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Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

Underground Airlines

by Ben H. Winters

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9385315,369 (3.91)103
"It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it: smartphones, social networking and Happy Meals. Save for one thing: the Civil War never occurred. A gifted young Black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service. He's got plenty of work. In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called "the Hard Four." On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that something isn't right--with the case file, with his work, and with the country itself. A mystery to himself, Victor suppresses his memories of his childhood on a plantation, and works to infiltrate the local cell of a abolitionist movement called the Underground Airlines. Tracking Jackdaw through the back rooms of churches, empty parking garages, hotels, and medical offices, Victor believes he's hot on the trail. But his strange, increasingly uncanny pursuit is complicated by a boss who won't reveal the extraodinary stakes of Jackdaw's case, as well as by a heartbreaking young woman and her child who may be Victor's salvation. Victor himself may be the biggest obstacle of all--though his true self remains buried, it threatens to surface. Victor believes himself to be a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he has worked so hard to earn. But in pursuing Jackdaw, Victor discovers secrets at the core of the country's arrangement with the Hard Four, secrets the government will preserve at any cost. Underground Airlines is a ground-breaking novel, a wickedly imaginative thriller, and a story of an America that is more like our own than we'd like to believe"--… (more)
Recently added bybradleyhorner, pinax, private library, cindyst2000, rena40, JonOwnbey, Mazoga, Conor.Murphy
  1. 10
    The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (elenchus)
    elenchus: That popular culture phenomenon of the uncanny twins, two works appearing together yet unrelated in authorship, production, inspiration. Why do they appear together? In this case, each is compelling enough to read based on their own, but for me irresistable now they've shown up onstage at the same time. Ben Winters's Underground Airlines a bizarro underground railroad, updated (for reasons left implicit) for air travel; Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad making the escape trail a concrete reality. Each also addresses our world, in between stations.… (more)
  2. 00
    American War: A novel by Omar El Akkad (sturlington)
    sturlington: Speculative fiction about alternative Souths.

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» See also 103 mentions

English (52)  Spanish (1)  All languages (53)
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
Just imagine for a moment an establishment spook and modern slave wrapped into one, pressed into service to hunt down and reel back in other escaped slaves, and you've got yourself a tracker right out of the bad old days of pre-civil war. A black man forced to do the devil's work.

Now imagine him in our modern world, where the American Civil War had ended in an economic truce and slavery is alive and well and made so very efficient.

Hell, just imagine how easy it'd be to track down every slave with GPS and have a world tweeting happy PR banalities to hide the horrible truth of slums in our brightest cities, labor camps like private prisons, communities openly and proudly racist and happy to thumb their noses at the rest of the world at just how they've managed to fool the IRS, twist the legal establishment, and all the while tell themselves just how humane they are to the downtrodden.

Wait... is this an alternate timeline? An excellent What-If novel? A deeply horrific and oppressive dystopia so very much like the world we've got now?

Yes. Fancy that.

But the point is, we're living it through the devil's eyes, the scared black man in this nightmare world who is forced to do unspeakable things to men and women who should be his brothers, and if you think this is a heavy-handed political tale, then think again. I got sucked right in just fine and loved the story, it's twists and turns. Do you think he finds a way to help his brothers and sisters, and get out of his horrid servitude? Does he infiltrate the Underground Railroad (ahem, sorry, Airline) or does he betray or get betrayed?

Just how complex does this tale get?

Pretty complex. And Very Satisfying. :)

It actually makes me believe that for all the crap we're living through in *this* world, I'm still happy to be *here*. ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Picked up for the Read Harder challenge: alternate history

"But even after all these years, I still found myself astonished daily by the small miracles of liberty. Just walking out of a restaurant with a clear head and a full stomach, holding a styrofoam box with leftover food inside it, smelling the wet asphalt, feeling a light drizzle as it condensed on my forehead. Just knowing I could take a walk around the block if I wanted to, go to a park and sit on a bench and read a newspaper." A freed slave experiencing life outside the "Hard Four" states that still condone and embrace slavery.

What an intriguing premise - the Civil War never happened. Take a minute and consider the implications. Instead the government made a deal with some states to allow slavery to exist and flourish with 'strict laws about discipline (punishment)'. As always happens in life, people are forced into compromising positions.

I think Winters does an excellent job of portraying a very conflicted man (Victor). He started life as a slave, he escapes but is picked up by the government and coerced into becoming a slave hunter, forced to hunt and return his people to slavery. Eventually events put him in an untenable position and his well constructed mental walls begin to crumble.

I liked the occasional twists of pop culture (Michael Jackson, James Brown) just as something interesting to contribute to the twisted premise. Being white, I make no claim to know or fully understand the feelings of slavery, but to me, the descriptions of what freedom might feel like and the distress Victor experienced and buried, felt like an honest attempt to empathize.

After all the build up, the little bit of mystery and the twists of who was involved in the bigger picture, the ending felt a bit rushed and tidy, though ultimately satisfying.

Recommended and certainly lost of fodder here for book club reads. ( )
  Terrie2018 | Feb 21, 2020 |
The book is not without it's faults, but the best part is that when you think you know it's going to end like any other story that is when it turns on you.

It's a little campy with some of the pop culture references and not very historically realistic as to how the modern world would look like without the Civil War having taken place. But overall it it's one of the best books i've ever read. ( )
  alent1234 | Dec 5, 2019 |

A great alternative reality that reminds us that Jim Crow is alive and well. ( )
  JosephHorgan | Nov 4, 2019 |
I love a good alternate history, and this book provides a view of a possible modern day where the events around the civil war had been different and slavery still exists in certain states. The idea is completely horrific, and I think the author does a good job establishing a modern version of American slavery. There's plenty of twists along the way as you slowly learn more about the narrator's history and I enjoyed the slow realization of his character. I thought the ending was a bit anticlimactic, but it worked for the story. ( )
  duchessjlh | Aug 28, 2019 |
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