1950s, 1953, alternate history, American Civil War, Ballantine Books, history, Open Road Media, Richard Powers, science fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, time travel, Ward Moore
Following up on my last post with Ward Moore’s most popular novel, Bring the Jubilee. One of the few Jewish SF authors of his era, Moore was a frequent contributor to F&SF and a raft of other magazines during the ’50s and early ’60s. While he now rests in semi-obscurity, his infrequent but quality contributions were almost all classics in the field per SFE; his novel Greener than you Think was a masterful and biting satire of postwar American society, and his novellas “Lot” and “Lot’s Daughter” were bleak post-apocalyptic morality tales that have stood the test of time.
Bring the Jubilee is one of the earliest alternate histories, set in a United States that lost the American Civil War after a decisive Confederate victory at Gettysburg. The South has gone on to forge its own empire sprawling across Mexico and Central America, a center of learning and culture that rivals the British Empire and German Union. Meanwhile, the impoverished North lies divided and embittered after the failures of their generals and Lincoln, having undergone its own Reconstruction to become a destitute nation of wealthy landowners ruling over indentured workers. Politics lie divided between Whigs (promoting trickle-down Reaganomics) and incompetent Populists. Even though slavery was abolished, minorities face persecution, unjustly blamed for defeat by way of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Into this setting comes Hodge, a young man striving to become a scholar in a backwater village that offers him nothing but indentured servitude at the local mill. Directionless but with plenty of ambition, Hodge sets off with his few belongings for New York, a seedy and pale shadow if its real-world self. To follow his dream of becoming a historian of the War of Southron Independence, Hodge is pulled into the machinations of a subversive—almost terrorist—organization called the Grand Army, which eventually sends him off to an isolated research institute of higher learning. Little does Hodge know, but the experiments going on at this facility may unintentionally reshape his world…
The first half of Bring the Jubilee is something like a meandering travelogue; it reminds me of those future histories from the ’30s, in that it’s more interested in displaying its fantastic setting rather than developing a deep or complex character or plot. To be fair, the setting is well-realized and vivid, offering a cornucopia of ideas for its impressive setting without giving too little or too much detail. The world is lived-in and realistic, down to the petty cruelties heaped upon minorities in a run-down and decaying North. The story takes a sudden turn about halfway through, focusing more on Hodge, his love interest Catty, and the research station, which is where the real meat of the plot begins—it’s a spoiler, but realizing that the novel is also a time-travel novel gives you some idea where Moore is taking the story. He takes that path and does it well, and the result is an impressive novel that offers plenty to think about.
Though I can criticize the novel for its thin plot and characterization—Hodge is something of an everyman turned passive narrator until nearly the end of the novel—I can’t under-emphasize how awesome its setting was. Moore’s brilliance here was a simple one: he took history and flipped it, switching the roles of the Southern and Northern halves of the United States after the culmination of the American Civil War. We don’t see every detail of this imagined world, but the snippets we do see are striking, and I’m still impressed by a post-Reconstruction North tearing itself apart during a 1942 election where Thomas E. Dewey (of “Dewey defeats Truman” fame”) wins the Whig nomination and election. It’s that attention to detail that impresses me as a history buff, though those who aren’t as familiar with the minutia should still find plenty to enjoy here.
Bring the Jubilee is a complex and thoughtful novel, and while it’s shallow in some places it has surprising depth in others. I would love to see a little more added to this novel—a little more insight into Hodge, more complexity, more world and setting details, more of everything—but alas, those fall beyond the limitations of 1950s publishing which limited most novels to under 200 pages. That desire to see more isn’t a condemnation of the novel, which is arguably in the top 20 of its era; it’s the wish from a fan to improve upon a novel already so close to perfection. Bring the Jubilee is the kind of novel that a non-SF fan could greatly enjoy, and those who read extensively in the genre could do worse than dig out this old gem and give it a go. I found it vaguely comparable to books like Leigh Brackett’s Long Tomorrow, Walter M. Miller’s Canticles of Leibowitz, and Wilson Tucker’s Year of the Quiet Sun and The Lincoln Hunters, which should give you some idea what you’re looking at.
