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Beneath Gray Skies (英語) ペーパーバック – 2010/4/4
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(US trade-size edition) Beneath Gray Skies tells the story of David Slater, a young conscript in the Army of the Confederacy in the 1920s, as he learns power politics from the inside in the West's last slave-owning nation. He makes friends with a British agent, and strikes up an unlikely acquaintance with Hermann Goering, eventually finding himself rubbing shoulders with President Jefferson Davis III and Adolf Hitler on the first (and last) flight of the doomed Zeppelin airship Bismarck, carrying a mysterious cargo from Nazi Germany to the Confederate States of America. The action moves between the Confederacy and Washington DC as well as London and Berlin, examining the world of "might have been" had the American Civil War never been fought, and the Confederacy survived into the 20th century. Hugh Ashton lives in Kamakura, Japan, where he works as a writer and journalist. Beneath Gray Skies is his first published novel. --このテキストは、ペーパーバック版に関連付けられています。
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Next, you will have to believe that a character named "David" - a private in what is described as the uneducated "white trash" Confederate Army - is discovered to have extraordinary aptitude for the game of chess - a game that he had never played before - said skill causing him to gain the notice of his superiors who, in turn, determine David also has extraordinary skills in calligraphy, the ability to read well, and even do "some calculating with figures," all of which lead David to an eventual rank of Sergeant and a key role with a group of Germans building a Zeppelin airdrome on Confederate Georgia soil.
Next is the enigmatic English hero, Brian, who darts in and out of the narrative with exploits of daring, deception, and spying in an effort to disrupt the CSA-Nazi alliance. Toss in a bunch of nasty Nazis and an equally nasty CSA President, a "save-the-world" United Kingdom intelligence service and its operative named "Dowling" (the former slave's original mentor), a plot to kill the bad guys, and it turns out that all's well that ends well.
The writing is adequate; however, with the exception of some British dialogue, the dialogue of most of the other characters too often lacked the ring of authenticity because what should have been dialects and idioms unique to those characters was lacking. Said another way, the drawl of the South and the unique syntax of German-to-English was missing.
Finally, I felt that the author also had a subtle and personal political and social agenda woven into the story - an agenda that can be explained best by reading both the author's preface to the first edition and his preface to the second edition.
The USA at the time of the novel is semi-isolationist and rather politically/diplomatically naive from the viewpoint of the Brits, who had to fight the Central Powers and save the day pretty much on their own; the CSA is a sort of corn-pone Sparta with a hereditary dictator and lacking the industrialized economy that would make slavery ineffective, a country shunned by everyone except the Nazis...well, when your best friends are the Nazis you have more problems than you can even count.
It is this developing "axis" between Richmond and Berlin that moves the story, propelling action after action...in some of those actions we see echoes of our own history (can't always escape destiny, I guess), the motivating force behind the characters, who include a freed slave, a Confederate chess-playing soldier, and a British secret agent who was supposed to come in from the cold...but didn't. Not a lot of Finch-Molloy's (the spy) background is revealed, but a later book, Red Wheels Turning, tells of his recruitment and an exploit during the Great War.
Since alternate history novels are in a sense historical fiction we come across quite a few familiar names, especially with regards to the Germans. All the big-hats are there, including the little chap wearing the Charlie Chaplin mustache, as well as Dr Hugo Eckner, of Zeppelin fame, but the airship bound for Cordelle (not Lakehurst) is named for Bismark, not another famous German. As with other AH novels, you can approach this story from any number of avenues -- there we go but for the grace of God, if only we had ourselves been so prescient about the Nazis, what does this story say about us, or what else has gone differently to create such a world with such people; but I think the most rewarding way to approach this novel is as a rattling good adventure novel filled with such characters that would make our own world a better place to live...if only they were real.
It's a fun idea to consider and handled very well and enjoyably by the author, I had no trouble grasping his concept and running with it. The characters are fun and interesting (I especially liked Brian) and there's very, very little that I would even consider criticizing. Get it, read it, enjoy.