Taken from the cover: ‘In a transformed mid-nineteenth century America dominated by plantation owners and kept in line by Southern military forces, a mild-mannered academic from Maine, Professor Joshua Chamberlain, stands accused of crimes against the nation. In court alongside him is Abraham Lincoln, whose fiery rhetoric brands him a “threat to the security of the United States of America.”’
This story is set in 1863, in an alternate United States, in a period when historically the American Civil War was at its height. Jack Campbell’s fictionalised America parallels real events to a degree, but in his story northern rebels are rallying to fight an oppressive, military-backed regime complete with kangaroo courts set up to punish dissenters and political opponents.
It starts promisingly enough with Honest Abe Lincoln (from whose Gettysburg Address the title is taken) and the central character, Joshua Chamberlain, in the dock for speaking out against the regime. I was interested to see how Campbell would handle Lincoln as it’s a brave inksmith who would try to put words into the mouth of one of the greatest orators of the modern world. I think Campbell agrees, as he quickly sidelines Lincoln in favour of focusing on Chamberlain.
Without going into plot details, it’s clear that Campbell is an American Civil War buff. You can’t turn a page without some notable warrior from the conflict popping up for a quick cameo. From time to time, these fictionalised historic personages speechify in the unfussy and forthright manner one would expect from soldiers of the era. Campbell does not embellish the dialogue with fluency beyond the reach of most but not all dedicated military men, but perhaps he should have used a little more artistic licence in this regard.
While acknowledging the constraints of the novella form, I didn’t feel like the story worked. It is neither a political commentary (which it could so easily have been) nor a rip-roaring, boys’ own adventure. Campbell almost writes both, but doesn’t. What ends up on the page comes across almost like an outline for a novel and perhaps the ambitious scope of the story would have been better served in that form. Having said that, if you’re an ACW nerd *coughs* you’ll enjoy playing ‘spot the real life historical characters’.
(pub: Subterranean Press. 98 page deluxe hardback. Price: $20.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-568-0)
check out website: www.subterraneanpress.com