A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!

A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!

by Harry Harrison

(aka Tunnel Through the Deeps) is an alternate history.

America remains a British colony dreaming of independence.

Thus Harrison brings into being a British Empire which has survived into the 20th century still influenced by its Victorian creators.

So is born an engineering project to link Britain with its colony: a tunnel beneath the sea.

The hero of the story is Captain Augustine Washington, engineer & descendent of the traitor.

A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!

A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!

The hero is an American, seeking independence for his country, but the British here are benign imperialists.

  • Category: Science Fiction
  • Rating: 3.46
  • Pages: 192
  • Publish Date: September 2000 by Gollancz
  • Isbn10: 0575071346
  • Isbn13: 9780575071346

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The story captured my imagination with its exploration of alternate history and sneak peaks at the future directions science and engineering might take to tackle such a project.

This book is set in a world in which the Moors were never driven out of Spain, the French and American Revolutions both failed, Britain remains Great, the World Wars never happened, and a descendant of the executed George Washington is trying to clear the family name, marry a woman whose father dislikes him, and build a transatlantic tunnel.

The hero of this work is Augustus Washington, an engineer and descendant of the disgraced General George Washington who was hung as a traitor during the early failed attempt at American Independance.

HH wrote mainly two types of novels, funny ones like The Stainless Steel Rat/Jim di Griz-series, and gritty ones like the Deathworld-trilogy, but also some odd ones, like this book which I did read in the early 70s, but did not remember at all. To say that is "negative" criticism, is to say Verne & Wells were bad writers, which - of course!

Note that the main submarine in Harrison's story is called Nautilus the same name as Captain Nemo's sub in Jules Verne's novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. This is an alternate history novel in wch Britain won the war-for-independence w/ the colonies - resulting in no USA - as of the 1970s (when the novel seems to be roughly set) the Americas are still a colony: ""Because of the revolt and the ill feelings that followed after it in the American colonies, we remain a colony to this day. Washington becomes the man who heads the construction of the train tunnel across the Atlantic Ocean. SO, imagine a train tunnel 3,000 miles long! Here there was no proud, high-stepping equine frame between the shafts, but instead a squat engine of some sort whose black, metal, bricklike form rested upon three wheels." p 31 Cars exist, but they haven't become common & they've evolved in different ways. The notion of alternate time-streams becomes relegated to being something promulgated by a minor psychic character who postulates a possible time-fork on July 16, 1212: ""Suffice to say, Gontran spoke before he died, and revealed the fact that he had planned to lead Christian troops that night by secret and unguarded paths that he knew of, being a shepherd, that would bring them behind Muslim lines. Now I ask you to consider what might have happened if he had succeeded in his plan."" (p 34) This possibility, of course, being the one that leads to the world as we (sortof) know it today. A request for aid that could not be refusedor he would be revealed to the English authorities and jailed, deported." (p 53) & conditions in America (& elsewhere) are different too, of course, as things seem stalled in the 18th or 19th centuries: "The Iroquois, forced by law to check tomahawks and scalping knives at the city limits or to leave them home if they were residents, found a ready substitute in the table knives from the grill. War whoops mixed with the names of saints and the Holy Family as they clashed." (p 55) "Since the original thirteen states attempted to form their own government and failed, this country has grown until now it numbers thirty-one states and the California Territory." (p 60) "Gamblers there were in the crowd, sleek men with dark clothes, neat mustaches and white handsand ready derringers on their persons to confront any man so rash as to dispute the honesty of a deal or the fall of a pair of dice." (p 121) "the rendezvous up the Hudson River, below the ruined fortress of West Point, long associated with the heroic General Benedict Arnold" (p 149) For readers unfamiliar w/ the references: West Point, aka the United States Military Academy, is where officers are trained - candidates must be nominated, often by a member of Congress (this probably helps keep the ruling elites in power); Benedict Arnold was an American general during the Revolutionary War who defected to the British Army. He took it from the drawer, put the microphone on the table before him and the receiver to his ear, and threw the small switch which activated it." (p 104) One of the many strengths of Tunnel Through The Deeps is Harrison's imaginings of the technical difficulties of a trans-Atlantic train tunnel: ""There are, of course, the abyssal plains that form the bottom, lying at an average depth of sixteen thousand feet below the ocean's surface, but other features must be taken into consideration. And there are more factors to consider, underwater earthquakes and vulcanism which are concentrated in specific areas for the most part, the very high temperatures of the sea bottom near the Rift Valley as well as the fact that the sea bottom here is moving as the continents drift apart at the rate of about two inches a year."" (p 109) An aside is that in my edition of the bk there's a misprint that puts the last line on p 109 at its top instead.

Harry Harrison (born Henry Maxwell Dempsey) was an American science fiction author best known for his character the The Stainless Steel Rat and the novel Make Room!