Review: Fitzpatrick’s War by Theodore Judson

Rating:

Fitzpatrick’s War by Theodore Judson
2004, DAW

Review Summary: Theodore Judson’s Fitzpatrick’s War is consistent, well written, and quietly interesting. I enjoyed the characters, liked the plot, and had fun with the theme. So I’m still a little puzzled about why I don’t feel more excited about the novel.

Full Review:

Theodore Judson’s Fitzpatrick’s War is consistent, well written, and quietly interesting. I enjoyed the characters, liked the plot, and had fun with the theme. So I’m still a little puzzled about why I don’t feel more excited about the novel.

I think the tone of the novel is quite a bit different than I was expecting for the epic nature of the plot, and gives the story a very different feel. Written as an autobiography, an old man’s regret-filled attempt to finally tell the truth surrounding the events in his youth, Judson does an excellent job of keeping the narration in character – but unfortunately, I think this filters the story a little too much and takes the edge off of the suspense. We already know the character is going to survive his travails, since he is writing and presenting this autobiography as an old man. Also, the academic commentary by the professor republishing the work (in its entirety) also works to dull some of the more exciting sections, showing, as it is, how the society and culture of the future have not progressed any further than they are during the time the narrator is recounting. If anything, these two elements contribute to a kind of depressing drabness in the story – a sense of fatalism that, if calculated, is very effective but unusual in a story such as this.

Likewise, the regret felt so deeply by the narrator is also kind of drab, the character being on the whole actually something of a “goody two shoes”, but otherwise very human. The great crimes he commits are no less and no more than anyone else with a conscience but a weak sense of self and a strong sense of duty would do, and his regret apparently only goes so deep, as he does not follow his convictions as far as his friend Hood, and try to make amends among the people he has wronged so greatly. Again, if intended, this character portrait is more subtle than I would expect for a character in this position… or if unintended, the portrait is very shallow.

The other main characters in the novel are interesting, if briefly drawn, and help Judson illustrate his world-building ideas of class, gender divisions, social norms and expectations, education, religion, technology, and general outlook on life. The whole setting is interesting, proposing a steam and chemical-powered future after a purposeful world-wide EMP strike and continual monitoring by a select group to ensure that electricity is not re-invented on the surface of the planet, electricity-powered equipment being blamed for the cheapening of life and social standards.

The plot itself is mostly straightforward, and occasionally a little thin, but there is nothing wrong with it. Again, the tone of the novel is so different that what would be almost trite in a standard present-tense telling instead becomes something very much like historical fiction, believable and truthful – particularly in contrast with the academic’s commentary and references.

The obvious themes – murder is bad, mass murder in the guise of war is bad, power corrupts – are, well, obvious. (Oh, and steer clear of megalomaniacs trying to conquer the world.) But buried in among these more pedestrian themes, I very much enjoyed how all sorts of historical elements of former empires were pulled into this “future history”. I think the overarching theme which really remains with me after reading the novel is that human history never really dies. Despite our having advanced in many ways throughout time and having become more of a civilized, globalized world, the same elements of humanity that cause some people to rise up and grasp for power, with help from those also seeking power or seeking to remain in power are still with us, like seeds awaiting the right conditions and the right amount of nurturing. Likewise, while individual efforts against the corrupt tyranny which inevitably results from these ambitious plans may be in themselves futile, corruption can eventually be burned out through revolution/counter-revolution, and a balance can once again be reached.

So overall the novel is very good, very accessible, and, if one overlooks some of the obvious characterizations and “themes”, there is a great deal of very thoughtful material here. The form of the novel de-emphasizes this, however, and it remains for successive novels to show whether the author can refine his messages through his writing, or whether these more ephemeral effects are actually unintended byproducts of his stories.

05/10/07 CSL

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