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