I just finished reading the title novel, The Guns of the South by science fiction author Harry Turtledove. The novel offers a different and more modern take on the notion of an alternate history in which the Confederate States of America won their war for independence from the United States than Ward Moore‘s classic Bring the Jubilee. Like the latter book, this one involves time-travel which changes the past. Specifically present-day South African white supremacists from the radical group Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) who have stolen an experimental time machine supply the Confederate forces with AK-47s and plenty of ammunition for them (plus other supplies like dried foodstuffs) in 1863, relatively shortly after the battle of Gettysburg. The reason that the white supremacists do this is because they have an anachronistic idea of an independent Confederacy as a white supremacist’s paradise. Moreover they apparently hope that the CSA will then support apartheid and thus change the present reality of their own country as well.
Harry Turtledove, who according to the book’s short biographical sketch has a doctorate in history, confronts the issues raised by the scenario head-on in a plausible and interesting manner. One may not always agree with his take on the situation in the South at the time, but Turtledove’s take is within the argument bounds of plausibility. Without denying that the attitudes of the time are decidedly racist by today’s standards, Turtledove portrays a world in which the racism is ubiquitous but at the same time is generally not associated with actual hatred the way that the AWB’s ideas are. Conflict arises when in dealing with the aftermath of the war, the CSA– and especially the lead character General Robrt E. Lee– realize that the black people that the Union soldiers freed cannot realistically be re-enslaved and that slavery as an institution has been wholly undermined.
- And if Gen. Lee hadn’t surrendered at Appomattox … (salon.com)
- Worlds That Never Were (online.wsj.com)