A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! Paperback – Jan 4 2011
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“A genuine flavour of Verne... Very enjoyable.” ―M. John Harrison
“The novel's plot is complicated and immensely satisfying.... Mr Harrison skilfully inserts all the certainties and basic decencies of the Victorian novel into a revised contemporary setting.... It is a book which I can recommend with all my heart.” ―Auberon Waugh
“The More Technically Minded Gentlemen of the Reading Public will, I venture to say, find much that is Enjoyable and Most Humorous in A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! Hurrah! for the most redoubtable Mr Harrison--may his imagination Long Continue in such a Queer Vein as this.” ―infinityplus
About the Author
HARRY HARRISON, author of innumerable science fiction novels and stories, divides his time between Ireland and California.See all Product Description
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Then again, you can easily zip through the book in a day, and nobody can complain about being bogged down by inessentials. Harrison's artistry allows him to translate us to his alternate universe with a few deft strokes. It is unfair to make comparisons with later novels such as Gibson and Sterling's "The Difference Engine", which give a more three-dimensional impression of Victorian society. (Anyway, "A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!" is set in 1973, although speech patterns and customs are Victorian).
Due to the book's consistent focus on the transatlantic tunnel project, the action is rather intermittent. This will not be a problem for anyone who enjoys descriptions of clever technology, though, as possibilities are opened up that have not been explored even in our world. Some of the ideas may seem questionable - for instance, the artificial islands in the Atlantic, with their hotels, shopping precincts and beaches, might not stand up well to the occasional "perfect storm".
All in all, though, a most enjoyable romp and a big contrast to run-of-the-mill "space opera" science fiction. The introduction by Auberon Waugh and cameo appearances of Messrs Aldiss, Amis and Dick Tracy are a bonus.
Harrison's alt-history is clever, but vastly underused. The few peeks we get at what the world would be like if the British Empire had been even larger and lasted even longer are intriguing, but Harrison gives us little more than some vague sketches. For example, more Native Americans would have survived, which makes sense given the fact that the British government was generally more concerned with their welfare than was the United States. In addition, the World Wars apparently never happened, and it seemed implied that this was due to the sheer hegemony of the British Empire. These sorts of things were intriguing and at least somewhat plausible to me, since I did a lot of graduate work in history on the British Empire. However, like I said, Harrison gives us only the merest hints.
The steampunk-esque (though this book predates the steampunk movement, I think) technologies in the book are often intriguing as well - in this alternate world, we have airships, steam power, and analog computers coexisting side-by-side with electronic and nuclear power, so it's simultaneously more and less advanced than the world we live in. However, Harrison has a tendency to get bogged down in wearisome and minute descriptions of these technologies, at the expense of other elements of his story, which correspondingly suffer.
And that's what my main complaints are - though some of Harrison's descriptive passages were very good, overall characterization, plot, conflict, and dialogue were fairly weak. (In particular, as at least one prior reviewer pointed out, Washington's character is very flat.)
The basic premise of this book could have been made into a really great, dramatic story, but Harrison's usage of it falls short. So in sum: Good premise, lackluster execution.
... and of course the rest of the world as well. Over 4,000 miles in length, intended to sustain a pressure of 1,000 atmospheres while accommodating cargo and passengers traveling in excess of 1,000 miles per hour, the Transatlantic Tunnel is a project worthy of Her Majesty's Empire in this the eights decade of twentieth century.
If the project is a success, the credit will belong to Captain Augustus Washington, the most brilliant engineer of our age. It is Washington's greatest hope that his success will at last erase the family shame inspired by that other Washington, George, traitor to his King, who was hanged by Lord Cornwallis more than two centuries ago.