Wednesday, June 22, 2011
A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!
By Harry Harrison
In an alternate history, where the American Revolution failed and George Washington was executed as traitor, his distant descendant Augustine Washington is one of the chief engineers in charge of building a transatlantic tunnel between Europe and North America. If he succeeds, he will redeem his family name from the disgrace brought on it by his traitor ancestor. And win the hand of the woman he has loved for many hopeless years.
The genre of this story is a branch of science fiction known as steampunk, a kind of Victorian take on modern times. Wikipedia describes the book thus: "Harry Harrison's novel A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! (1973) portrays a British Empire of an alternate 1973, full of atomic locomotives, coal-powered flying boats, ornate submarines, and Victorian dialogue." And that is pretty much what it is. If you like descriptions of mechanical devices and engineering exploits or you like reading tales of alternate history, this would be the book for you. But if you don't, then pass on by. It is heavy on engineering but pretty short on anything else to engage the reader. The conspiracy plot is very lean and the romance is practically nonexistent. I managed to finish reading it and it was a chore to get through, even skipping most of the engineering babble.
I generally avoid stories of alternate history as I usually find them very boring but the reviews I read about this one portrayed it as being funny and humorous, which is my weak spot. I love to read a funny story. But once again the reviews were misleading. I didn't find this story to be the least bit funny. I kept waiting for the funny part but it never showed up. Maybe the funny bit is supposed to be the Victorian machines, but since I am not mechanically-minded, all that mechanical engineering stuff meant nothing to me.
It's probably a good story but I was the wrong audience. For that reason, even though I personally didn't like it, I will rate it a fair read.