This book was mentioned in a few places during all the foofaraw about the new "what if the South had won?" series. It's also an alternate history based around the Slaveholders' Rebellion, but from an entirely different -- and refreshingly new -- direction. The fork point here is: what if John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry had gone off successfully, a demoralizing strike against the slave society?
This is a fairly short book, a long novella or short novel, but it packs a lot of punch into its relatively few pages. Much of it is told in epistolary format, a combination of letters written by a young abolitionist doctor to his sweetheart and the memoirs of a man who was a young slave at the time of the raid, and who escaped to fight in Brown's guerrilla army. The latter is the great-grandfather of the protagonist in the framing story, a college professor in the independent country of Nova Africa who is slowly coming to terms with the death of her husband, an astronaut who died on the first Mars mission.
The world-building in this story is mostly incidental, a natural consequence of the author's sure hand with the prose styling of an earlier century. In the course of describing the events going on around them, the writers of the letters and the memoirs include a great deal of description also of the world in which they live(d); they come alive on the pages. By comparison, the framing story is fairly ordinary -- not boring or badly written, but I found myself far more interested in the epistolary sections.
Overall rating: 4 stars, above average. You won't regret picking up this book, and I'd love to see more stories written in the universe Bisson postulates.
R.I.P. Brian Aldiss
Aldiss was a well-known British science fiction author and editor. I never met him, nor do I have any of his books (except for a couple of short stories in anthologies), so I have no personal reminiscence to offer; however, he was influential in the genre and will be missed. You can read more about his life and career here.
R.I.P. Peter Schine
Peter was the husband of my best friend from PDS, Andrea Barach. They were married for 37 years and raised two fine children, Miriam and Nathan. He suffered a heart attack as he and Andrea were returning from a vacation. I knew him primarily thru Andrea, but I still treasure the feast-gear chest with wooden inlay on the top that he made for me when I was still active in the SCA. He was also a hobbyist gourmet cook, and it was thanks to him that I once got to sample party hors d'ouvres made with 100-year-old balsamic vinegar. (Sorry, Peter, it still tasted like vinegar, but I never told him that.) He died much too young.
This has not been a good summer for me. I've got some unidentified condition which is sapping my energy and keeping me in varying levels of pain, and what was intended to be 6 weeks of catching up with stuff around the house has turned into 2 months of doing bugger-all. It's also forced me to bail on the Discworld con, because Russ has to do San Japan and I'm in no shape to run lead. And there's no reason to think it's going to be fixed before FenCon, which means that's going to be Interesting. (Please, no armchair diagnosis. I'm being deliberately vague about this, and if my doctor and a couple of specialists can't nail it down, you're not going to be able to. GoodThoughts and positive energy, however, are welcome.) And the couple of things I have managed to do were both busts financially.
In cheerier news, I've written a Raksura fanfic. It's very short, a brief missing scene from The Harbors of the Sun, inspired by something I read in a different fic which seems to have become my head-canon.