Winters does a remarkable job with remaking history, overlapping real US history with all-too-plausible alterations, to create an America in which pragmatic compromises resulted in slavery being indefinitely retained in multiple states. It's an alternate history sci-fi novel, a disturbing commentary on race relations, and an excellent mystery full of surprises, all rolled into one.
Another wonderful selection by my bookclub. Managed to get 70 pages through this thoroughly boring and uninteresting pile of garbage before returning it to the library. Much like Joel Schumacher in the director commentary of Batman and Robin, the audiobook version of this should be the author repeatedly apologizing.
In the tradition of Dick's "The Man in the High Castle" (Nazis win the war.) and Roth's "The Plot Against America" (Lindbergh becomes president.), Ben H. Winters's "Underground Airlines" presents an alternative (or speculative) history. In this, there are still slave states (Called the "Hard Four") and the protagonist is a black bounty hunter tracking down fugitives. Winters, who wrote "The Last Policeman" trilogy and "Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters," is white and so it's a rather bold move to take on slavery. There's an ongoing debate about what writers can and can't write. Should writers have unlimited freedom or should they stay in their own lane? It's one of the only interesting questions this poorly written and indifferently novel raises. You'd be much better off picking up Colson Whitehead's "The Underground Railroad" or Omar El Akkad's "American War," which imagines a second Civil War.
Winters created a world where slavery was still legal in four of the United States. The main character always tells you the shade of color of the slaves which was just creepy and overall it was a good unsettling read!
Good to pass the time. Enjoyed the story overall. Wasn't too challenging but did make me think.
The premise of the novel is fascinating and disturbing, and the alternate history well-considered. In the face of continued legal slavery in some southern states, FDR creates a federal program to monitor the economic activity, and Truman talks some states into abolition for war contracts during WW2. In the present day, a federal Marshall tracks escaped “persons bound,” but haunted by his own past. Winters’ pacing is brisk, and the thriller builds to a number of surprising revelations until the very end.
This novel depicts the U.S. with an alternative history: What if there had never been a Civil War and several Southern states still had slaves? Not only are there slaves, many Northerners are openly racist. Any black person can be stopped and asked to show papers proving they are free.
The author does a brilliant job of weaving details about the Constitutional Amendment and federal laws that allow slavery to exist. The treatment of slaves is chilling; for example, a white manager who works for a huge corporate farm describes how well they treat "Negroes" where slaves are worked to exhaustion, forced to work even when they are sick, and all must sing a song about how happy they are to work for the corporation.
Unlike most alternative history novels, one can't leave this book and feel relieved that it's fiction because racism is still all too prevalent in the U.S.
What if the civil war never happened? What if slavery still existed in four southern states?
A brilliant speculative fiction thriller portraying a frightening alternative modern day America, which may be closer to the truth than we like to believe.
An intriguing plot, properly conflicted main character, and chilling alternate present-day reality marred by a sloppy ending -- and elevated by being just the book we might need to read following the results of the presidential election.
Set in an alternate present where the Civil War never happened and slavery persists in the Hard Four states of the South, this book is tied with Riddley Walker for best dystopia I've read. The many-named narrator and main character is a brilliant detective and bounty hunter with a painful past. The worldbuilding is subtle but right on, from beater cars made in South Africa and Pakistan to smiling Asian children in Southern cotton companies' clothing ads to a new Michael Jackson track. Everything changes when the protagonist goes to Indianapolis to find Jackdaw, a different kind of escapee. In order to break free, he eventually has to go back into the Hard Four. What he finds there makes him miss the good old days of slavery. This is the total package: subtle but brilliant dystopic worldbuilding, compelling main character, suspense, plot twists, and a moral center.
Thought-provoking and full of coruscating observations.
Though billed as a thriller and 'noir,' it contains few thrills, little suspense, and no 'femme fatale.' With flat characters, and
written in a brittle, first-person idiom.
Has hints of classic noir detective, mixed with some spooky Handmaid's Tale-esque dystopian dread. Great momentum. It's the first book I've read by Winters, and I don't read a lot of mystery, but I think I will check out more by him; I like his style.
Winters does it again with a solid first-person account of another dystopian future. With his excellent Last Policeman trilogy, he looked at what happens to the fabric of human society when disaster looms in the form of an asteroid. This time we face a alternate reality where slavery was never wiped out in the United States. Each story was from the perspective of a narrator that has a detective's mind and describes the people he meets with that perspective. The story has some great twists and unfolds in an engaging way. I don't want to get too much into the plot but I will say current events like Philando Castile were in the back of my mind when I was reading this. There is also a character named Castle (sorry I just thought about that now). There is a surreal scene in which our narrator, who has been living in the free North for many years asks some Southern slaves why they don't try to go North and they basically say, "So we can get shot by a policeman for no reason"?
This book is so thought provoking. Is anyone else interested in creating a book discussion group at Central Branch Information Commons?