This is the third short novel/novella (145 pages) in the author’s Yankee Republic series. I described the first, Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves, as “utterly charming”, and the second, Five Million Watts, “enchanting”. In this volume, the protagonist, Philo Hergenschmidt, embarks upon a hero’s journey to locate a treasure dating from the origin of the Earth which may be the salvation of radio station 2XG and the key to accomplishing the unrealised dream of the wizard who built it, Zaros the Electromage.
Philo’s adventures take him into the frozen Arctic where he meets another Old One, to the depths of the Arctic Ocean in the fabulous submarine of the eccentric Captain Kolodziej, into the lair of a Really Old One where he almost seizes the prize he seeks, and then on an epic road trip. After the Partition of North America, the West, beyond the Mississippi, was ceded by the Republic to the various aboriginal tribes who lived there, and no Yankee dare enter this forbidden territory except to cross it on the Tyrant’s Road, which remained Yankee territory with travellers given free passage by the tribes—in theory. In fact, no white man was known to have ventured West on the Road in a century.
Philo has come to believe that the “slow iron” he seeks may be found in the fabled City of the Future, said to be near the Pacific coast at the end of the Tyrant’s Road. The only way to get there is to cross the continent, and the only practical means, there being no gas stations or convenience stores along the way, is by bicycle. Viridios helps Philo obtain a superb bicycle and trailer, and equip himself with supplies for the voyage. Taking leave of Viridios at the Mississippi and setting out alone, he soon discovers everything is not what it was said to be, and that the West is even more mysterious, dangerous, and yet enchanted than the stories he’s heard since boyhood.
It is, if nothing else, diverse. In its vast emptiness there are nomadic bands pursuing the vast herds of bison on horseback with bows and arrows, sedentary tribes who prefer to ride the range in Japanese mini-pickup trucks, a Universal Library which is an extreme outlier even among the exotic literature of universal libraries, a hidden community that makes Galt’s Gulch look like a cosmopolitan crossroads, and a strange people who not only time forgot, but who seem to have forgotten time. Philo’s native mechanical and electrical knack gets him out of squeezes and allows him to trade know-how for information and assistance with those he encounters.
Finally, near the shore of the ocean, he comes to a great Tree, beyond imagining in its breadth and height. What is there to be learned here, and what challenges will he face as he continues his quest?
This is a magnificent continuation of one of the best young adult alternative history tales I’ve encountered in many years. Don’t be put off by the “young adult” label—while you can hand this book to any youngster from age nine on up and be assured they’ll be enthralled by the adventure and not distracted by the superfluous grunge some authors feel necessary to include when trying to appeal to a “mature” audience, the author never talks down to the reader, and even engineers and radio amateurs well versed in electronics will learn arcana such as the generation and propagation of extremely low frequency radio waves. This is a story which genuinely works for all ages.
This book is currently available only in a Kindle edition. Note that you don’t need a physical electronic book reader, tablet, or mobile phone to read Kindle books. Free Kindle applications are available which let you read on Macintosh and Windows machines, and a Kindle Cloud Reader allows reading Kindle books on any machine with a modern Web browser, including all Linux platforms. The fourth volume, The City of Illusions, is scheduled to be published in December, 2019.
Wood, Fenton. The Tower of the Bear. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services, 2019. ASIN B07XB8XWNF.