The Emancipation Alteration
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.