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Underground Airlines

by Ben H. Winters

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,1787214,340 (3.9)108
"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)
  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
    Delicious Foods by James Hannaham (susanbooks)
    susanbooks: Underground Airlines is very good --I gave it 4 stars -- but Delicious Foods covers the same ground so much more profoundly & doesn't need any speculation to do it.
  3. 00
    American War by Omar El Akkad (sturlington)
    sturlington: Speculative fiction about alternative Souths.
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English (70)  Spanish (1)  All languages (71)
Showing 1-5 of 70 (next | show all)
In this dystopian alternate history, the American Civil War was never fought, and slavery still exists in four southern states. The main character is an ex-slave forced by the government to turn bounty hunter. In his search for an escapee, he encounters members of the Underground Airlines, an updated version of the Underground Railroad.

I had mixed feelings about this book. I felt the idea was original and it kept my interest. The world-building was interesting, though it left me wondering how it could be so close to today’s world (or perhaps that was the author’s point). The protagonist was developed in considerable depth. His struggles of conscience and flashbacks to his slavery days were powerful, but the other characters were very thinly drawn. Unfortunately, the execution of the story reminded me of a run-of-the mill thriller with lots of convenient plot devices, crimes that evaporated into thin air with no consequences, and characters exhibiting amazing skills on the spur-of-the-moment without prior mention. The premise is so disturbing that I thought it needed to be explored in more depth than a thriller could deliver. It seemed a missed opportunity to explore racial issues in a meaningful way.

If you like thrillers, spy novels, or detective stories with lots of plot twists, you may enjoy this book. It can be read as a standalone, but is almost certainly a setup for a sequel. Contains slavery, racial intolerance, violence, and profanity. ( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
DNF. The only thing going for it was the premise. The world building really needed work because making the Civil War not happen and slavery still legal in four states doesn't cut. A lot had to change including technical advances, government, racial relations, immigration, politics between nations, literature, history, philosophy, history in other countries, relationships between the sexes, etc. but didn't. The author doesn't even try. This was a drop in and cut out approach that just fell flat about a third of the way in that I had to give up on this book. ( )
  pacbox | Jul 9, 2022 |
Winters, Ben H. Underground Airlines. Mulholland Books, 2016.
Lots of writers have done alternate histories in which the South wins the Civil War. In Ben Winters’ Underground Airlines, it seems not to have happened. Lincoln is assassinated early in 1861, and a compromise is reached preserving slavery, now converted to long-term indenture. In the 21st century, slavery is still legal in four Southern states and something like the Fugitive Slave Act is still in force. The FBI tracks down abolitionists and escaped slaves trying to reach Canada. Victor, the novel’s first-person narrator, has been co-opted by the FBI to investigate these groups in Indianapolis to gain his freedom. His own escape is prevented by an implant that allows his handlers to track his movements. Victor is a well-drawn character with understandable emotional and intellectual conflicts. The story lags a bit in the middle but comes to a satisfying and dramatic collusion. 4 stars. ( )
  Tom-e | Jun 3, 2022 |
It was an interesting time to be reading this book - given the state of the political situation in America. The hypothesized setting is way too believable for my comfort. I'm uncertain about the last few chapters - something about the ending just isn't working for me, but I can't put my finger on why yet. ( )
  suzannekmoses | May 20, 2022 |
Fascinating story of an alternative America where slavery still exists. The author created a complete world that is very like our own and very different. Held my attention and kept me interested throughout. ( )
  NanetteLS | Feb 11, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 70 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Winters, Ben H.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
DeMeritt, WilliamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my kids, and their friends
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"So," said the young priest. "I think that I'm the man you're looking for."
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"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"--

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