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Marching Through Georgia by S.M. Stirling
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Marching Through Georgia (edition 1991)

by S.M. Stirling

Series: Draka (1)

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243475,207 (3.77)8
An alternate history epic that changes the participants and the stakes in World War II.
Member:jjmcgaffey
Title:Marching Through Georgia
Authors:S.M. Stirling
Info:Baen (1991), Paperback, 410 pages
Collections:Your library, Boxed, Working on, BOMBs
Rating:
Tags:Fic, SF, !Sale:FOAFL, _BB_SFBoxes, __scanned, _BB_SF_13

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Marching Through Georgia by S. M. Stirling

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I've always enjoyed alternate histories; but having been brought up in the British soft left, I avoided the Draka novels of S.M.Stirling for a long time as I made assumptions about their racism based on the blurbs. But eventually, I decided that I should address this matter, as much for my own good so that my opinions were formed from an actual reading instead of just assumptions.

I was a little surprised by what I found, but not much. The racism of the Draka - slave-owning refugees from the losing (but still North American) side in the War of Independence who fled to southern Africa - was something of a given. Just making it so that the Draka are prejudiced against everyone else, of whatever ethnicity, does not make it any better. By the mid-twentieth century, they are depicted as being similar to the more enlightened slave-owners. Some of the individual Draka characters display more flexibility in their personal arrangements than the State would be entirely comfortable with. Indeed, the individual character portraits in this novel (within the constraints of the plot) are perhaps the best part of it.

In this novel we are in 1942. The Draka (so named because they are inhabitants of a Cape Colony renamed after Sir Francis Drake, though later influxes of like-minded Nordic peoples served to prompt the move from Drake to dragon) rule over all of Africa; and following their intervention in the Great War of 1914-18, ostensibly on the side of the British, they hold large swathes of the Middle East and Central Asia. Europe remains in political unease, with the added complication of the Draka and their political agenda thrown into the mix; Franco's Nationalists lose the Spanish Civil War but Nazi Germany pursues the same course as in our world and World War 2 breaks out in 1939. The Draka come into direct combat with German forces in the southern Caucasus, which is where the novel starts., Stirling adds an American war correspondent to contrast the Dominion of the Draka with liberal America; both depictions are painted in fairly primary colours. Having the serf class (by this time, the Draka have abandoned slavery in name, but replaced it with indentured serfdom, to all intents and purposes the same) speak in a patois familiar from most plantation stories only serves to make the point about the Draka. The increasing importance of technological advance has led to the Draka having a growing class of educated, sophisticated serfs but these are hardly seen in the novel.

Where I had a real problem with the novel was accepting the premise of the alternate history itself. By forming a nonconformist, meritocratic republic, the Draka are shown to have drawn to themselves freethinkers and advanced technicians and scientists throughout their history, so that by 1942 they are possibly 5-10 years ahead of Nazi Germany, their nearest rivals. But having made the Draka such political radicals in comparison to other world powers, Stirling effectively blots out most of the later world history that many of us are familiar with. A good alternate history can add in cameo appearances by historical individuals, who then serve to both show us the extent of the divergence of the histories through the divergent lives of familiar names, and at the same time give us a reference point so we can relate to that different history. Not so here. The only historical figure namechecked in the story - beyond world leaders - is General von Paulus, the German commander at Stalingrad. Not too many people are going to relate to him.

I also found the world-building suspect; the Draka's technological advancement is supposed to arise from Richard Trevithick, the Cornish steam pioneer, emigrating to Africa in 1796 and developing the high-pressure steam engine by 1803. That really would not have happened; Trevithick perfected his atmospheric engines to meet a given demand - that of draining Cornish mines that suffered with water ingress through being coastally located - and his work depended on an infrastructure of iron foundries and coal for fuel - not in quantity (in terms of 'size of coalfield') but in density (in terms of 'number of collieries and number of ironfounders'). Trevithick's work would not have led to high-pressure steam; that was the work of the Stephensons in the north-east of England some twenty years later.

The other issue I had was with the Germans. Stirling pits an SS Panzergrenadier regiment against his characters, and writes them as no mean combatants, but crude and unskilled when pitted against his Draka, who have purity of spirit and a rigour of training akin to ancient Sparta. Well, perhaps in direct comparison that might seem reasonable, but the individual Germans we are shown do not look like the flower of Aryan manhood.

Perhaps my main dislocation with this story was that the Draka were supposed to be a British-supported colony; but over time, they attracted German Hessian mercenaries, displaced Icelanders and anyone, really, who shared the values and the genes of the Draka. I suspect that this was merely the author's device for making the Draka as he wanted to see them, rather than suggesting the likeliest outcome of the divergent history he describes.

Let me give credit where it is due. The writing itself is vivid, and the account of small unit combat operations has the ring of authenticity (especially in terms of cold, wetness and mud). Those who like this sort of thing will find that this is the sort of thing they like. But (politics aside), I found the whole exercise too far detached from our own world to have relevance or allow identification. Not a book for me. ( )
1 vote RobertDay | Dec 27, 2019 |
This is actually two books woven together. It is the story bible of his Draka series and SMS's usual excellent creation of an alternate society. However it is also the best small unit WW2 combat novel I have ever seen. Even if alternate history is not your thing read the battle chapters. ( )
1 vote agingcow2345 | Dec 10, 2010 |
I'm giving this a solid 3 rating. Stirling is one of my husband's favorite authors, and the Draka series is his all-time favorite. My husband would likely give this a solid 4-5.

I read this book on my husband's recommendation, and will likely do the same with the rest of the series. I had a hard time getting into it because the characters were a little flat. I found the little histories at the beginning of the chapters to often be more interesting than the actual story. However, toward the middle/end of the book, I found it easier to read and the story better. I'm still a bit dark on the world-building, but I'm sure if I keep reading, I should have a better understanding of it. I still think the characters are not as well-rounded and three-dimensional as I would like, and the plot is a bit simplistic, but I can see my husband's attraction. ( )
1 vote SLHobbs | Dec 17, 2009 |
An alternate history romp through the mountains of southern Georgia.
The world took a different turn after the end of the American Civil War. The die hards of the south did not give up. They moved to South Africa and built the strongest, most militaristic dynasty the world has every known.
The time is now the 1940's and the Straka hold sway over a third of the world.
In southern Georgia the Straka have opened a new front against the declining Nazis. A young Straka Centurion learns what is means to be a leader.

An excellent story. Recommended. ( )
  tcgardner | Apr 3, 2009 |
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