Bring the Jubilee: SF Masterworks 42
by Ward Moore
(Victor Gollancz, £6.99, 194 pages, paperback; first published 1953; this edition 14 June 2001.)
A century since the South won the Battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War, Hodge Backmaker lives in the provincial backwater of New York, part of the impoverished Northern States. Setting out to seek his fortune, he finds learning and love first in the city itself, then in Haggershaven, an academic retreat in the countryside. Finally, Hodge finds himself in a position to change the course of history...
Ward Moore (who died in 1978) is one of those authors whose reputation rests on just one story, namely this one. He wrote other novels both within and outside the genre, but if he hadn't written Bring the Jubilee, he would be an obscure figure. But because he did write this novel, his fame is secure. Since its original publication in 1953, Bring the Jubilee has been the standard story where the South won the American Civil War, and one of the few "classic" novels in the whole alternate history subgenre. (It's also a time travel story.)
I first read it in 1980, age fifteen. Like many other people, I read far more then, and faster (fewer responsibilities, fewer distractions). Bring the Jubilee, not a long novel by any standard, was dispatched in a couple of days. It didn't make a great impression: returning to it twenty-one years later, all I remembered was Moore's idiosyncratic punctuation (he frequently leaves out apostrophes and hyphens) and the ending, which I won't do more than hint at here. In 2001 it's become a novel that has improved with age (mine, I suspect, not the novel's): it's stylishly written with plenty of local colour, though its pacing, a steady jog-trot, makes the novel a little slow by contemporary standards. The novel depends heavily on its ironic, and devastating, ending: the plot, such as it is, concerns itself with bringing all the necessary elements into place so that it can happen. Knowing that ending, you notice Moore's use of foreshadowing and a consistent theme of interference, of passive spectatorship versus active participation.
Bring the Jubilee is a minor classic of SF. Its status is enduring, and deserved.
Review by Gary Couzens.
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© Gary Couzens 17 November 2001