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Russian Amerika Mass Market Paperback – December 30, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Military SF fans will welcome Compton's debut, an alternative history in which the Russians still control Alaska. It's 1987, and Capt. Grisha Grigorievich, a former Imperial army officer now in command of a naval vessel in Alaskan waters, is chafing at the social restrictions that his mixed-blood parentage imposes upon him. He also increasingly resents the arbitrary and petty assertion of czarist authority by any two-bit Cossack in this backwater of the Russian empire. When Grisha is unjustly condemned for killing a government spy, he's sent to a labor camp. After he's freed in a raid on the camp by a surprisingly well-organized Native American separatist movement, Grisha seizes the opportunity to get revenge. Compton creates a plausible backstory for his time line (the Communists never took over Russia), which comes out naturally in bits and pieces. His depiction of warfare under extreme arctic conditions is horrifyingly realistic and vivid. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Stoney Compton has had novelettes and short stories published in Universe 1, Tomorrow, and Writers of the Future. He has five other novels in print. He and his wife, Colette, their ever changing number of cats, Pullo, their energetic Australian Blue Heeler, and Parker, their Akita/Red Heeler mix are in the process of relocating to Oregon. He is an avid hiker and velocipede enthusiast.
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In any good AH story, the key is to convince the reader that the events described therein COULD HAVE HAPPENED if history is tweaked to produce a different outcome than what occurred in "our history" as we know it. This is often called the "point of divergence," or POD for short. All events that follow the POD must logically and plausibly flow from the single, discrete change in the timeline that the author makes.
Sometimes, an AH author will identify the POD; other times, the author will leave it to the reader to infer what was changed. Though either approach is valid in this genre, I prefer the latter because it tests my knowledge of history. This is the approach that Stoney Compton took. In Compton's alternate universe, the Confederacy somehow won the American Civil War. The implication is that this defeat left the truncated United States in no financial position to purchase Alaska from the Russians. But in projecting forward from this POD to 1987-1988, the years in which Compton's book takes place, the AH tale unravels.
Let's start with Compton's map of an alternate North America. Such maps are used ad nauseam by Harry Turtledove and other AH authors to clue in the reader on the POD. I can accept the independent republics of California and Texas. After all, a weakened USA might not have been able to hold onto California, and a CSA that refused to allow Texas to secede would be hypocritical, indeed. I can also accept some of the other changes to the map, such as an independent Deseret and First People's Nation--the further Balkanization of North America makes sense following a Confederate victory.
But "French Canada"? The French government was kicked out of Canada BEFORE the American Civil War took place. How could a different outcome in the Civil War lead to France regaining a foothold in North America? If anything, Great Britain would have been better equipped to withstand a French invasion of Canada with an independent CSA as a likely ally.
Then there's "New Spain," consisting of Mexico and Central America. Again, Mexico had achieved independence from Spain BEFORE the American Civil War. How could a different outcome in the Civil War lead to a Spanish reconquest of its lost territories? During 1864-1867, a French puppet regime ruled Mexico. If any European power could have seized Mexico at this time, it would have been France, not Spain. This is especially so if France had grown as powerful as Compton suggests, able to recapture half of Canada despite British mastery of the seas.
Compton's missteps are not limited to the "big picture"--many of the little details are equally implausible. For example, take Compton's conception of the California Republic. The film industry is centered in California, just like in our world, and Ronald Reagan is the republic's president. I find it hard to believe that California is the only place on the North American continent suitable to house the film industry. Wouldn't the USA have its own film industry, centered in Chicago perhaps? And wouldn't Reagan, who was born in Illinois, prefer to work for his own nation's film industry, rather than that of a competing upstart republic? This assumes that Reagan would have been born in Compton's universe in the first place, and made similar life choices all along the way, leading him to California and a political career. If the USA had lost the Civil War, Reagan's parents might never have met, much less had sex on the exact same night as they did in our universe to produce the child that would one day become known as the Great Communicator.
Even more implausible is the Russians' use of the Kalashnikov assault rifle, known in our world as the ubiquitous AK-47. Compton expressly states that World War II did not happen the same way in his universe as it did in ours. So then how could a Russian tank mechanic named Kalashnikov just happen to observe--on an Eastern Front that never existed--the German MP-44--invented during a Nazi era that never occurred--and use this as a model for his own invention of the AK-47, as he did in our history?
What these examples show--and there are many more, but I won't bore you further--is that Compton failed to appreciate the logical ramifications of his chosen POD. As a result, I couldn't suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy his otherwise flawed alternate-history story.
I agree with some of the other reviewers, that the premise behind the book is much more interesting than the plot or the characters. Maybe a good writer can make a compelling novel from this set of initial conditions. This book failed to do so.