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How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove
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How Few Remain

by Harry Turtledove

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Timeline-191 (1)

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1,0091413,546 (3.65)34
An alternate-history novel in which, after winning the Civil War, the Confederate States of America are attacked by the United States for buying parts of Mexico. The novel centers on ex-Civil War protagonists, including an Abraham Lincoln who has embraced socialism. By the author of Guns of the South.… (more)
  1. 10
    Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore (stevetempo)
    stevetempo: Another approach on the civil war alteration.
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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
A highly-enjoyable and thoroughly-researched alt history jaunt that explores the repercussions of a Confederate victory during the Civil War. The book jumps between perspectives on both sides of the conflict, and is wonderfully nuanced. People are people, and are complex creatures... though Custer is the easiest one to hate, no question. I do wish there had been some female perspectives as well, but I understand why there were not because of the tight military and political focus, mostly on men who survived the previous conflict--or on rising stars, such as Theodore Roosevelt. Since I wrote about Roosevelt in my own alt-history series, I especially enjoyed Turtledove's take on the impetuous young civilian using his wealth and charisma to gather a volunteer troop almost twenty years in advance of when he actually assembled his Rough Riders. ( )
  ladycato | Aug 30, 2018 |
Would have been four stars, but took away half a star in revenge for sex It was a near miss for the Confederacy when General Robert E. Lee's aide recovered a document he'd lost, that detailed Lee's entire plan for the invasion of the Union in 1862. Just imagine the disaster that would have befallen those brave Southern boys had that document fallen into Yankee hands! Mercy!

Oh wait, that's not how it happened? Pardon me. I'm from Wyoming. Our school system teaches Wyoming history, to which accounts of the War Between the States are merely an ancillary in that they explain why a lot of members of the U.S. Calvary charged with protecting Manifest Destiny-enacting white settlers against Red Indians in the West had fewer than their original compliment of digits or limbs, or raging cases of PTSD. I'm hazy on details.

No, not really. But the Civil War still isn't something I've studied too terribly closely, which may be a shame, but then again may not be, as far as my ability to appreciate what Harry Turtledove has achieved in this founding document of his sprawling alternate history of North America, the departure point for which is the aforementioned recovery of Lee's invasion plan. Without that vital intelligence, Turtledove says, the Union might not have won at Antietam, which means President Lincoln would not have had that victory announcement to serve as his springboard for announcing Emancipation, which means Great Britain and France don't have a clear moral choice in deciding whether or not to continue supporting the Confederacy, which means the Confederacy winds up winning the War and North America winds up with four internationally recognized nation states instead of three (well, okay, three nation states and one Dominion).

That premise established, the action proper of this novel starts up about 20 years later. The Confederacy is buying the provinces of Sonora and Chihuahua from Mexico in order to acquire a Pacific port and the land access to extend its railroads to it. The USA has elected its first Republican President since Abraham Lincoln's one and only term ended in the disgrace of losing the War; this new President needs to look tough and declares war (Lincoln has taken to the railways to travel the diminished United States of America as a quasi-Marxist labor agitator*). Frederick Douglass is an old man, still hopeful that someday, someone is going to give a crap about the countless slaves still in bondage in the Confederacy. Old Yellowhair, George Armstrong Custer, is charged with containing a Mormon rebellion in Utah. Samuel Clemens (whom real history knows better as Mark Twain) reports and editorializes on events in the pages of the San Francisco Call and has uxorious sex with his wife (yeah, I could have done without that mental image too, guys). Jeb Stuart is in charge of moving Confederate troops into the newly-purchased territories as a first step towards colonizing them for the C.S.A. Teddy Roosevelt, Montana rancher, watches events unfolding and hopes the new President will hold fast, but decides his own help is needed to do it and forms up his own Unauthorized Regiment. Etc.

It's always fun to play "What If" over a few beers or whatever, but who else has taken that game to such lengths? Turtledove went on to write ten more novels in this universe he created. Ten. Am I going to read the rest of them?

Well, I'm not sure. This was my first Harry Turtledove, and I did find it diverting and moderately absorbing, chiefly because it was fun to imagine these historical figures in circumstances so radically different from what they're famous for, but, well, those reviewers who have described How Few Remain as historical fan fiction are kind of right. I'm told subsequent books in the series are much, much better than this first book, which news I always greet with irritation; I've just endured 596 pages of this solely so that I understand what's going on in better future books? I'd say that if those future books were solely about Turtledove's own characters, I'd be disinclined to continue, but I can't help but be curious about, e.g. Lincoln, Twain, Roosevelt and Custer** in this alternate timeline. Especially after enjoying the mental spectacle of Custer with Gatling guns. And Lincoln delivering stonking Marxist rants. And Douglass...

Ah me, Douglass. Despite his advanced age, he dons his journalist hat*** and accompanies a Union flanking attack that brings him onto Confederate soil for the first time (he doesn't count his years as a slave because it was still part of the United States then), and when he sees that the little structures he sees burning all over the place are slave shanties, it's impossible not to share his rage. "May they all burn, and all the big houses with them."

Which is to say that, where most of the other historical figures and characters come off as tremendously unpleasant, if not outright assholes, Lincoln and Douglass (ha ha) shine as the novel's only real heroes, both of them old men, generally despised if not outright hated, bowed but not broken, sad but not embittered by the Union's defeat in the first war, only sort of hopeful that a second might change anything but doing their damndest to bring about the changes they hope for regardless of what happens on the battlefields. They make up for any number of disappointments (Turtledove succumbs to a failing that is one of my great pets peeve as a reader, the impulse to use "amber liquid" as a synonym for beer or scotch. Why do you do that, writers? Why do you always pick that beverage as a point to vary your vocabulary, and why must you always invoke the image of body fluids when you do? WHY, WRITERS, WHY?) and ick moments (for some reason, sex scenes involving Mark Twain and his wife, and George Custer and not-his-wife, have scarred me for life). They might even lead me to look into more of this series.

