Theodore Judson’s sci-fi novel, Fitzpatrick’s War, is a relatively unconventional take on empire, history, government, society, and love. That he covers all of these topics in just a shade under 500 pages is itself quite an achievement.
The world of Fitzpatrick's War is Earth four hundred years in the future. With one exception, the world’s societies are once again steam-driven. Zeppelins transport people through the air from place to place while steam locomotives, cars, and trucks are generally responsible for ground transportation. The technologically dominant society is an amalgam of the US, Canada, Britain, and a handful of minor geographic locales. This dominant society is known as the Yukon Confederacy. The Yukon Confederacy is both healthy due to its trade and technology, and prone to internal collapse due to its rigid societal, political, and economic structures. The vast majority of Yukons work the land as farmers. Mobility for this class into the upper classes is almost nonexistent. Those of all classes who attend school are taught lessons only from approved textbooks and the most important subject is History. The Yukons are a people constantly looking backward.
Judon’s book is written as though it is an annotated reprint of a historical text. The annotation is provided by an approved Historian; the text is the autobiography of an individual Yukon citizen-soldier. This artificial construct never managed to withdraw into the background of the story. Frequent footnotes prevented the story from building much momentum as they introduced useless facts about extremely minor characters. I’m sure that the construct Judson chose enabled him to tell the story he wanted, but it doesn’t enhance the reader’s experience.
In addition, Judson isn’t much of a word smith. He has a serviceable grasp of the English language, but no one would ever describe his prose as witty or clever. He’s a good enough writer to keep language from getting in the way of his ideas, but not much more than that.
The themes that Judson wants to explore are the central characters in the novel. These themes joust with each other for room on the printed page, with some receiving more space than others. However, Judson’s views on these themes (the nature of empire, the power relationships in a marraige, the importance of history, and others) are all relayed to the reader eventually.
Fitzpatrick’s War is a serviceable yarn, but not one that should send you to the bookstore RIGHT NOW to pick up a copy. Instead, keep your eyes open for a used paperback copy and buy it without reservation.