Title: Bring the Jubilee
Author: Ward Moore
First Published: 1953
What I Read: Open Road Media ebook, 2017
Price I Paid: $0 (e-ARC)
MSRP: $14 pb / $30 hc / $11.99 ebook
ISBN/ASIN: 143447853X/ B06XWRST2B
Joachim Boaz said:
I’d love to know a bit more about how Moore incorporates the main character’s “dream of becoming a historian of the War of Southern Independence.” Of course, 50s views of history are far from ours today, but seeing how that plays out in the narrative, as it is an alternate history, could be a fascinating idea. If, of course, he runs with it in any serious way.
Moore does run with the idea in a mainly serious way. Not in didactic fashion, i.e. what it means to be a historian, rather in a way that presents the impact of history as something more gray rather than black and white. In other words, the South winning the war may not have been as a dire a result as many would think if the the negative results of the North winning is taken into account. That doesn’t make sense, I know, but have a read. It’s a short novel.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Pingback: Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CLXXXIII (Huxley + Vance + Sherred + Merril edited Anthology) – Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations
Pingback: Updates: Links from the Vintage SF Blogsphere No. 1 | Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations
Edo Bosnar said:
I liked this book as well, and would definitely recommend it to anyone.
However, as someone with a degree in history, one thing that bothered me was the portrayal of the South (CSA) as this powerhouse country that even manages to create its own empire that even swallows up Mexico and Central America. It seems to correspond to the way many modern-day Southern nationalists/nostalgists believe the South would have somehow flourished had it not been for the “Northern aggression.” Personally, I think that if the South had managed to win the Civil War, which for them simply meant remaining independent, the CSA would have eventually become something of a regional backwater, with a small, obscenely wealthy class uneasily ruling over masses of slaves and mostly impoverished non-slaves. The North was already industrializing by the time the Civil War rolled around, and probably would have continued on this mark, despite the setbacks of the war, and become an economic powerhouse regardless (and even without the South, it was a still a country that stretched from coast to coast) – to me, Moore never quite convincingly explained why the rump USA became such a failed state in his story.
A more plausible outcome would have been the USA and CSA locked in an amoral, perverse symbiotic relationship, with the South providing cheap cotton and other agricultural goods and raw materials to the North, while the North provided the South with manufactured products and, crucially, increasingly sophisticated weapons for its army and police to quash slave revolts and keep the general public in line (not unlike the scenarios that we’ve seen play out in so many so-called Third World nations).
However, as I said at the beginning of my comment, I nonetheless enjoyed this book – and as you can see by my long-winded comment, it can provoke quite a few meandering trains of thought…
LikeLiked by 1 person
I agree with your assessment — I thought it’s a bit hyperbolic to assume a Southern empire and a rump USA, especially when the book’s Confederacy threw away its main economic advantage (cheap labor) by abolishing slavery anyway, the novel’s timeline simply moving it back a few decades. (Call me cynical or pessimistic, because I probably am, but I always find a voluntary Confederate abolition of slavery the least plausible element of alternate histories. If you’re willing to secede from the Union over it, and fight desegregation for another century, I doubt you’re going to abolish it less than a generation later…)
I felt the changes were a) done to further the role-reversal allegory making its CSA comparable to 1950s USA, and b) more influenced by the outcome of the World Wars than the Civil War (maybe I’m making assumptions, but the book seemed to imply the CSA stripped away Northern industry and machinery as war reparations in the same way the Soviets did in East Germany). Another version of this novel written a decade or two later could very well have featured that symbiotic relationship and colonial-style slave revolts instead…
Still, as you say, an enjoyable novel that generates many trains of thought and discussions thereof!
Mike White said:
Just finished the book tonight and had to come over here to leave a very late comment…
Maybe it’s me reading too much into it, but what I took away was that technology all over Moore’s alternate world had stagnated tremendously. The CSA was dominant, but as a result things like heavier than air flight, electric lights, and modern movies didn’t exist – not just in the north, but elsewhere. Otherwise, why would Hodge think these technologies were impossible?
There are some problems with Moore’s 1950’s portrayal of the CSA, but, at least as I read it, he drew up a world that was technologically stunted as a result of southern planters winning the war.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I noticed this as well; there were some technological achievements, like the motorized vehicles, though I thought our real-world 1950s were much more advanced. Some of this could be attributed to the technological developments in the World Wars, e.g. the stunted development of aircraft, lack of jet engines and nuclear power, etc.
But when electric lighting isn’t commonplace, the world comes across as intentionally stunted. And I’m not sure the Civil War was the driving force behind these technologies, nor that the CSA was so regressive that they would not have developed them had they won.
gaping blackbird said:
One of my favorites from 1950s SF.
LikeLiked by 1 person