Monday, July 25, 2005
History is written by the victors: Theodore Judson's Fitzpatrick's War
Winston Churchill is credited with the saying, "History is written by the victors." In Theodore Judson's masterful science fiction future history Fitzpatrick's War, this concept is explored in detail. Rather than trusting the well-worn device of a fictional biography, he goes one further. This is a fictional work of scholarly history, in which a professor of history is "setting the record straight" on the problematic memoirs of the fictional Robert Mayfair Bruce.
Bruce is one of the close associates of a prominent figure of this future history and one uniquely suited to writing his biography. The problem is, that the fictional historian's view of the Fitzpatrick legacy doesn't line up with Bruce's firsthand account, and the book is this "scholar's" attempt to qualify and explain what seems to him to be lies that Bruce has written as history.
All of this may sound rather wooden in the description, but the author pulls it off with quick wit, a well-drawn world, and literary devices that quickly and firmly set you down in a distant and believable world.
Fitzpatrick's War is set in the 25th century after a series of major worldwide upheavals and changes in the balance of power and cultural supremacy. The world is now ruled by the Yukon Confederacy with the help of a secretive organization called the Timermen. Through the latter's arcane technology, no electrical technology is possible on earth and power is kept firmly in the hands of the Yukons. This results in a strange mix of steam, chemical technology, and dependence on clockwork mechanisms.
The story relates the rise to power of Fitzpatrick, his massive-scale war he conducts against the remaining world cultures, which results in the state of affairs in the book's "present", that of the worldwide Yukon cultural, economic, and military supremacy. The plot is not exactly action-packed, but is filled with charming and despicable characters, frightenly real politics and intrigue, and enough imagination to keep me interested for all 500 pages.
The writing style, the world itself, and the believable future history might have been enough to keep me reading, but the book's pseudo-scholarly tone, complete with detailed footnotes, combine to create a thoroughly enchanting book. The author's treatment of political power, the historical inevitability as well as regretability of war, and the role culture and religion can play in such a mix is even-handed, fair, and as I said before, very believable.
I enthusiastically recommend this book to someone who is interested in political science fiction, what-if historical novels, and philosophical science fiction that deals with such questions as historiography and cultural anthropology. The book's scholarly literary device will charm nearly anyone who has spent time poring over dusty tomes of history, theology, or biography or who has a little healthy skepticism about the academic establishment. Three cheers for Judson!