Monday, January 02, 2006

Breaking the Siege

New World Order by Ben Jeapes (Corgi, £5.99, pb)

Ben Jeapes's latest paperback, New World Order, is a counterfactual history set in the Civil War and yet it is more.

John Donder , a Holekhor general, arrives at the siege of Newbury to find the Parliamentarian side armed with machine guns. As he travels to find his son and friends from his earlier visit, he discovers the remnants of the opposing forces from the civil war on his own planet who are arming the troops with machine guns instead of flint lock rifles. In the break between the Wars the Holekhor launch a fullscale invasion of Earth, leasing a piece of England as their own, whilst King Charles is allowed to sit on the throne apparently in power. Donder's commander then initiates a full scale invasion through increasing settlers in the rest of England and allowing the Congregation to root out heretics. Whilst this invasion is happening, Oliver Cromwell launches a resistance to the invaders and the new technology.

New World Order uses its fractured history to comment upon the present. Rather than bending the natural order of facts, Jeapes merrily shatters them but in doing so delivers a wonderfully modern clash of cultures which asks the reader to think about their own position. There is a running commentary upon the nature of immigration and each cultures response to the other. He has his own position through with which he begins to rejoin the histories and he derides the extremist positions of both sides.

The thrust of his argument comes from the use of exegesis by parties on both sides. Both the Holekhor (especially for the Congregation) and Cromwell use their religious texts to justify their actions. Can one live one's life by this? Perhaps but one cannot justify important actions or events by religious text. In keeping with the rest of the book, Jeapes allows the reader to see the insanity of devoting an outlook merely to the text without navigating its meaning for onself. It is seen as dubly insane when the troops are given the weapons for the first time and decides, since they are using them, that are not evil, yet later in the book, they charge Daniel, Donder's son, with being in collusion with consorting with demons.

The title can apply in many situations and is a summation of where each culture lives but it resists simple Western or Orientalist readings. What really keeps this novel going is the spritely writing which weaves fictions amidst the facts. It is an exhilarating book that has fun in its seriousness.


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