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Stars and Stripes Forever by Harry Harrison
Published by Del Rey Books
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
Stars and Stripes Forever by Harry Harrison is a story of an alternate Civil War in which the Trent affair went ugly. The Trent affair was an incident in which a Union warship removed two Confederate agents from a British vessel. The initial British reaction was outrage, but Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort, was able to tone down the official response and allow for a face-saving resolution to the problem. This was the last thing he did, for he died shortly thereafter from typhoid fever. Harrison asks what might have happened had Prince Albert died a few days earlier, too soon to ameleorate the government's outrage.
In this alternate history, things quickly go from bad to worse. The British ultimatum to the United States remain bellicose and humiliating. Angry words fly back and forth across the Atlantic, until a foolish mishap by some French Canadian smugglers leads the British to believe that the Union has attacked Canada. They then compound the problem by inadvertantly attacking a Confederate city instead of the Union naval base they intend to strike. Suddenly Union and Confederacy decide they'd better settle their differences amicably in order to fight their common enemy.
The story has a fascinating premise. Unfortunately it suffers from a lifeless execution. Much of it reads like a history textbook, and only rarely do the characters come to life for us, for the most part remaining dusty historical figures. One almost wishes that he would instead do a novel set a number of years later, dealing with fictional characters and keeping the historical ones in the background, and see how that world's Reconstruction and Gilded Age turned out.
Click to buy Stars and Stripes Forever in hardback
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Review posted March 20, 1999
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