In an alternate history where the South wins the Civil War (here called “The War of Southern Independence”), a young farmer’s son named Hodge sets out to seek his fortune in New York. He finds the city, in the 1930’s, to be alive with the wonders of steam cars, pneumatic mail and household telegraphs.
Writing in 1953, Moore does an astounding job visualizing an alternative history (a genre he virtually invented) of surprising detail and wit. His world is fully believable for the purposes of the story and yet so littered with wicked ironies that there is plenty of room for keenly-observed social commentary and occasionally humor. Hodge is the perfect sci-fi protagonist for such a story, a man who is “always a spectator” and never a real participant. He is a likable character even as his flaws become more and more readily viewable. The supporting cast has some Dickensonian characters, but never outright single-trait clichés. Moore takes a fairly progressive attitude on race and gender and subverts his own somewhat sexist protagonist on more than one occasion.
Though an excellent book in terms of its world-creation and over-arching story, one seemingly important subplot (a military-conspiracy angle which build quite a bit of momentum) is left curiously forgotten and unresolved.