The Eman­ci­pa­tion Al­ter­ation

SFX - - Reviews - Dave Golder

re­leased Out NOW! 368 pages | Hard­back/ebook Au­thor Ben H Win­ters Pub­lisher Cen­tury

Au­thor Ben H Win­ters cites The Man In The High Cas­tle as an in­flu­ence on this al­ter­nate his­tory novel, in which slav­ery re­mains le­gal in the south­ern states of Amer­ica. But while he must have writ­ten it be­fore the Ama­zon TV adap­ta­tion aired, Un­der­ground Air­lines feels more like the show than Philip K Dick’s novel: world-build­ing wins over plot.

The world it builds is very im­pres­sive. This is a care­fully con­sid­ered, mi­cro-de­tailed ex­am­i­na­tion of a modern Amer­ica where those pesky South­ern­ers have main­tained their right to treat fel­low men like sub­hu­mans (even if it does ig­nore how the rest of the world might re­act). It doesn’t al­ways take the ob­vi­ous route, and clev­erly uses a morally-du­bi­ous black man who tracks down es­caped slaves in re­turn for free­dom as its pro­tag­o­nist. This holds a much bet­ter mir­ror to the sit­u­a­tion than us­ing some bleed­ing-heart lib­eral would, and Vic­tor is a com­pelling, multi-lay­ered char­ac­ter.

But it’s woe­fully light on plot. There’s a con­spir­acy thriller vibe but not enough story for a 45-minute TV episode, and it ends with a crunch­ing gear shift into a more pulpy genre. It al­most feels like a spec script for a Net­flix pi­lot.

An emer­gency sys­tem in the book is named af­ter Nat Turner, who led a slave re­bel­lion in Vir­ginia in 1831.

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