Today I finished reading Fitzpatrick’s War by Theodore Judson. I liked this book, and Judson did some things very well, and another thing spectacularly, but I hesitate to recommend it for reasons I’ll get into soon. I wouldn’t recommend this book to a friend without a thorough understanding of what type of fiction they like. All that being said, this was an excellent book.
First off, this is a steampunk-esque novel but instead of being alternative history like a lot of steampunk, the story takes us 400 years into the future after a massive social and technological upheaval. Many billions died in the 21st century and electricity does not operate (for reasons I won’t get into) thereby throwing the society and technology back on steam and diesel equivalents.
Second off, the thing that Mr. Judson does spectacularly is avoid the “we’re in the future but it’s just like today in America” trope. He writes a novel set in the future and populates the backstory of his characters and their society with numerous “historical” occurrences and people who shaped the society. And better yet, instead of infodumping numerous monologues at us about who did what, he does it with footnotes.
“Footnotes?” you cry. “Who wants to read footnotes?” The answer to that question is, “You do.” At least in this novel.
People who know my reading habits know that I do not like footnotes1, but this novel is an exception. The novel’s concept was that it is the Autobiography of Sir Robert Bruce, however instead of being the straight memoir of Sir Robert, it’s the annotated version as published 100 years after his initial authorship. The annotations are by a Noted Historian (the capitals are important; read and find out.) who objects to nearly every opinion and factual reference made by Sir Robert (because it disagrees what everyone knows happened, as depicted by the Official History published by the Historian’s own Notable University). The footnotes help to explain to the “contemporary” reader what Sir Robert was referencing in his straight-time recollection of events, however for those of us outside the narrative, reading Judson’s novel about the Historian’s annotations of Sir Robert’s memoir, they serve to flesh out the background without excessive infodumps. The whole thing became rather meta at times.
For pedantic hard scifi nerds, this is not a good book for you because the basic workings of the technology are entirely unexplained and, without some generous handwaving, unexplainable, especially from an energy expenditure standpoint.
For action/adventure nerds, this is also not a good book because the way it’s structured—as an annotated memoir—makes for so much foreshadowing that there are no real plot surprises.
The mystery and the conflict of this novel come from the character interactions between Sir Robert and his contemporaries and while they are archetypical, I still found enough there to keep me going through the 600 pages of the book.
A word of warning: I’ve had this novel sitting on my bedside for over a year (since Christmas 2011) and it took me this long to get through the first two chapters without giving up. You are deluged with names and dates and places in the beginning of the book and it’s daunting to keep straight. Either be ready for that and study as you go, or don’t worry about it and plow straight through. Once you get to chapters four and on, it becomes much less confusing.
Last words are: Good book; Long book. Be aware of it’s difficulties, but I’m not sorry I read it.
- Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels almost killed me where the dialogue was bouncing back and forth between the footnotes and the main text [↩]