by Brad Linaweaver and J. Kent Hastings
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
While the Spanish Civil War was a major event in the history of the twentieth century, it is an underutilized event in the subgenre of alternate history. Brad Linaweaver and J. Kent Hastings try to rectify the omission with their novel Anarquía.
Anarquía is filled with a variety of characters, many of them historical. Hedy Lamarr, Wernher von Braun, and Konrad Zuse play out their own roles in the 1930s, but also move into different roles following a meeting between von Braun and Zuse with Lamarr on a train as she escaped from her husband, Fritz Mandl. Into this mix, the authors throw the fictional pulp writer Howard Davidson, who travels to Spain for both flavor for his writings and to see what is happening in the struggle between the Nationalists and the Loyalists.
While the major battles of the Spanish Civil War rage between the Nationalists led by Francisco Franco and supported by the Axis which would eventually fight the Allies in World War II a few years later and the Loyalists, supported only by the Soviet Union of Josef Stalin and a ragtag collection of idealists from around the world, Linaweaver and Hastings focus on the role played in their world by a group of anarchists. The title, however, refers not just to their own goal of setting up their own form of government, but the fact that numerous different groups, from Fascists to Trotskyites to Agorists to Nazis were fighting over the Iberian peninsula, creating an anarchy in the heart of the twentieth century.
Given the short length of the book, the novel only runs to 193 pages, Linaweaver and Hastings attempt to juggle numerous characters and even more political ideologies. The result is that they can't do justice to any of their characters, whether historical or fictional. Furthermore, their depictions of the various ideologies are muddied, although this is somewhat alleviated by the glossary the authors provide as part of the after material to the novel. Unfortunately, while reading the novel, the authors rarely stay with any one character long enough to build significant sympathy for the character and his or her predicaments.
The characters spend practically all their time ruminating on the political realities and perceptions of what is happening in Spain. Rarely do the characters have thoughts which are not contaminated by the thoughts of how they fit into the political situation. While this may be likely for people in their positions, more people are like the minor character Orgaz, a Spanish farmer who has no interest in the politics surrounding his life, but also has an unreasonably stoic reaction to his own entanglement in those politics.
The book is heavily illustrated by photographs of the characters, both major and minor, as well as the locations they visit. the covers of the magazines Davidson writes for are featured prominently as well. Their inclusion adds to the flavor of the book, although the images tend to the small size and are not very well reproduced. Many of the pictures would be served well if they had their own specific captions rather than whatever references to them appear in the text.
Anarquía is a novel of tremendous potential, damaged by its complexity and its brevity. The authors would have better served the story, perhaps, by focusing on fewer characters and allowing those characters greater latitude with regard both to their actions and their thoughts. A longer book would have allowed the authors to more fully examine the various political ideologies which existed in Spain in the 1930s and draw more distinctions for the reader who might not be as politically savvy.
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