans in chains and introduced them to syphilis.
I've certainly read many alternate history novels since then, and watched loads of movies (I am a sci-fi movie junkie). But none of them really stick out in my mind. However, with the advent of steampunk as a genre we see way, way, WAY more novels being published in the alternate history genre. Most of these don't actually involve time travel, which in some ways I think makes them even more fascinating. Possibly one of the most interesting early examples of steampunk I've come across is the Age of Unreason series by J. Gregory Keyes. I'm not going to say it was the best series I've ever read, but I loved Ben Franklin as a character and Keyes did an excellent job of making the blend of technology, supernatural, and history work.
Perhaps my two favorites in the genre that I've read recently were the aforementioned Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter novel (which is pure alternate history, unsullied even by time travel) and Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate which is most certainly steampunk with plenty of vampires, werewolves, and ghosts thrown in, as well as just enough Victorian era romance to make a young girl of any age ever-so-giddy. It's an amazingly fun romp.
None of these, however, has insectoid aliens, which is definitely something that A New Birth of Freedom has going for it. While I may not have been crazy about Pielke's human characters, perhaps with an exception of Pierce, I am fascinated by the giant locust people and their time traveling abilities. Had the novel had a little more of the Pests and a little bit less of the pest Blair, I would have loved this novel. As it is, I don't think this is a strong example of an otherwise very robust genre. I do think that the last third or so of the book is much better than the preceding two-thirds, and I have suspicions that the second book will be more deserving of the investment of time to read it.
My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy provided by Tribute Books so I could participate in the book blog tour. If you would like to read what other participants have said, click here.