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Monday, July 7, 2014


This kindle short story is part of a multi-volume series about Amboy "Boy" Babbage, a young man with an unusual skill with machines. He is an engineering genius. Also, he is able to "weld" human tissue and machine together using mercury tears.

This skill is the crux of the story.

It begins on May 6, 1863 near the Chancellorsville battlefield. In the real world, Stonewall Jackson, the famed Confederate General lost his left arm due to a "friendly fire" episode and was starting to slip away to his eventual death on May 10 due to pneumonia. When he passed, his superior, Robert E. Lee, said, "Jackson has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right". Jackson was sorely missed a mere two months later at the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the major turning points (if not the major turning point) of the war.
Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson

In Boy Mercury Amboy Babbage and his father are brought to Stonewall Jackson's bedside and Amboy attaches a prosthetic robotic arm that operates with a complicated set of gears and pulleys and attaches itself directly to Jackson's nerves in the stump of his arm with the aid of Amboy's tears of mercury. Amboy also removes a pulmonary embolism from Jackson.

Amboy is then taken into custody by one of Jackson's aides and his father is sent to Andersonville Prison to be held as hostage to make sure that Amboy uses his skills to create more weapons for the Confederacy. But, Amboy longs for any chance to escape and eventually he comes upon a surprisingly beautiful opportunity...

I liked the mixing of real history with the steampunk elements and the "what if?" element with Jackson not dying at Chancellorsville. The characters were vivid and the sci-fi elements were strong. I assume as the story progresses over several episodes the reader will discover the secret of Amboy's tears.

My problems with the story come from the melding of the "what if?" elements with the actual Civil War facts. The premise is

1) The story declares itself to be "An Antebellum Adventure". Antebellum means before the Civil War and this story takes place during the war. By definition, it is not an antebellum story.

2) The story makes it clear that Jackson needs his mechanical left arm to be a successful general. At location 255 Jackson says, referring to the mechanical arm: "...the abomination has won too many victories on the battlefield. If not for it, we would've known defeat several times..."

Many Civil War officers suffered amputations and came back to lead their troops just as effectively as they did before because they did not need to physically lead their men into battle firing a weapon or swinging a sword like some sort of barbarian king. Many Civil War generals never actually fired a rifle or a pistol at the enemy during the entire war.

A colleague of Jackson's was General John Bell Hood, always known as a very aggressive general. Hood lost the use of an arm and had almost all of one of his legs amputated and this did nothing to change his fighting style - he was aggressive to the end. Robert E. Lee was in frail health most of the war and this did not make him a weak general and did nothing to damper his men's willingness to fight for him. A one-armed Stonewall Jackson would have been just as difficult for Union forces to deal with as one with two arms.

3) If Stonewall Jackson were so much more effective as a general why is the war still going on in 1867 when the real war ended in 1865? A prolonged Civil War would only help the Union and hurt the Confederacy because the Confederacy was short on all of their resources (less soldiers, smaller population, less horses, little manufacturing capacity, the Union blockade made it difficult to import weapons, powder, shoes, or anything else) and the better supplied Union forces would eventually win by simply starving out the Confederacy. This was their original plan, called the Anaconda Plan. Lee was looking for the big, splashy victories to give the Confederacy a political solution that would allow them to win. That was the reason for the Gettysburg campaign in 1863 in the real world - hit the Union in their own backyard, defeat them and start the peace negotiations while the Confederacy could still field an army. 

4) Andersonville Prison was not open in May of 1863 (it opened in February of 1864).  

So, great sci-fi grafted onto some lousy history makes the whole batch pretty weak. 

I rate this e-short story 2 stars out of 5. 
Reviewed on July 7, 2014.

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