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    Review of THE DISUNITED STATES OF AMERICA by Harry Turtledove (see his website)


    TOR, September 2006

    While Californian Becky Royer is visiting relatives in Virginia, war breaks out between Virginia and Ohio. Ohio has armed the local African Americans and launched a designer virus, but with the virus, travel is shut down and Becky is stuck in a tiny town in western Virginia (what is West Virginia in our reality). Also trapped in the same town is Justin Monroe. Justin claims to be from Virginia, but he is from an alternate time-line--a time line where travel across the time-lines was discovered. The Time Traders travel across the time lines to collect resources for their resource-dependent civilization, to sabotage any efforts by others to discover the secret of time-line travel, and occasionally to do good. Right now, though teens Justin and Becky have to deal with the attraction--and with Becky's (correct) certainty that Justin is hiding something important about himself.

    In Becky's time line, the Constitution was never ratified and the states gradually drifted apart. The great northern migration of the 1930s and 1940s never occured and the African-American population remains largely in the south. Although slavery has been abolished, blacks are treated badly and are full of resentment (except in Mississippi where the black majority overthrew their white rulers and now oppresses the remaining whites as badly as whites oppress blacks in the other states). Becky wonders how the world would be different if only the states had found a way to hang together--and ponders a career in fiction to explore the possibilities.

    When Justin decides to return to Charlestown, wearing the uniform of a dead Virginia soldier, he is confronted by the racism and hatred of this time-line directly. And when the disease strikes close to home, he has to risk the greatest secret of all, the crosstime secret.

    Author Harry Turtledove (see more reviews of novels by Turtledove) continues his engaging CROSSTIME TRAFFIC series with another fascinating what-if. The US Constitution reflects a compromise between the interests of the large states for population-based representation, and that of smaller states who wished for representation per state. This compromise made no one happy and certainly wasn't inevitable. If the United States had retained the Articles of Confederation, surely it would have spun apart well before the Civil War of our era. Would each state have continued on? It's certainly possible.

    THE DISUNITED STATES OF AMERICA has two themes--most obviously, it's about the evils of racism and the advantages of a society that puts social stigma on the inevitable remnants of racism that remain. More subtly, it asks the question of what responsibility outsiders have to control the racism of others. As outsiders, neither Justin nor even Becky are really responsible for the racism that defines the Virginia of Turtledove's story. As a Californian, Becky can object to it. As a nominal Virginian, Justin risks the crosstime secret if he holds outrageous positions. Yet doing nothing is certainly implicitly supporting the evil Justin sees.

    Turtledove's CROSSTIME TRAFFIC series is targeted at young adults but should hold interest to older fans as well.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 10/08/05

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