Guns of the South

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The GUNS OF THE SOUTH illustrates that the ingenious can masquerade as the ingenuous. Time travelers supply the Army of Northern Virginia with automatic weapons on the eve of the spring 1864 offensive by the Army of the Potomac and thereby significantly affect the outcome of the Battle of the Wilderness. Instead of the renewed Union advance into the Confederacy that led to the fall of Richmond, the movement of troops is in the opposite direction, and it is Washington which is forced to surrender.

Most such speculative works about the war, however, end with a Confederate victory. In contrast, this work focuses on the history of the two newly independent but separate political units and the problems thereof. The reader is presented with a series of all too likely developments: a three-sided election in the U.S. that forces Lincoln from office, a spirited presidential campaign pitting Robert E. Lee against Nathan Bedford Forrest, a war between the U.S. and Britain featuring a blockade of the Northern ports and an invasion of western Canada, plus a deadly confrontation between the Confederacy and those who made its survival possible.

Alternate history is one of the more difficult literary exercises. The author must persuade readers to see the tale through to an end while altering the historical record in a credible fashion. All too often, works in this genre sacrifice accuracy in pursuit of a gripping narrative, or they stun the reader with wooden one-dimensional characters. Clearly, Turtledove’s previous work in speculative fiction (The Misplaced Legion series) has served him well, for this is alternate history as it should be written.