Underground Airlines

Underground Airlines

Book - 2016
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"It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it: smartphones, social networking and Happy Meals. Save for one thing: the Civil War never occurred. A gifted young Black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service. He's got plenty of work. In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called "the Hard Four." On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that something isn't right-- with the case file, with his work, and with the country itself. A mystery to himself, Victor suppresses his memories of his childhood on a plantation, and works to infiltrate the local cell of an abolitionist movement called the Underground Airlines. Tracking Jackdaw through the back rooms of churches, empty parking garages, hotels, and medical offices, Victor believes he's hot on the trail. But his strange, increasingly uncanny pursuit is complicated by a boss who won't reveal the extraordinary stakes of Jackdaw's case, as well as by a heartbreaking young woman and her child who may be Victor's salvation. Victor himself may be the biggest obstacle of all-- though his true self remains buried, it threatens to surface. Victor believes himself to be a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he has worked so hard to earn. But in pursuing Jackdaw, Victor discovers secrets at the core of the country's arrangement with the Hard Four, secrets the government will preserve at any cost."-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York :, Mulholland Books, Little, Brown and Company,, 2016
Edition: First Edition
Copyright Date: ©2016
ISBN: 9780316261241
0316261246
Characteristics: 327 pages : map ; 25 cm

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SquamishLibraryStaff Nov 22, 2016

What if the civil war never happened? What if slavery still existed in four southern states?
A brilliant speculative fiction thriller portraying a frightening alternative modern day America, which may be closer to the truth than we like to believe.


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r
ryner
Apr 09, 2019

As we're introduced to Victor, we get the sense that he's some kind of detective or investigator on a mission. In his hotel room he receives a digital file containing information about his new case and a nightly phone call from his boss at precisely 9:50pm. Though we aren't yet privy to the nature of his work, the reader gradually gleans sufficient snippets and clues that make it clear that he's living in an alternate reality in which the Civil War was never fought, and in which slavery is still legal, though regulated, in four southern states.

Though the United States depicted in this dystopian novel is horrifying on the one hand, on the other it sadly didn't seem excessively far-fetched. In any case, it was absolutely a riveting page-turner for me, and would make for an interesting book club discussion.

IndyPL_SteveB Dec 26, 2018

A fascinating thriller about race in America, with an alternate history twist. The book is by an award-winning former Indianapolis resident and takes place mostly in Indianapolis.

The book is set in a version of modern America which did not have a Civil War. After 150 years, 4 states still have legal Negro slavery and it is the law all over the USA that runaway slaves are to be returned to their owners. The US Marshall’s office is in charge of tracking the runaways; but here is also a major secret movement to rescue slaves and get them to Canada. Since it is modern times, this movement is called the Underground Airlines.

Victor is one of the US Marshall’s top operatives. He is a combination of detective, actor, salesman – whatever is necessary to track the runaways. He is also a Negro former slave – with a microchip tracking device in his head. He was told he had to take this job or be sent back to slavery himself. The conflicts in his mind and soul are deep indeed.

Winters is a fine writer, using the small details of daily life and character to get you to accept this altered reality. He has used real historical facts from 1860 and thoughtful extrapolation to make this different direction of American history quite plausible. The book is very exciting but is even more thought-provoking as you see the results of legal slavery and become painfully aware that many of the same attitudes are only thinly hidden in our “real world.”

k
KatG1983
Sep 10, 2018

An imaginative and creative world, wherein slavery is still legal in 4 states. I thought the premise was really interesting, and lent itself to talk about bigger issues - but there were a few too many twists in the plot. Additionally, while the plot itself was compelling, the book is short on emotional and character development; and the ending felt rushed through. Would be a really cool 8 episode HBO series.

WestSlope_TheaH Aug 21, 2018

I find myself talking about this book a lot---in his disturbing and dramatic alternative history novel, Winters imagines a world in which the civil war never happened and slavery still exists in the modern-day United States. Intricately plotted, fast-paced, and thought-provoking. I couldn’t put this book down!

c
cathyingram
Jul 02, 2018

A very creative and thought-provoking premise, especially in today's environment of re-exposed racism.

m
mamabadger56
May 02, 2018

Winters does a remarkable job with remaking history, overlapping real US history with all-too-plausible alterations, to create an America in which pragmatic compromises resulted in slavery being indefinitely retained in multiple states. It's an alternate history sci-fi novel, a disturbing commentary on race relations, and an excellent mystery full of surprises, all rolled into one.

i
Ichijo
Aug 31, 2017

Another wonderful selection by my bookclub. Managed to get 70 pages through this thoroughly boring and uninteresting pile of garbage before returning it to the library. Much like Joel Schumacher in the director commentary of Batman and Robin, the audiobook version of this should be the author repeatedly apologizing.

l
lukasevansherman
Aug 23, 2017

In the tradition of Dick's "The Man in the High Castle" (Nazis win the war.) and Roth's "The Plot Against America" (Lindbergh becomes president.), Ben H. Winters's "Underground Airlines" presents an alternative (or speculative) history. In this, there are still slave states (Called the "Hard Four") and the protagonist is a black bounty hunter tracking down fugitives. Winters, who wrote "The Last Policeman" trilogy and "Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters," is white and so it's a rather bold move to take on slavery. There's an ongoing debate about what writers can and can't write. Should writers have unlimited freedom or should they stay in their own lane? It's one of the only interesting questions this poorly written and indifferently novel raises. You'd be much better off picking up Colson Whitehead's "The Underground Railroad" or Omar El Akkad's "American War," which imagines a second Civil War.

Cynthia_N Aug 12, 2017

Winters created a world where slavery was still legal in four of the United States. The main character always tells you the shade of color of the slaves which was just creepy and overall it was a good unsettling read!

m
mgusek555
Aug 07, 2017

Good to pass the time. Enjoyed the story overall. Wasn't too challenging but did make me think.

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akober_0
Dec 11, 2016

akober_0 thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over

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