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    Review of THE GUNS OF THE SOUTH by Harry Turtledove (see his website)

    Del Rey, 1992

    In 1864, the south is in desperate straits as the north finally selects active generals and begins to push its final offensive. But strange merchants arrive with a deal for the Confederacy. They offer a new gun, the AK-47, for a price of only $50 Confederate, and can make hundreds of thousands available. Automatic weaponry can hardly help making a huge difference and Grant's Wilderness campaign, far from a costly stalemate, becomes a huge Confederate victory with Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia smashing straight through to Washington D.C. The merchants have an ulterior motive, however. They are an extremist racist group of Afrikaners (the AWB) from our own near-future who intend to use the south as a launch pad for their own war against rights for the African American and for blacks everywhere.

    Once the Confederacy's existance is confirmed, the south becomes convulsed between Robert E. Lee who fears the Afrikaners, and General Forest, who buys into their racist doctrine. With South-African gold, modern weapons, and modern political methods, the AWB intends to ensure that the nation they preserved takes their path--no matter what they need to do.

    Author Harry Turtledove (see more reviews of novels by Turtledove) narrates this fascinating alternate history through the eyes of Robert E. Lee and Sergeant Nate Caudell of the 47th North Carolina. Caudell seems caught up in most of the action--from Wilderness to Washington D.C. to the battle against AWB in their heartland, giving a close-up look at how a rapid-fire weapon could have transformed war (as indeed it has). Turtledove's Lee is a gentleman, but also a thinker who sees that the southern stand on race is wrong and destructive to the nation he has adopted, but who still carries the casual racism of his time.

    THE GUNS OF THE SOUTH makes for fascinating reading. Many of Turtledove's later works adapt devices he develops here, in a setting of interest to most U.S. readers. The explicit racism of many of the characters will make some readers uncomfortable, but it is certainly an accurate reflection of the times. Some readers may also question whether AWB would do so much for the Confederacy without a more explicit promise to support its causes in the future, and wonder why it chose the southern states rather than the Boer colonies for their support, but this doesn't detract from the reader's enjoyment.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 12/12/03

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