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.

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