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Surrounded by Enemies: A Breakpoint Novel Paperback – November 3, 2015
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"I have some experience with shattered timelines and altered realities but this one kept me guessing every page.”―Damon Lindelof, writer/producer of LOST, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS
“Plausible development, building from what we know about what really did go on, and a whacking good story…SURROUNDED BY ENEMIES delivers on both, big-time. So hold on to your hats, folks. You’re in for quite a ride.”―Harry Turtledove, alternative history author, HOW FEW REMAIN
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WINNER OF THE SIDEWISE AWARD FOR ALTERNATE HISTORY
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Zabel has no such illusions. He takes the struggles of the first years of Kennedy's presidency and projects them ahead, continuing JFK's ham-fisted foreign policy and battles with J. Edgar Hoover and the intelligence establishment. The bulk of the book is based on an idea that has been examined elsewhere: that, had Kennedy lived, the eventual exposure of his many extramarital affairs could have led to a presidency-threatening scandal. (Unlike Bill Clinton's exploits, JFK's affairs constituted a legitimate threat, given some of his paramours' connections to East Germany and the Mafia.)
While any alternate history offers just one possible path, Zabel's version, aside from a few outlandish asides, is plausible and interesting.
Bryce Zabel's book is not that kind of book. Zabel has done his homework, immersing himself in the minutae of the Kennedy Presidency and the result is a book that feels real -- something that not many alternate histories can say. The dynamics between JFK and RFK, between Jack and Jackie, and between his advisers Powers, and O'Donnell, are all believable.
Zabel's book posits that, having survived Dallas, Kennedy would have been destroyed by those who failed to kill him in Dallas. This is where it veers off into conspiracy theory, which might pose a problem for some viewers. The Mafia, Texas Oil, the CIA, and even Lyndon Johnson are part of the web of conspiracy that eventually undoes his Presidency. I bought this book, got it in the mail in the morning, and didn't put it down til I finished it at 11 that night. It's that good.
There are a few quibbles here, and they mainly concern what comes after Kennedy's exit from office. Chappaquiddick occurs, but it shouldn't -- Teddy met Mary Jo Kopechne as a staffer on Bobby's 1968 campaign, and they were driving home from a party that was a last get together for those who had worked on that campaign. Ronald Reagan is elected over Jerry Brown in 1976 -- but this is after NIxon serves two full terms (having burned the tapes). Would the public have elected another Republican to succeed Nixon? Only if Nixon's popularity ratings were high, which was unlikely. Al D'Amato is mentioned as a senator from New York in 1998, but D'Amato was elected in 1980 on Reagan's coattails. John McCain runs for President in 2000, but with the Vietnam War ending in 1966, he would not have been shot down in 1967, and would likely have stayed in the Navy and become an Admiral, like his father and grandfather. George HW Bush is President in 1988, but again, how? He wasn't Reagan's VP choice in 1976, so how does this happen? Zabel takes the post-JFK history, keeps the same names, but scrambles them up.