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Politically, though, things don't immediately change. British political history certainly deviates from our experience with many 19th century reforms not undertaken and Manchester as the capital and not London. But Continental politics only begin to change after England uses an anti-ice weapon to end the siege of Sebastopol in the Crimean War.
It is at Sebastopol the novel begins, its destruction recounted by the narrator's brother. Then we jump to 1870, and the eve of the Franco-Prussian war. Our hero, self-described as a man of shallow character and shallow intellect, makes the acquaintance of Josiah Traveller, the engineering genius who has developed most of the anti-ice technologies. He also develops an infatuation for Francois, a French woman who is not only politically ardent but also unusually knowledgeable about anti-ice engineering.
The novel echoes Verne and Wells and nowhere more deliberately than a voyage to the moon. Five men -- the narrator, Traveller, his butler, an English journalist, and a saboteur - inhabit a small spaceship. But the narrator discovers more than the depth of Traveller's ingenuity and life on the moon. He undergoes a political awakening about the new order being shaped back on Earth and the true nature of his love Francois.
This is a fun work of steampunk, a nice homage to Verne and Wells. As long as you don't mind your alternate histories built on more outre premises, Baxter presents an interesting divergence of European history. And, though it's relatively brief at the end, he makes a serious point about the limitations of even well-intentioned imperialism.
This book works on a lot of levels. The use of the naive protagonist alongside the newspaper reporter and the professor allows for a lot of exposition without straining the plot. Once you accept the hand-waving explanation of how antimatter got to Earth in a form that 19th century tech could handle, the rest of the technology and history follows pretty logically. And the writing itself is a wonderful pastiche of Wells, Verne, and 19th century English novels in general.
But the aspect of it that I most enjoyed was the political allegory. The parallels of anti-ice technology with nuclear technology followed our own history in many ways: its first use followed by horror at the devastation that it wrought, then an attempt to harness it for peaceful purposes, and finally a cold war in which two super-powers hold weapons of mutually assured destruction. But more subtly, England's domination of France at the end of the book, and France's resentment, could be seen as analogous to US domination of Europe after WWII.
A wonderful science fiction story, but also a lesson on the dangers of the misuse of power, whether it be the destructive power of weaponry or the political forces of imperialism.
The industrial revolution has come a little early and in an unexpected form. An Antarctic expedition finds a substance called anti-ice. So dubbed because if it starts to warm up, it releases incredible amounts of energy. Thus evolves a British empire like you have never seen. Imagine all the great creations of Verne being controlled by the British and available to the common man. Anti-ice becomes the new fuel of the empire. Its discoverer continually finds new ways to use its power. One such method was to power a flying rocket that he travels the world in. But after some sabotage, he finds himself in space and headed for the moon.
Besides fueling the empire, anti-ice can also be a terrible weapon. And wouldn't you know it, Bismarck is on the march and the French are out to stop him. Look out! If you like alternate history of the great voyages of Verne, this is a book for you.
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Stephen should definitely write some more books with...Read more
and been able to write interesting, likeable