STARS AND STRIPES IN PERIL
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In the aftermath of the British defeat at the combined hands of the Union and Confederate forces in Stars and Stripes Forever, Harry Harrison continues the rebuilding of the United States by following their continuing war against the British. Set in 1863, a newly re-formed US has managed to incorporate both armies and governments under one umbrella and has begun to change
When it comes to portraying the English, Harrison has created a cast of two-dimensional, Jingoistic characters, from the incredibly stupid Queen Victoria, herein portrayed as a harridan, to her short tempered Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston. The Woosterian incompetence of the British make the reader wonder how they ever could have built an empire, let alone subjugate the Irish for such a lengthy period of time.
Even the American characters are limited in their portrayal and many are either dropped part of the way through the novel or only appear as main characters for a chapter. As Stars and Stripes in Peril is only the second of three novels, it is possible that Harrison will revisit these characters and their situations in the final novel.
In many ways, Stars and Stripes in Peril reads like an Irish nationalist pipe dream. While the Irish situation isn't necessarily simplified, Harrison only presents one view. Irishmen who are sympathetic to the British cause are noted as giving trouble to the Americans and the Catholic Irish, but their numbers appear to be so small as to be virtually non-existent.
One of the ideas which is so interesting in Stars and Stripes in Peril is the way enmities among the Irish linger and are impossible to put aside while the dispute between North and South in the US can be easily ignored, even if it isn't completely shoved under the rug. Portions of the novel which deal with the antagonisms between North and South or Black and White are given short shrift, when they form some of the more intriguing parts of the book. Harrison could have strengthened his book immensely by drawing parallels between the rifts in US culture and the rift between the Irish and the English.
The speed with which activity occurs in Stars and Stripes in Peril is quite mind-boggling. The British manage to build a road across Mexico in practically no time. American ships are designed, built, launched and round Cape Horn in practically the time it takes to say their names. Other actions, ranging from military invasions to assassinations, occur in similarly rapid fashion.
Harry Harrison has some interesting ideas in Stars and Stripes in Peril, but in many ways he seems a little too close to his material to make it more than a jingoistic piece of propaganda. While the novel doesn't appear rushed, it could be improved by more detail and analysis of what Harrison is trying to do and a deeper look at fewer characters to give them more life and a deeper sense of reality.
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