Farthing

Book coverIf you only read one alternative history novel this year that takes place in a world where Britain and Nazi Germany made peace with each other, you should of course read A Traitor’s Loyalty.  (Or at Barnes and Noble.  Or on Goodreads.)  But if you read two such books?  Well, I’ve recently read one that I’d like to submit for consideration.

Farthing is a 2006 novel by Jo Walton set in a world in which Rudolf Hess made a much more successful flight to Britain in 1941, leading to a peace settlement before either the Soviet Union or USA entered the war.

Conventionally in an alternate history novel, the action focuses on the part of the world that is most drastically different from our own.  Harry Turtledove’s The Two Georges is about a world where the Americans lost the American Revolutionary War, so it takes place in North America (a British dominion), rather than in Britain or France or Senegal.  If you’re writing a Nazi-victory alternate history and you want to set it in one of the Allied countries, you have the Nazis conquer that country–like in SS-GB (set in Nazi-occupied Britain), It Happened Here (Nazi-occupied Britain), The Man in the High Castle (German- and Japanese-occupied America) or “The Last Article” (Nazi-occupied India).  If you’ve created a world where Germany has instead made peace with the Allies, who have remained democratic societies, you’re going to set it in Germany or German-occupied Europe, like in Fatherland, “Ready for the Fatherland” or my own A Traitor’s Loyalty.

But Farthing is a book where Britain made peace with the Germans, escaped defeat, preserved democracy.  In the book’s world, Nazi Germany is ruling Continental Europe, implementing the Holocaust, and fighting an endless war with Soviet Russia–but the book takes place in England.  It’s presented as a Christie-esque English country manor murder mystery, set in 1949.

And that means that the changes it presents are far more subtle and gradual than you’ll see in a standard alternate history novel–a society that, confronted with a victorious right-wing dictatorship twenty miles away across the Channel, is quite understandably drifting toward the far right itself.  Moves to turn the British class system into a legally-enshrined caste system.  The reversal of the progress made by socialism, and a regression to where socialism is once again being seen as borderline treasonous.  (In real history, 1945-1950 was the period of Britain’s first true socialist government.)

And most jarring–and most effective–to the modern reader is the anti-Semitism.  It’s a rise in cultural sentiment against Jews, a greater willingness to express anti-Semitic views openly, an amplification of the idea that it didn’t matter if they’d been born and raised in London, Jews were still foreigners.  It’s so terribly English, because (at least until the attempts of the book) it’s been accomplished without violence.  And it’s the cultural movement that has cleared the way for political leaders to begin attempting anti-Semitic political programmes.

The book, as with any book, isn’t perfect.  For a story that spends eighty per cent of its time dealing with members of the aristocracy, it’s a shame that several of the arcane complexities of the aristocratic system get fumbled.  (The author, for instance, has baronets as members of the House of Lords.)  But it’s a very different spin on Nazi victory than I’ve found before.

There are two sequels, Ha’penny and Half a Crown, which I’ll be moving onto.  I’m looking forward to them.

I

The Zero Hour
Words yesterday: 2594
Words total: 42,888

Time spent writing: 1pm-3.30; 9pm-10pm
Reason for stopping: Picking Boy up from the school bus; Lisa got home
Darling: A string of Russian obscenities unraveled off her tongue.
Words that boggled Word: stationmaster’s, submachine, snuck, railyard
New words used today: captor, inscrutable, pothole

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