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Fitzpatrick's War
Theodore Judson
DAW, 481 pages

Fitzpatrick's War
Theodore Judson
Theodore Judson grew up in a farming community in western Wyoming and graduated from the University of Wyoming. He is the author of Tom Wedderburn's Life (2002), Fitzpatrick's War (2004) and The Martian General's Daughter (2008).

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SF Site Review: The Martian General's Daughter

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A review by Nathan Brazil

'"The Americans were a degenerate people," I said. "They brought on their own destruction."

"So our Historians say," said Fitz. "Our Historians are like the authors of the books of Samuel; they deny too much. Again, winners write History. Winners write all history. We have no trustworthy record of what the Americans were really like."'

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Fitzpatrick's War is steampunk speculative future history, beginning in the year 2415. The initial setting is a North America under the control of the United Yukon Confederacy; a puritanical, militaristic regime, loosely modeled on Victorian England. The story is presented as the memoir of Sir Robert Mayfair Bruce, and is a personal account of a man who, at times, was a close friend of the most powerful political figure of his day. Fitz, the Fitzpatrick of the title, more properly known as Isaac Prophet Fitzpatrick, begins the story as a young man, the son and heir to the Consul, the Yukon head of state. As seen through Bruce's eyes, Fitz makes ruthless use of his family connections to manipulate everything and everyone around him, first by arranging for brilliant exam results for himself and his college friends, and eventually by starting the utterly insane Four Points world war, which consumes the lives of tens of millions. The underlying theme here is an undisguised re-imaging of Alexander the Great and his bloody conquest of the world.

The views presented are from two angles; Bruce's personal recollections, and annotations by professor Roland Modesty Van Buren, a 26th century scholar who regards Fitzpatrick as a hero and Bruce as a liar. Hundreds of pages contain footnotes intended to refute or discredit Bruce's eye-witness account of history in the making. Theodore Judson uses this device to examine both personal motives and far wider concepts, such as how history is always written by the victors, and the tendency for absolute power to corrupt absolutely. More subtly, he asks the question what would anyone really do when presented with a critical moment which he knew was the one chance to stop a genocidal madman, if it might mean the end of his own life.

The book was brimming with potential, and at first seemed rather unusual in its approach. I particularly enjoyed the comedic Yukon interpretations of video scraps depicting 21st Century sporting events. Not so clever was the hard slog of page after page of heavy exposition, with very little dialogue to break things up, and a distinct lack of characters with whom the reader could empathise. Even worse, was the poor realisation of the steampunk world. Yukon society is deliberately deprived of electricity by a secretive political/scientific group called the Timermen. They alone control advanced electrical technology, including a network of satellites, which at their whim can provide satnav style guidance, global communications, and surveillance of enemy positions. The big problem here is that the Timermen's interference is know to the ruling elite, yet occurs without the slightest complaint or counteraction from the Yukon government. The author also scores spectacular own goals by presenting ridiculous technology, such as steam-powered jet aircraft which employ no electronics, and genetically adjusted insects, apparently created without the use of computers! At one point he even rips-off Starlite, a fire retardant product invented by Maurice Ward. Similarly there are plotting problems which make no sense, such as the use of locust swarms as a weapon long after the enemy ground force has been allowed to mobilise. Surely, dropping such a weapon while troops were still in their home territory would have been a far more effective use? However, if Judson had followed such basic tactical sense, he would not have been able to treat the reader to the bloody destruction of some twenty million Chinese troops by Yukon ground and air forces, against which they never had any realistic chance.

The book also fails when depicting its central characters. At no point in Bruce's memoirs does he develop enough backbone to stand up to Fitz on a serious issue, or even to his own wife, Charlotte. She is a lower-class girl with almost no formal education, who Bruce has always known to be under the influence of the Timermen. Particularly cringe-worthy were the many scenes where Charlotte acts in a deliberately patronising fashion toward her husband, and publicly belittles him as a means to bend him to her will. Bruce is supposedly one of the great military men in Yukon history, and yet apparently does not object to having been manipulated into marriage with someone allied to a dangerous organisation outside of Yukon government control. Meanwhile, at the top of Yukon society, Fitz and the other lords remain unconcerned with the Timermen's total control over the use of electrical power, which in turn retards the whole of Yukon society, forcing it to remain in an agrarian state. A status quo which no government in human history would willingly endure.

Fitzpatrick's War could have been great. Instead, it is largely missed opportunity, dodgy characterization, and nonsense. All sprinkled with the noxious odour of political correctness. I began reading with the impression that I was holding something bold and different, only to finish thinking that I'd wasted hours of my life on a load of twaddle.

Copyright © 2010 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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