Friday, September 23, 2016

Bookish thoughts: "Underground Airlines" by Ben Winters

I was excited about this book coming out because I loved Ben's Last Policeman trilogy and was able to meet him at an author's signing in a now-defunct local mystery bookstore. He was friendly and nerdy and played the ukulele and UA was just in it's infancy at the time.

However, I nearly missed the controversy associated with this book, but got clued in late in the game. If YOU missed it, I will sum up. But first, a summary (thanks Amazon!): 

It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it: smartphones, social networking and Happy Meals. Save for one thing: the Civil War never occurred.

A gifted young black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service. He's got plenty of work. In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called "the Hard Four." On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that something isn't right--with the case file, with his work, and with the country itself.

A mystery to himself, Victor suppresses his memories of his childhood on a plantation, and works to infiltrate the local cell of a abolitionist movement called the Underground Airlines. Tracking Jackdaw through the back rooms of churches, empty parking garages, hotels, and medical offices, Victor believes he's hot on the trail. But his strange, increasingly uncanny pursuit is complicated by a boss who won't reveal the extraordinary stakes of Jackdaw's case, as well as by a heartbreaking young woman and her child who may be Victor's salvation. Victor himself may be the biggest obstacle of all--though his true self remains buried, it threatens to surface.

Victor believes himself to be a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he has worked so hard to earn. But in pursuing Jackdaw, Victor discovers secrets at the core of the country's arrangement with the Hard Four, secrets the government will preserve at any cost.

There was kind of a told fold controversy:

1) Ben's a white guy and he was writing a book with (as yah may have guessed from the summary) really strong themes about racism and slavery.

2) Others were angry because Ben was being praised for his weaving together of racial issues and science fiction. Several black writers have been doing this for a long time, with less recognition.

Obviously there are a lot of raw feelings in the states right now with the racial unrest that we are experiencing.

There's a lot of feelings going around and I don't want to start unnecessary fights on the internet that don't solve anything.

Basically, if you read the book and it makes you think long and hard about the history and the future of this country and you have good, respectful conversations with your fellow humans about what you have learned I don't think it matters about who wrote this book. Then, after you finish UA, go pick up an Octavia Butler and appreciate the people who tilled the road before.



No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you so much for your comment. I'd love to talk books with you!