*A lot of people are nonplussed by Turtledove's version of Lincoln, but I think it makes a lot of sense, provided one never forgets that this Lincoln is one who not only did not get assassinated but lived to a ripe old age in a world in which the institution of slavery persisted in North America, and no one in the defeated North gave much of a damn about them (and many blamed the war on them, as alt-Frederick Douglass' story illustrates). So, as Lincoln observes to himself as he prepares to address a fairly unreceptive crowd in Great Falls, Montana: "Without more than a handful of Negroes to exploit, it [the country] battened off the sweat of the poor and the ignorant and the newly arrived and the unlucky." Which is to say that those people wound up having it even worse in Turtledove's alt USA than they did in ours, with no newly-freed slaves to soak up the really dirty jobs. Potentially, this could even have retarded the development of the middle class whose interests and abilities so characterized the 20th century in our world. So yeah, I buy Lincoln as a golden years Marxist under these circumstances. For great justice.

**Though I've got to say that Ol' Yellowhair -- and a lot of other Union military leaders -- comes off as a considerable jerk, even before he gets to Utah, where he's hell-bent on stringing up all the leaders of the Mormon Church ostensibly for inciting the Territory to rebel while the Union wages its second war with the Confederacy, but, one suspects, really over polygamy. Everyone is really obsessed with polygamy in this novel, and perhaps that's true for the times, but man, did the multiple wives jokes get old after a few hundred pages. Also: I didn't think anything could ever really make me hate Teddy Roosevelt, but this book did. I had to keep gritting my teeth and reminding myself this is just a character kind of loosely based on Roosevelt. As were all of the historical figures, of course, even the ones who kept their pants on.

***But somehow never encounters, say, Matthew Brady, whose absence from this novel is glaring. I would have accepted at least a passing reference to how he had died or something, you know? ( )
  KateSherrod | Aug 1, 2016 |
I really wanted to like this alternate history about what would have happened if the South had won the American Civil War. It seemed like a good idea to read How Few Remain, because I know very little about the Civil War (or, if you're a Southerner, the War Between the States), and so wouldn't get too ticked off if the author got something egregiously wrong. So while the history resonated true to me, there was too much to keep up with. And a very anti-climactic ending.

Using the incident of lost plans that could have won the war for the South, How Few Remain instead imagines a reality in which the South did win. This causes what we now know as the United States to be split into two countries, the United States and the Confederate States, where slavery is still legal and encouraged.

10 years after the War of Secession, the CSA buys Sonora and Chihuahua from the Empire of Mexico for a trifling amount and the government of the USA loses its mind and declares war ... again. Soon, the entire continent is enmeshed in wars and skirmishes involving Britain, France, and Canada supporting the CSA. The USA just stands on principle, and a perverse hope that being anti-slavery will be enough to win the war, this time for sure. Which, you know, that trick never works.

So Sam Clemens never becomes Mark Twain and stays in San Francisco as editor of a newspaper so he can report on the idiocy of the US government, and the British warships in the bay bent on blowing San Francisco to smithereens. Abe Lincoln survived his time in office but was not re-elected since now, everyone blames him for the loss of a war which has torn the country in two. Abe tours the North and its territories lecturing to any audience that will listen that labor is akin to slavery, and workers need to stand up for better working conditions. Frederick Douglass lives in Rochester, NY with his wife and son and writes stirring articles and speeches for the freeing of the slaves. Theodore Roosevelt owns a ranch in Montana territory and pays the expenses to form a regiment of volunteers ready to serve their country by beating the Canadians back across the border. The Mormons are up to no good in Utah Territory, taking advantage of the war to insist on living by their religious laws which allow polygamy, against US law. And ... oh right, I don't remember which general winds up in the newest states in the Confederacy working with the Apaches and Mexicans against the US incursion. And then the Apaches and Mexicans have a good ol' time killing each other.

What the heck any of this had to do with this war was really sort of beyond me. And as time went on, and I kept reading to see how Turtledove was going to resolve this mess, it became clear that nothing was going to be resolved ... ever. Was the point of the book that war is pointless? Or that the Civil War, in any history, was stupid? Or ... I don't know ...

Too many characters, too many subplots, salacious incidents which don't really drive the story and, my pet peeve, incorrect history about Christmas trees. I don't recommend this to anyone. ( )
  AuntieClio | Aug 2, 2014 |
Alternate history--what if the South had won the Civil War/War of Secession? Another war...20 years later...and the continent continually separated. The characters are those we might remember: Longstreet as President of CSA, J.E.B. Stuart & George Custer as cavalry commanders, Teddy Roosevelt as a shiny new leader. It all comes together and the reader wonders if it could have happened? ( )
  buffalogr | May 19, 2014 |
Good book over all because the CSA won but its dragged out longer than it needs to be. ( )
  Berserkr14 | Jan 8, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Harry Turtledoveprimary authorall editionscalculated
Crisp, SteveCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eastman, BryantCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kolbert, RuthDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rochling, C.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stevenson, DavidCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Now twenty years have passed away,

Since I here bid farewell

To woods, and fields, and scenes of play,

And school-mates loved so well.

Where many were, how few remain

Of old familiar things!

But seeing these to mind again

The lost and absent brings.

The friends I left that parting day -

How changed, as time has sped!

Young childhood grown, strong manhood gray,

And half of all are dead.

  Abraham Lincoln "My Childhood Home I See Again"

    (1846), stanzas 6-8
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The Army of Northern Virginia was breaking camp.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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