We have a GASLIGHT game pencilled in for next Sunday at Manchester Area Wargames Society, this time open to anyone who wants to join in (with certain limits, one must keep the riff-raff out, you understand.) While it's going to be too short notice to get either the slum housing or the Fenians or Russians ready to play, I'm hoping to get at least a couple of new vehicles into play for the existing factions. The Brits have a couple of mini tankettes formerly made by Ground Zero Games, the Germans have the Scheltrum "Armoured Pullman" while the Evil Genius forces has the heavily modified Iron Drake from the Scotia Grendel fantasy line, augmented with a turret from Ramshackle Games "Tridlins" catalogue, plus hopefully the converted Brass Coffin model, based/blatantly copied from Papa Midnight's conversion.
As research for my upcoming Fenian army, I've just re-read the Stars and Stripes trilogy by Harry Harrison. It's an alternate history novel which diverges from our history early in the American Civil War. Through bad diplomacy and a sequence of unlikely events, North and South re-unite to give the British Empire a good kicking, pausing only to liberate Ireland before invading England and kicking out the monarchy in order to impose their version of democracy.
You'd think this story would be full of excellent inspiration for VSF wargames, but you'd be wrong. Harrison is reputed to be very anti-British in real life, and this comes blaring through in the books. Every single British character is portrayed as incompetent, bigoted, rude and completely unable to adapt to new ideas. Queen Victoria is portrayed as a drooling semi-imebecile, every British politician a jingoistic warmonger. The British soldiers stationed in Mexico are portrayed as completely unable to adapt to a hot climate, despite having redeployed there from India. I think it's accurate to say that in all three books there is not one positive adjective ever applied to a character from the British side.
Compare and contrast the Americans, who are all peace-loving but uber-competent visionary professionals, who instantly adapt to the new technologies of war that debuted in the Civil War. After promptly setting aside any "misunderstandings" over the whole messy slavery business, they instantly re-equip all their forces with repeating rifles, a seemingly unlimited supply of Gatling guns and a brand new class of nigh-unsinkable and surprisingly seaworthy Ironclad Monitors. Harrison sets up his scenario to give the Americans every single possible advantage, and as a result they steamroller the Brits in every encounter. USS Monitor meets HMS Warrior, the Royal Navy's most advanced ironclad, in a perfect storm of favourable circumstances.
What rankles a little is that Harrison seems to flirt briefly with some potentially meaty plot elements, only to quickly move on to more one dimensional "British bad, America good" ranting. The problems of the South reintegrating into the Union are teased at briefly, with a major plot twist in the first book, which is then instantly forgotten. The centuries of ill feeling between Catholics and Protestant in Ireland are steamrollered over once the Americans declare Ireland liberated and the complaints of the minority Protestants are mentioned then immediately brushed aside. The final pages of the book show the Americans in the conquered Republic of England (having also broken the union with Scotland) casting their eyes eastward to mainland Europe and speculating whether at some point they too would need "sorting out",
And then despite blatantly loading all the dice in America's favour and displaying a clear ignorance of some of the warfighting technology he describes (grapeshot being effective at a range of over a mile, in the first shot of the Battle of Hampton Roads, no less), in an interview included at the end off the first book, Harrison piously proclaims that his story is exactly how it would have happened.
The best way, I've found, to enjoy the Stars and Stripes series is to ignore Harrison's claims that he's writing Alternate History. He's not. He's actually writing a pastiche of the "Coming War" genre that was extremely popular in the late 19th century. In it, writers would postulate some new and revolutionary warfighting technology or method that would be used to finally vanquish the enemy. HG Wells' "The Land Ironclads" is one such story, as is "The Battle of Dorking". I've read a couple of other examples, one German and one American, in which the British were the enemy, their traditional-bound military completely unable to resist the new and scientific methods of warfare used against them, leading to a series of one-sided slaughters. The Stars and Stripes book match this tone down to the smallest detail.
The other way to get the most out of the Stars and Stripes books is to put them down and instead read Harry Turtledove's "How Few Remain", from a Harry who really knows how to write alternate history. After the South survives the Civil War intact, a second civil war flares up in the 1880s. Turtledove looks at the impact of a lot of the same new technology as Harrison, but does so in a much more convincing narrative. The fighting in 1881 becomes a grim foreshadowing of the trench warfare of WW1, which Turtledove would go on to cover extensively in the Great War series which follows on from events in this novel. But How Few Remain stands up well as a rollicking piece of war fiction in its own right, despite its intended role as an introduction to the three alt-history series that followed on from it.