Thursday, December 6, 2012

Review: American Indian Victories by Dale Cozort

Guest post by Kieran Colfer.
For most people, the Americas between the times of Columbus and George Washington are truly a Terra Incognita.  For South/Central America, people might have vague memories of Conquistadors and cities of  gold, of Incas, Aztecs, Pizzaro and Cortez, even if they can't recall who did what to who (was it the Incas that discovered the Aztecs or the other way around?). Some people might recall that someone built a place called Macho Pikachu, and someone else came up with a calendar that said the world was going to end in a few weeks time. And for those unfortunate enough not to have blocked the last Indiana Jones movie from their minds, there might be some thoughts of aliens in there somewhere.

For North America, people will probably know less, apart from recollections of Pocahontas and Last of the Mohicans there might be some vague school-time memories of Pilgrims bringing turkeys to America. The purpose of the new edition of American Indian Victories by Dale Cozort (author of Alternate History Versus the Prime Directive) is to traverse this Terra Incognita, and to quote from Blackadder:

"The foremost cartographers of the land have prepared this for you; it's a map of the area that you'll be traversing."

"But it's blank"

"Yes, they'll be very grateful if you could just fill it in as you go along."

The foreword of this book states that "this is a book for people who love history and are reasonably knowledgeable about it. If you don't fit in that category you may still enjoy the fiction, but eighty percent of the book won't do much for you". As such, this makes this book a hard one to review - I'd count myself as "reasonably knowledgeable", and know a bit about the Aztecs, Incas etc, but this book still makes some pretty hard going in places - 80% worth though? Let's see.

The pros of this book are that there is a lot of information in here, the author really knows his stuff and obviously has a passion for the subject. There is a lot of interesting information in here, and the AH scenarios are mostly well thought out and varied - like what if it were 250BCs Carthage that discovers the New World rather than 1400s Spain? Or what if a disease native to South America killed off all the Conquistador's horses so they weren't such a "shock and awe" weapon? Or even, what if a native disease did to the Spanish what smallpox did to the Indians (there's a lot about diseases in this book)?

The sheer amount of information is also one of the cons however, the roll-call of different tribes & nations can be bewildering at times, and they are often just mentioned in passing, as if it is assumed that you know who they are already so no introduction is needed. For example, the "Hopewell/Mississippi mound builders" are referred to constantly, but it's maybe 3/4 of the way through the book before you're told who they actually were. And one thing that is missing despite all the intricate detail is that the "first contact" with the Americas is all assumed to come from the West - what if there was contact between the Inca and the Polynesians? Or what if Cortez had reached Tenochtitlan to discover the Aztec emperor entertaining the Chinese Ambassador from Zheng He's trade fleet?

As it says in the intro, there are a couple of short stories in the middle of some chapters, but the locations don't really add anything to the timelines around them, and are actually just a bit confusing - especially as one seems to have either an alien or some interdimensional being as a protagonist. The book would probably be better if these were maybe moved to their own separate chapter where the background was explained a bit more. The author also has a habit of bringing a particular scenario/idea to a certain point, and then saying "And that's as far as I'm going to go with this one", which can get a bit annoying. There's generally an understanding when you're reading AH that there's only so far an author can take a scenario before they have to draw a line and let the reader's imaginations wander on from there, and the particular turns of phrase may have to do with the rather chatty style that the book is written in, but the way it is done here leaves a feeling that the author is saying "OK, bored of this topic now, so moving on, you're on your own from here".

As such, that's as far as I'm going as well. So, how to rate this book? If you're already familiar with the early history of the Americas, this book will be a good read for you. If however you're a newbie to the region, it might be best to do a bit of homework before picking this one up.

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Kieran Colfer is a member of the AH Weekly Update Review Team.

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