Beneath Gray Skies (英語) ペーパーバック – 2010/4/4
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David Slater, a conscript in the 1920s Army of the Confederacy, faces a dilemma. When he and his regiment were shipped to Germany to help stage a coup there, his Limey fellow-soldier Brian was acting strangely. David now has the choice of reporting his best friend to his commanding officers, or keeping quiet and just doing his job: preparing for the arrival of Bismarck, the giant Zeppelin flying Hitler and his Nazi cohorts to meet their new allies, the Confederates. Beneath Gray Skies follows the adventures of David and those around him in a past that never happened-where the Civil War never took place, and the Confederacy survived as a pariah slave-holding nation into the 20th century. Confederates, Unionists, British and Germans plot and counterplot in a tightly woven tale of espionage, treachery and romance. The cast of Beneath Gray Skies includes rogue British agent "Bloody Brian" Finch-Malloy, hard-drinking Henry Dowling, and Christopher Pole, a slave who escapes from the hell of the Confederacy-living against a backdrop that includes real historical characters. Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering, and Dr. Hugo Eckener, the brilliant anti-Nazi Zeppelin captain, all live again in this "extraordinarily well-written piece of mind candy that becomes more and more difficult to put down" (Christopher Belton). Almost without realizing what has happened, David finds himself part of a conspiracy within the Confederacy that includes "Bloody Brian," which is working to prevent the airship's arrival in Georgia, to seize the mysterious priceless treasure on board the Bismarck, and to halt the spread of slavery to Europe. As David Slater and his President, Jefferson Davis III, confront each other on the doomed dirigible, David must ask himself once again where his loyalty lies: to his country, or to a higher morality. Beneath Gray Skies is the first published novel by Hugh Ashton, a British-born writer and journalist currently living in Kamakura, Japan. --このテキストは、絶版本またはこのタイトルには設定されていない版型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.