Saturday, March 13, 2010

For All Nails #301

Before I was a science fiction writer, I was a follower of alternate history - a subgenre of speculative fiction placed in settings where the actual flow of history took a different course than it did in our textbooks. Sliders, the worldhoppingest of Nineties Adventure Shows, introduced me to the concept, and the Internet exposed me to a world of it - sites such as Kedamono's Alternate History Travel Guides and many others that have since been lost, but the core of it was the Usenet newsgroup soc.history.what-if. Timelines such as President Chester A. Arthur's For All Time, a supremely dystopian unfolding of the Cold War, took my interest, and projects like For All Nails sealed it.

For All Nails is a collaborative extension of the richly detailed alternate history set out by Robert Sobel in 1973's For Want of a Nail, where a British victory at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777 led to the end of the American Revolution and a vastly altered North America, one dominated by the British-influenced Confederation of North America and its great rival, the United States of Mexico. Sobel's summation of the history left off in the early 1970s. In late 2001, Noel Maurer started the project where Sobel left off, and intended to take it to the 21st century. It eventually attracted more than a dozen contributors, including Randy McDonald of A Bit More Detail, and by the time I stumbled into the project in 2003, more than two hundred and fifty posts had been made.

Shortly thereafter, it seems, the project lost steam barely having made it to the 1980s. I wrote a few posts focusing on Quebec - in this alternate history, a semi-independent associate of the Confederation of North America - and left one unfinished. I began work on it on October 5, 2004, but it lay fallow until late September 2009, when I returned to it and completed it. The most recent post, FAN #300, was made on July 26, 2005.

Five years is a long time. I'm not sure what kind of a reaction it would get on soc.history.what-if. Still, I can't abide something going unseen - so, for better or for worse, it'll at least be live here.


For All Nails #301: An Independent Quebec Within a United CNA

"The greatest failure of the Bastien government was that, in seeking to please everyone, it succeeded in pleasing no one. While Sir Geoffrey Gold, eager to salvage something out of the CNA's Executive Revision debacle[1], was quick to approve Quebec's petition for its own Viceroy, there were many in Quebec who were unsatisfied with the arrangement. In requesting and welcoming Sir Albert Hardy as Viceroy, Bastien reminded Quebec of ties to Britain that many would prefer to have forgotten."

- From _It Began With A Whisper: A History of the Quebec Crisis_ by Michael Deschamps. Dorchester: Upcountry Press, 1997.


Dorchester House
Quebec City, Associated Confederation of Quebec
16 June 1977

One could be forgiven for thinking that the residence of the Honourable Sir Albert Hardy, Viceroy of Quebec, had seen better days. Sir Albert himself certainly thought so. The place had been built while Queen Victoria was in power, and aside from a rather hasty renovation that had characterized the first fortnight of his occupancy in Dorchester House, he didn't imagine it had been well kept up since then. In one of his more contemplative moods, he'd realized that it was eminently logical. After all, from what better place could he watch over the slum of a continent than a dilapidated mansion?

A year of living in his "temporary lodgings" had hardened his spirits. His official residence, the Palais du Québec - he had preferred "Viceregal Palace," but had been overruled - was little more than a wooden frame in undeveloped parkland. The most hopeful estimates didn't anticipate it would be ready for another five years, at least. The contractors called it a regrettable necessity in light of the Viceroy's august office. The Viceroy himself called it shiftlessness. With a hundred years of internal sovereignty behind them, and North America at their doorstep, Sir Albert wondered how they could have fallen so far.

Of course, that wasn't to say that recent events had proved the Johnnies down south to be much better. The people of Quebec knew where their true loyalties ought to lie, even if North America had forgotten.

A hard rap at the door put paid to those thoughts. Sir Albert put down the memorandum he'd tried to read five times and of which he'd retained not one line and signalled his watchman to let the scandalmonger in. Luther Macpherson, a stout, competent Scot who'd proven his grit on blood-soaked French fields, entered with a notebook-clutching, fire-eyed young lady in a knee-length skirt and knitted blouse in all the colors of Quebec's damnable flag. All that London had done for them, and not even a hint of the Union Jack that had made it all possible.

"Your Excellency," she said, offering an obviously-practiced curtsey. "It's a privilege to meet you. I'm Eve Devlin, of the Frontenac[2] _Intrepid_."

"Madame," Sir Albert said as he rose from his chair. He clasped her hand for a moment and found it nearly as hot as coal fresh from the furnace. "I hope you'll understand that this interview must be brief by necessity. Would that you were the only demand on my time."

"Brevity is my job, Excellency," Devlin said. Young and shapely, she was, the sort of woman for whom those scandalous Mexican costumes were made, and most likely a calculated maneuver by her editor. He'd hardly be the first man to have a few wrong words slip out. "May I be seated?"

Sir Albert motioned to a rickety, uneven chair, the only other one in the room. Few visitors had the inclination to prolong meetings after a few moments balancing on it. With luck, she'd ask the sort of questions that would allow him to trot the same old answers out for a ride around the stables.

Did he see further friction between London and Burgoyne? No, he said, Britain has always been ready for North America to choose its own path. Will he be active in pursuing greater cooperation between Quebec and Britain? Of course, he said, and he'd taken a primary role in the continued cooperative development of hydroelectric stations at Gallivan Falls.[3] Devlin asked sharp questions, and he thought it a shame they'd only appear in some upcountry rag of a newspaper.

"What's your opinion on Quebec's decision to retain its ties to the United Kingdom separately from the CNA?"

"I'd call it a recognition of historical connexions, and one that remains most welcome in London," Sir Albert said. "My presence as Viceroy of Quebec is a recognition of the role the United Kingdom played in ensuring Quebec's continuity as a distinct culture on this continent. Without British aid, you would have been helpless against Fanchon and his heirs, and hopeless to maintain its unique identity without being subsumed into the greater whole of North America."

"You might have some people disagree with you on that, Excellency," Devlin said. "I don't believe there's a nation on this Earth as stubborn as the Quebecois. Nevertheless, I--"

"I'm sorry, madame, but I'll have to stop you there," Sir Albert said, raising one hand. "I've given you twenty minutes now, and I think I've been more than generous. I'm certain you've collected enough material today for an entire series of articles. For myself, as I said, important matters of state do not wait, not even in the company of beautiful women."

Devlin blushed. "I'm thankful for your time, Excellency. It was a privilege and an honour."

Sir Albert thanked her and let Macpherson lead her out. He returned to the memoranda, and the files, and the requests for services and signatures that piled his desk, and kept his back to the wall. He couldn't help but think she'd find some way to pound his words into a knife.


From the Frontenac _Intrepid_, Page A1
20 June 1977



[1] See FAN #253.

[2] OTL Toronto, Ontario. Given the differing patterns of settlement in eastern Canada due to the lack of United Empire Loyalists, among other changes, Frontenac is a far smaller and lower-profile city than Toronto was even in 1977, when the Anglophone exodus from Montreal had only just begun.

[3] OTL Churchill Falls, Labrador. They weren't discovered until after the POD in any event, and had a succession of names before being renamed after Winston in 1965. Here they're named after Ezra Gallivan, who is still fondly looked upon in Quebec for his role in the 1889 plebiscite. Owing to Quebec's access to Niagara Falls and multiple dammable Ontario rivers in the FaNTL, as well as more limited historic industrialization, there was less motivation to tap the falls' potential as early as in OTL.

1 comment:

  1. Hurrah! FAN lives!

    And it only took me six months to find it! Andrew, you'll be pleased to know that this post is the number ten Google hit for the phrase "Ezra Gallivan".

    And naturally, I'll have to link to it on my own blog.