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How Few Remain (Southern Victory) Mass Market Paperback – April 29, 1998
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From Library Journal
In 1862, the Confederacy won the War of the Rebellion (not by interference of time travelers, as in Turtledove's Guns of the South, LJ 9/1/92, but by their own skillful military and diplomatic efforts). The defeated North has stewed for nearly 20 years. In this alternate history, the South exercises an opportunity to purchase Sonora and Chihuahua from the bankrupt Mexican Empire, having already wrested Cuba from Spain. James G. Blaine, now president of the United States, arrogantly seizes upon this pretext and invades with the aim of reunification. Lincoln has become an outcast of the Republican Party and preaches socialism while Custer is a frustrated and embittered colonel on the frontier, Samuel Clemens a fiery newspaper editor in San Francisco, and Rosecrans the inadequate head of the Union Army. Turtledove is an accomplished professional at this sort of thing and has given us an entertainment that makes us think somewhat about why we are the way we are. Highly recommended for history, historiography, military, and popular fiction collections.?Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Turtledove calls his numerous novels "alternative history." He changed the result of the Civil War by giving General Lee AK-47s in Guns of the South (1992); in Worldwar (1996), World War II came to a screeching halt as the belligerents united against alien space lizards. This current novel extends the Civil War theme. The year is 1881. Lincoln, since losing the Civil War and then the presidency, is an itinerant socialist speech-maker. In the Confederate States of America, President James Longstreet buys northern Mexico, and the U.S. president declares war, the course of which operates through several historical figures. In San Francisco, antiwar newspaper publisher Samuel Clemens talks himself out of seditious trouble with William Sherman, while the British fleet reduces the city to rubble. The British/Canadian invasion of Montana is stopped by Teddy Roosevelt, yelling "bully" constantly, and by George Custer, whose brother Tom dies, reappears, and then is later referred to as dead. The War in Mexico goes worse for the bluecoats, as would be expected, since they face the dashing, slashing J.E.B. Stuart and his "camelry" --whether their mounts are dromedaries or Bactrians is unclear. At Louisville, Stonewall Jackson reprises his successes by repelling the Union attack and capturing Frederick Douglass, war correspondent. Turtledove is successful in the plausible, albeit theatrical, characterizations of these figures, and his imaginative curiosity will appeal to the what-if segment of the vast Civil War readership, although they might trip over Tom Custer's dead-or-alive act. Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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But what if it hadn't turned out that way? What if Robert E. Lee pulled off a stunning victory in 1862 -- as could have happened if Lee's plans hadn't gotten lost and wound up in the hands of the Union army?
That's the thesis of How Few Remain, Harry Turtledove's novel of alternate history.
[Spoiler Alerts Ahead]
The premise: it's 1881, 19 years after the South won the War of Secession (no longer called the Civil War), and things turned out VERY differently. Instead of being a national hero, Abraham Lincoln is a disgraced former one-term president; Samuel Clemens is not Mark Twain, writing about Tom Sawyer and Huckelberry Finn on the Mississippi River, but is instead an editor for a San Francisco newspaper; while James Longstreet was scapegoated for losing the Civil War in real history, he is president of the CSA in Turtledove's novel. Meanwhile, "Custer's Last Stand" never happened, so George Custer is alive and well -- first taking on rebellious Mormons in Utah, then defending the Montana territory from the invading British alongside a young and brash Theodore Roosevelt.
The list goes on of known historical figures and how they fare in this alternate universe.
The plot: Since losing the War of Secession, the United States have been stewing, and aiming for a chance to avenge their humiliating defeat. They get their chance when the Confederacy purchases two territories from Mexico, thus extending their empire to the Pacific Ocean and threatening US interests. The United States, under President James Blaine (who unsuccessfully ran for the high office in real life), declares war on the Confederacy, and the reader is treated to a series of epic battle scenes, confrontations between heroes of American history, and very believable dialogue.
Strengths: Turtledove very masterfully works with known historical figures. His character descriptions, and especially the dialogue he creates, are very believable. This is especially true of his depiction of Samuel Clemens, whose rambunctious sense of humor is on full display, as is Lincoln's humble stoicism.
Just as believable are Roosevelt on the Montana prairie, Confederate commander Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. One of the most powerful scenes is a confrontation between the latter two characters who, while being bitterly opposed to each other, walk away with a newfound mutual respect.
I also like how Turtledove's President Longstreet handles the question of slavery in a rapidly changing world.
Weaknesses: Perhaps the most controversial part of How Few Remain has to do with where Turtledove takes Lincoln: upon returning home after losing re-election in 1864 (to an unnamed Democrat), Lincoln gets bored with practicing law, reads and embraces Karl Marx's Das Kapital, then travels the country preaching his newfound gospel to the chagrin of his fellow Republicans.
It's hard to see how Lincoln would take up Communism, which was so contrary to 18th century America. It just seems a bridge too far. Then again, anything is possible in alternate history, and so Turtledove said "why not" to this course, and took the plunge. And in fairness, I should note that Turtledove defends his decision by incorporating some of Lincoln's own dialogue from earlier (real life) anti-slavery speeches into his (fictional) pro-Communist rhetoric.
Also, could the US Army be as incompetent as Turtledove makes it out to be? I don't share that struggle myself, but others who have read How Few Remain do. I don't think it's too far-fetched -- don't forget that in real life, the tide didn't turn against the South until after Ulysses Grant took command of the Union forces in 1863. In a scenario where the South won in 1862, a bungling Northern army in 1881 (with some of the best military minds now in the CSA) is very plausible.
All told, it's a very satisfying read. Turtledove takes some risks, but they are very worthwhile. This is a very solid and entertaining novel, and it demonstrates why Harry Turtledove is the master of Alternate History.
I recommend it.
Thankfully this book, which starts the mammoth so-called "Timeline 191" series, is one of the better books. Taking place in a world where the CSA survived the Civil War, and is now about to go to war against the USA again in 1881, the book is an excellent vision of what might have been.
Most fascinating in the novel are the uses of historical characters. Fredrick Douglass, frustrated at the continuation of slavery in the South. Abraham Lincoln, voted out of office in 1864 and now hated by the nation. Sammuel Clemmens, newspaper editor and all around smart-ass. Stonewall Jackson, the great Terror. And my personal favorite, Teddy Roosevelt, assembling Roosevelts Unauthorized Regiment to fight those dirty Canuks!
This book sets up many events that will come into play later. The Mormon uprising starts here. The Socialist Party begins to come into its own. Roosevelt and Custer make their first appearances. And we start to see the slow transformation of the United States into the sort of country that would, a few decades down the line, consider it entirely acceptable to, when a soldier is attacked, round up civilians and murder them as punishment.
This book holds up well as a stand-alone novel, but much better if you then go from this to the Great War books. It's probably the best of the series, which isn't saying THAT much because the other ones are pretty good, too. While the reader might not always agree with the tracks Turtledove takes the world onto in this book it is at least always an entertaining voyage, and there's far worse things to be.