Recommended Reading: Fitzpatrick’s War by Theodore Judson

Fitzpatrick’s War
Theodore Judson
DAW, 2005 (mass market edition)

This is bay and large one of my favorite books of the last decade and I am consistantly surprised that it has gotten such little attention over the years.  Given the current post-apocalyptic craze ushered in by games like Fallout 3 and, likely, the sorry economic state I have seen little, if any, mention of Fitzpatrick’s War on any lists of of post-apocalyptic fiction.   Fitzpatrick’s War is told as the autobiography of Robert Mayfair Bruce a General of the Yukon Confederacy.  In it Bruce relates of the rise and fall of one Lord Isaac Prophet Fitzpatrick.  The book is written in a fairly straightforward narrative but masquerading as non-fiction with footnotes by a modern day scholar Roland Modesty Van Buren pointing out the supposed innacuracies of Bruce’s text with “known and accepted history.”

I have never, to my recollection, come across a book that employed a similar method of storytelling.  Or, at least if I did, never come across a novel that employs it so effectively.  The footnotes never get in the way of the text and create a fascinating subtext that turns the novel into fascinating commentary about revisionist history. Van Buren’s commentary is frequently laced with obvious bias and provides an interesting contrast to the move even-handed narrative provided by Bruce’s text.  At the same time Van Buren’s notes often provide historical context, referring to events, eras, and people that do not exist in Bruce’s story that aid in crafting a believable and detailed world.

This seemless of shift of narrative fiction into historical fact is something I never once questioned throughout my reading of Fitzpatrick’s War.  That is a testament to the quality of Judson’s writing here; I utterly lost myself in the world he created and, when the novel was done, wanted more.  Even with Van Buren’s occaisonal historical note about events not covered by Bruce the worldbuilding and historical background of the Yukon Confederacy is so ingrained in the narrative that never once was there a moment of lengthy exposition that got in the way of the human drama that unfolded and, worldbuilding asside, Judson shows a masterful hand at characters.

Judson employs familiar architypes here but to excellent effect and, in fact, their very familiar becomes an essential plot point late in the novel.  Bruce is a likeable narrator, even-handed in judgment, steady, stalwart, and humble the very definition of “old soldier.”  Reading the novel though the character that really shined was Bruce’s love interest: Charlotte.  An “irish traveller” Charlotte stands in for the tantalizing and exotic “other.”  Bruce’s world is one dominated by a strict Protestant value system to which Charlotte with her wild red hair, fiery disposition, and dancing ways is the absolute anthesis.  If Charlotte was a real person, and this an actual historic text I would be convinced that Bruce’s reminisces regarding her were colored by his own perceptions, they are not the same even-handed opinions regarding Fitzpatrick but rather the rememberences of a man in love.

Fitzpatrick himself is portrayed in a far more confusing light.  He is charming, good-hearted, cruel, paranoid, insane and not necessarily in that order.  It is Bruces’ encounters with Charlotte, his portrayal of Fitzpatrick, and his increasinly “liberal” views about society that serve as the basis for commentator Van Buren’s denouncment of Bruce as a liar.  Van Buren himself, while never getting in the way of the narrative, plays an integral part in it.  My reactions to his commentary were visceral, rage-inducing would put it mildly, but rather than cause me to throw the book across the room in rage my reactions serve as a mean to invest myself further into the narrative, forcing deeper into Bruce’s camp.

While the novel’s ending doesn’t quite live up to the excellence of the rest of the text I still found it didn’t detract much from the novel’s overall effect.  The novels vibrant setting is not only “post-apocalyptic,” in that in what was once America it is also a world powered by steam rather than electricity.  As such one can rightly call this post-apocalyptic steampunk, a genre in which I think Fitzpatrick’s War might stand alone.  From setting, to narrative Fitzpatrick’s War is an utterly unique and utterly enthralling work of fiction disguised as non-fiction that is an absolute must read for fans of science fiction and history alike.

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