The year is A.D. 1886. George Armstrong Custer, Sr., is enjoying his first term as President of the United States. His son, George Custer, Jr., is a captain in the U.S. Army, and an engineer of a new and amazing craft that he hopes will be able to turn the tide of the long conflict between America and the Cheyenne Alliance.
It's a 19th century America very different from the one we know. In this North America, the dinosaurs of the late Cretaceous never died out. They adapted to their changing environment, evolved, and survived.
Millions of years later, humans arrived in North America. The People of the Great Plains domesticated the descendants of the dinosaurs, and with their help, have been able to protect their lands from settlement by European and American powers.
And then George Custer, Jr. crashlands right in the heart of the Cheyenne Alliance...
I heard about this book for some time before its release – mostly because they created a website to promote it – so I figured I'd get it when it came out in paperback.
(reading the website, I already had too many doubts about it to spring for hardcover)
Well, I was kinda surprised to find out it was initially
released in paperback – perhaps I've just got too used to books I want coming out in $25+ hardbacks first. Anywho, I got it, and read it over the course of the next couple, three days.
Well, it's not hideous...
, that is – though that is a fairly generic "white guy gets thrown in with Indians and finds out they're much better/nobler/more civilized than he thought" plotline, with a couple of minor twists. The ending is one of the more unbelievable twists (let's just say, how the heck do you miss dinosaurs
walking through your neighborhood?), but it's handled reasonably well, I guess (still, I described it as Dances with Carnosaurs
in SHWI and that's probably a good capsule description).
But the AH – Oy!
In fact, I can't really call
it AH. The basic premise is that – for some reason – the inland sea that once covered the plains back in the Cretaceous at least partially remains, covering much of what would have been Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, plus chunks of Louisiana and Mississippi. Florida is also beneath the waves.
And – again for some reason – a few dinosaur species survived. Four are mentioned: smaller, evolved variants of tyrannosaurs, parasaurolophus, ankylosaurs, and some sort of pterosaur.
in spite of changing geography, climate, and ecology – Giambastiani's history
up to the point of the story (the book is set in 1886) is almost identical
The Cheyenne wander this worlds "South Dakota" (which – again mysteriously – seems to be identical to ours ecologically, in spite of the fact that it's got a seashore on its southern edge and dinosaurs
running about it) with exactly the same culture, language, etc of OTL's – in spite of the fact that they've been using dinosaurs like horses (and in the case of the tyrannosaur "walkers" – war machines!) for thousands of years. You ask Dale Cozort
how big a change that
would create in their culture!
The Americans are "trapped" in what here is the eastern half of the United States (Spain and England own the west coast – don't even ask
why Spain is still a major colonial power in 1886!) with the "Gulf of Narvaez" and the "Unorganized Territories" (North and South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming, basically) – home to the "Cheyenne Alliance" blocking them off from moving west, because apparently somehow the concept of "boat" was lost west of the Mississippi.
There are other changes in the map. France still runs Quebec and Acadia, a few of the states have slightly different names ("Kansa," "Penn's Sylvania," so on), but most of the borders of this world could be mapped onto ours with nary a change.
Now, we've had arguments in POD
about "butterfly effects" of geographical and/or ecological changes and how they could change history, or just damp out unnoticeably. As most of you know, I usually plug for the "change" column – Dale Speirs has been going for the "damp out" one (at least, in the recent "Island California" scenario). But I think we can all agree, this
big a change isn't a butterfly, it's a bloody wave of nuclear bombers! It's big enough that, far from just the United States, or Britain, or the Cheyenne being unlikely, humans
But let's simplify the history problems a bit – by ignoring everything up to the history of the United States and saying "somehow" none of these geologic changes affected Europe (or European colonization of the Americas, or – somehow – the Indians who lived in
the Americas). And by ignoring the fact that he's populated his world with people from this (in this case, I'm talking both as "peoples" and as individuals
. Yep, we're back to that
old problem again!) so that "somehow" we still end up with a Lincoln and a Custer...
Logic Error Example, from their (former) Webpage:
"Better Than Any Horse...
Whistlers are bipedal ornithosaurs, modeled after parasaurolophus. They are about 12-15 feet long from head to tail, and have a long, hollow crest of bone that extends backward from their head. They use these crests in their calls, sounding something like a cross between an elk and a trombone...if you can imagine that!
Whistlers travel in "flocks" that number in the hundreds. They are fleet, and have great endurance.
They replace the horse in the Great Plains...or rather, they filled the empty niche that the Spaniards' horses filled. And, since the whistlers were there, the Indians who lived on the prairie didn't have to wait for the Spaniards to domesticate a beast for riding.
Imagine, now, what the tribes of the Great Plains could have done if they already had a cavalry force when the Europeans arrived!"
I have - and what they would have done is end up nothing like our
tribes of the Great Plains. Given an alternate world viewer, looking at the result, we probably wouldn't even recognize them as Indians! Pity Giambastiani lacks the imagination to realize this...
(you have to use the word "somehow" a lot when talking about this book, because in spite of the fact I kept reading in hopes Giambastiani would explain his world's history better, he didn't. Personally, I don't think he
has any idea how either)
...Somehow, U.S. history has gone almost exactly the same – with a few exceptions (that in themselves
should have changed the rest
of U.S. history...).
One of those exception that should have changed things big time is that Giambastiani has the tech level be a couple of decades ahead on this world (so that they can have a dirigible – the "Cloud" that fell in the title).
Another is that colonization patterns look to be totally different (large areas that are states on OTL are still territories there – and, of course – there's no western
states and territories at all, which should mean that without them to draw away colonists, the "Midwestern" territories would be built up and turned into states even earlier
than on OTL, if anything).
Another is that France (and Spain, but we'll ignore them for a minute) still has a big colony in what here would be Eastern Canada. This suggests that France won (or at least didn't lose
) the Seven Years War. But that war led
to the conditions that created the War of Independence and the United States! Change that war and, well, if you get a U.S. at all, it's going to be different!
Let's focus on one example here of how absurd all this history is:
President (formerly General) George Armstrong Custer –
He fought in the Mexican war – in spite of the fact that a quick look at his own map shows that the U.S. and "Mexico" (still called "Nueva Espana" and still a part of Spain, so even by the iffy logic of the book, shouldn't that have been the U.S./Spanish
war?) have not a single inch
of border in common, nor is there even any Texas to start the war over!
He fought in the Civil War 1861-1865 – in spite of the fact that (again) a quick look at the map shows that there are almost twice as many Northern states as Southern, so that the conditions that led to the war – let alone let the war last four years
– are not just unlikely, but impossible!
Heck, there's even a West Virginia
on this ATL – how the heck does the course of the war match that
I'm ranting a bit here, I know it. It's just that Giambastiani has made absolutely no
attempt to make this even "AH-Lite." Compared to this, the history of the Draka is instantly believable and Stars and Stripes Forever's
is unarguably realistic! Judging by his bibliography, Giambastiani has written mainly fantasy prior to this and it shows. This isn't an AH world, it's not even an "alternate reality." It's the worst kind of fantasy
world, where the author does a quick map, lobs in a few "dragons" here and there, and then just sticks our world peoples
all over it, with no effort made to amend them to the changed conditions that they've been placed in.
Okay, a three page review/rant is perhaps overdoing it a bit, it's just that it is about the worse piece of AH I've read...period (the more I think about it, the worse it gets...). Heck, Stars & Stripes Forever
was premium stuff compared to this, and even in the latest Turtledove opus' (opi?) there are at least attempts at figuring out what their POD will do to people, societies and culture. It's one of the few books I have no
interested at all
Avoid like the plague.