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There really was an almost-successful Confederate plot to burn down Manhattan, and so terrorize the North into voting not for Lincoln (and total war), but for Gen. George B. McClellan (who ran on the promise to sue for peace if elected). And after reading an obscure article in Civil War Times magazine, I learned that Batchelor's Confederate spymaster was a real person -- the man whose identity the rebel agents took to their graves. What Batchelor does with this raw material is construct an 1864 of holodeck-like reality, and immerse the reader in it to a greater depth and intensity than Shaara in Killer Angels or Frazier in Cold Mountain. His reconstruction of Washington, D.C., New-York, and the Niagara Falls of the title (whence the rebel terrorists entered the country from Canada) is detailed in the extreme.
Overlaid upon this framework is an intricately plotted story that includes hefty dollops of spycraft, intrigue, love and betrayal, loyalty and regret, and spot-on period dialogue.
Like Forsythe's assassination attempt in The Day of the Jackal, the historical outcome of the Confederate plan is predetermined -- but you'd never guess that from the page-turning narrative. You're in late 1864, things are desperate for both North and South, and it seems as though the plot is foolproof and the participants more real than yourself. If you can find and read this gem of historical/cultural/military/spy fiction, you'll never want it to end.
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It's also well-worth the time for the use of political cartoons from throughout the years. Batchelor uses these wonderful treasures effectively, providing not only appropriate art but a study of the art of political cartooning and how it has changed over the past 150 years.
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The title belies the text. The People's Republic of Antarctica itself is no more than a footnote- it more is the story of the life of Grim Fiddle, taking place mostly on the Atlantic Ocean in various places. I enjoyed the descriptions of life on the waves, for I enjoy the waters of the deep. But I picked up the text hoping to hear about a Republic in Antarctica, as there is so little future history or imaginations that continent. Instead we follow Grim as he lives in Norse legend from his birth in Scandinavia as an American-Swede, down the length of the Atlantic Ocean to the Falklands and other islands of the South. Throughout there is portent of greatness about Grim, and one expects much to come out of it. One ends up with dissapointment.
This tale is dark, and one keeps hoping for some Joy, some recompense, but the desire are stifled. Yes, it goes in places you would not expect, and I commend Batchelor for his work and effort in that regard, and in others. But the lines between what one expects and what one ultimately receives are not clearly drawn. It may well be the revelation of the mind of a mass-murderer- but if so, we the readers come to identify and relate to a Grim, in his first thirty years, and he suddenly becomes an evil man and destroyer of peoples. Yes, there are some glimmers of this earlier on, but there truly is no transition to this change- you are suddenly presented with the new Grim, and the only explanation is a confused interlude tale told in epic Nordic style.
But I speak too harshly of this book. For Batchelor truly opens up the mind of the man, Grim. You move with him and the events that occurred. And it is a harsh tale, but realistic, of the depths of depravity of man. There is much to be said on the question of what *will* we do with all the refugees, the huddled masses on our teeming shores, that increase year after year in this new century.
I hold this against the story: it is told as confessional, but without real remorse. Better yet, there is remorse, but not real anguish, nor the repentence that can be seen in renewed Hope. It is depression, and I declare that depression is not Reality- Hope is present, and is powerful. The author would fashion in one's mind a falsehood that rings of Truth.
If this review was at all confusing, it was told in the same style as the book.
More accurately his book is that rare animal in the XX century a political fiction talking about the issues of freedom and personal responsibility in the face of antiutopian fictions like 1984 or The Brave New World and actual political utopian projects like the Soviet Union or Third Reich.
It is easily recognizable that Batchelor is writing from a Libertarian perspective and that would allow me to label the book as a 'Libertarian fable' however this book is much more.
Taking Sweden in the early 70's as the location of his books beginning the writer appropriates the heritage of Norse mythology and epic poems for his flawed hero and this imagery stays with the reader throughout the book in tone, names and a whole chapter that takes place during a 'berserk' war fury during which the Hero Skallagrim Strider commits many crimes.
However Batchelor posits his crimes against the political crimes of those who convicted not just the hero but millions to a fate worse than his. The metaphor of the 'road to hell is paved with good intentions' is aptly used here.
In the end the Hero is given a sort of a political redemption by becoming a "Republic of one" incarnating the libertarian ideal of personal responsibility and freedom in the wastes of Antarctic islands.
Fascinating read that will stay with you, slightly dated due to the basic premise of a breakdown in world social order by Oil crisis, racism and religious fervour. Otherwise, to the point, asking the most fundamental questions about the political animal-Man.
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The patriotism is apparent, yet lacks any jingoistic narcissism, as our hero "Tip" wanders first through the Soviet Union, where he shows the change from totalitarian state to frontier justice. This is a precursor of the author's later novel Peter Nevsky and the True Story of the Russian Moon Landing (1993). Having gotten the obligatory Us vs. Them out of the way, Tip moves on to Us vs. Us in the good old Us of A., except for a foray into Germany, where its Us vs. Them vs. Us, and we continue to look for Nazis. For the rest of the novel, Tip maintains a domestic traveler with visits to Houston, Ohio, Miami, Maine, Arizona, and where the cold war will play while the ticket sales last, Hollywood. Through it all, Tip maintains his cynical isolation with the ever ready sarcastic quip and side glances at the camera, while providing commentary on what he perceives as the great cold war game; "sci-fi/spy" stuff.
Using an extensive array of references, literary, historical, and political, the author manages to create a satire which still shows affection for the very things he mocks. Up until the final title section of the book, the light handed humor of our hero remains constant. It is then that Mr. Batchelor becomes somewhat preachy - providing an acceptably plausible explanation of who exposed the details of Watergate, while both building up and tearing down the character of the second most victimized participant - G. Gordon Liddy. Lest we forget, the primary victim remains Richard Nixon, the scapegoat of our age and principal martyr of our cultural disillusion. The double entendres and previous wit seemingly vanish while the author presents his explanation of the crime and its results. However, the book remains close to the target as an entertaining exploration of current social history.
Ultimately the book is well worth reading, as are any of the author's works. Mr. Batchelor is a widely underrated author who has written novels in a multitude of styles, and always with integrity. Having read all of his novels but the sequel to this novel Walking the Cat (1991), and the political thriller Father's Day (1994), they are next on my list.
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That premise would have made for a good, fast-paced, tense political drama. But author John Calvin Batchelor takes it too far: instead of weaving a plausible story out of politics and psychology, he opts for cheap but implausible thrills. The denouement is unsubtly foreshadowed in the first three pages, so I am giving nothing away by telling you that the first chapter opens with an unquestioningly obedient military rehearsing for an assault upon Air Force One, ending in an assassination. To Batchelor's credit, he gets the law right, and his application of the twenty-fifth amendment's provisions for a political contest between a disabled President and a Vice President acting as President is unimpeachable (no pun intended). But once the story steps outside politics and into action-adventure, reality bites the dust, and the story takes a turn so far-fetched that it ruins what may otherwise have been a good book.
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