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 Marshal 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.
Underground Airlines is a groundbreaking novel, a wickedly imaginative thriller, and a story of an America that is more like our own than we'd like to believe.
©2016 Ben Winters (P)2016 Hachette Audio
"Underground Airlines is a work of astonishing originality and ambition. Like the best art, it forces us to question our own assumptions. Is the machine of modern civilization really that far removed from the alternate reality that Winters presents here? We're all implicated in this unsettling and visionary novel. Ben Winters is one brave writer." (Patrick Millikin, The Poisoned Pen Bookstore)
"A daring and very well constructed novel." (Booklist)
"The most timely of alternate history novels. Ben Winters has created a spellbinding world that forces the reader to look around - and to look within. This is a thriller not to be missed and one that will not be easily forgotten." (Hugh Howey, New York Times best-selling author of Wool)
As a high concept alternative history this book is a stand out thought experiment. That experiment is that the US never fought the civil war so now in 2016 four states still practice institutionalized and legal slavery. What I found most fascinating in this over all very good book is the imagined practical reality of that situation. It describes a quasi-fascist southern racist regime in highly convincing detail. It’s by far the best and most interesting part of the book…and also the most frustrating because the author supposes that we all live in his imagined world and thus don’t really need to be filled in on those details. His narration of the practicalities of a 2016 slave state USA is very disturbing and heavily reminiscent of novels about Hitler’s Germany such as city of Night or Cimmerian (both available on Audible). There are many absolutely compelling segments where I promise you will be both fascinated and appalled in equal amounts. If I had any complaint it would be in the plotting. Some parts of the story are either under explained or just plain missing. Parts of the early chapters drag a little and the ending feels a bit rushed. There are several ‘deus ex machina’ moments which can be excused as the plot really only serves as a structure to hang the compelling descriptions of this alternate reality. This is by far not a fun read…it’s very good read but it will make you question many aspects of our modern America and see our race torn world through a very dark glass.
I loved this book. I could not stop listening to it!The story was very creative and wound along paths that you did not expect. It is spellbinding
I really liked the main character.
The narration, which can destroy a good book, was excellent.
Ben Winters is a very good writer. This is the first book of his that I read. I am going to read another one very soon!
Imagine a USA without a civil war and slavery was still legal in 2016. This is the premise of Underground Airlines. It's an interesting way to frame and examine racism today and how it may not be all that far removed from that distant past, and it's intimate connection. The story is like a crime novel, and it moves along nicely. I recommend the story.
William DeMerrit is excellent. Each character is uniquely and expertly performed. I look forward to hearing his other work.
A smart, compelling story that transports the listener to a world that could so easily be ours. The performance is riveting, thanks to the narrator, who makes you connect with the characters while opening your eyes to the small and large differences in this alternate America. The writer has captured An important reflection at an important time in America's history. Highly recommended to all who want to be reminded of just how far we've come even as we are eager to go farther still. Race relations in America - as it could have been.
Blind listener reading everything, especially mystery/thrillers and sf&f. Restricted to audio so picky where credits spent. #BooksRule
Quite a compelling read... Some well thought speculation on the what if front, and it's more alternate current events than alternate history;). The idea of slaves as stock/chattle is pulled off incisively w/o beating you over the head;). The story moves well and has some delightful turnarounds woven. Into the central plot and overall storyline... It paints a grim picture of how the country coulda turned out drastically different, although in many ways maybe not so much... Puts a whole new spin on the idea of profiling and enhanced interrogation... The pace and flow never lags making it a decent binge read;). Characters are well done, but Victor and Martha shoulder the load... Particularly impressed w/ the sequences of victor's memories of his time as a person bonded... On that same note, thought that his past could have been a bit more complete... Narration is average, and fairly slow, but plays relatively well at 1.25x... Definitely worth the credit...
First person narratives often make for great Audible recordings and this is a prime example. I Could not stop listening. It is especially poignant in our current climate of strained race relations.
A great premise, well plotted and executed, wryly humorous. Solid narrator, William DeMeritt, who handles the introspective passages and character dialog equally adroitly. This is more like an American Noir antihero driven story than an Alt History. While unfortunately timely, the book isn't a preachy polemic, or a nerdy fleshing out of an alternate timeline. It's very much like modern America with the conceit throwing its contradictions into relief without tedious exposition. The good aren't as good as they think and evil is more prosaic than dastardly. It's about a man against himself more than his adversaries or circumstances. He's got layers and goes all the way down. He's good, isn't he? Ultimately it's a great story, worth your time and not a trendy edifying read for false liberal solidarity. Winters opened himself up to all sorts of backlash to write this story but acquits himself splendidly.
I wasn't familiar with this author, but I saw he was going to make an appearance in a local bookstore and was curious what he was promoting, so I looked him up. When I saw that the book was set in my home town, Indianapolis, I was intrigued. It was available on Audible, I had a credit, and that's how it started.
I usually read straight mysteries, so this was a little different for me. I liked the narrator very much, so much so that I didn't speed up the playback.
Victor is a very interesting character: hardened by life, trying to stay detached, but not soulless. He tracks runaway slaves and can successfully infiltrate abolitionism groups because he is Black. He has freedom but is not free.
His current case has not been well defined for him and he's struggling. The more he figures out, the more he knows that the real case is not the one that he's investigating. What is the underlying story?
I wasn't as charmed by Martha. I wasn't sure who she really was.
The book is divided into three parts. Once I got into the third part, I couldn't put it down. I also rewound several times just to make sure I was keeping everything straight.
This was a very interesting and thought-provoking read on what might have been. I like a book that makes me think. This is that book.
I would have liked to have given it 4.5 stars because there were a few continuity issues, but it was better than 4 stars so I rounded up.
Loved it. Kept me guessing and figuring until the end. The narrator and main character is beautifully conceived, very rich, and the performance -- of all the characters -- by William DeMerritt adds an extra level of depth and humanness. I absolutely loved it, kept me awake at night and has kind of haunted me in between listens.
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