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Literature / The Two Georges

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A 1995 Alternate History novel by Harry Turtledove and Richard Dreyfuss (the actor), set in a world where a peaceful resolution was found to what in our world would become the American War of Independence. Essentially, the result was that the American colonies never left the dominion of the British Empire, later fusing together with Canada and the rest of what-would-have-been the United States to form the North American Union.

In this world, the titular "Two Georges" is a painting by Thomas Gainsborough commemorating the meeting between George Washington and King George III which ensured this peaceful resolution, and has come to be a potent symbol of unity between the United Kingdom and the North American Union. Which makes it a bit unfortunate when the "Sons of Liberty", a terrorist organisation demanding the separation of all ties between the UK and the NAU, manage to steal it. It's up to Colonel Thomas Bushell, the police officer in charge of protecting the painting, to recover it before it is destroyed — and in doing so, to expose and thwart their true plans.

The Two Georges contains examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Bushell has trouble controlling his scotch intake.
  • Allohistorical Allusion: Turtledove loves this trope, so naturally there's lots. Some examples include:
    • It's often discussed that the gun-crime statistics in the NAU are getting worse, with as many as five gun-related homicides that year in New Liverpool alone. New Liverpool is quite clearly the Alternate History's equivalent of our timeline's Los Angeles, which has a much worse reputation for gun-related violence by several orders of magnitude.
    • Tricky Dicky's murder has several similarities to various theories around the assassination of John F. Kennedy — who is still alive in this novel.
    • The Sons of Liberty have pretty much evolved into the alternate history's equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan, with a bit of the IRA and far-right neo-Nazi 'skinhead' movements thrown in as well.
    • At one point, Sam Stanley, Bushell's companion, is called "Sam the spade".
    • At the end, Thomas Bushell and Samuel Stanley are knighted for their actions over the course of the novel. Bushell's inner thoughts state that he's never been prouder to be an American.
  • Alternate History Wank: Played with; the British Empire is still around, as are most of the pre-20th century colonial empires. However, with the obvious exception of the NAU, the British Empire and its dominions aren't that greatly different from what they were at the height of the British Empire anyway, and it's often suggested that the Empire has gradually become more like our timeline's Commonwealth anyway, except with Britain remaining a lot more influential. There's also details that suggest that the pace of economic development and associated technological changes have been much more relaxed, with the world having less of the modern conveniences (but also much less social inequality and injustice) available in our timeline at that era.
  • America Is Still a Colony: The story takes place in an alternate timeline where George Washington and King George III were able to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the problems between Britain and the colonies. In the 20th century, the North American Union consists of most of North America and is a vital part of the British Empire.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The last part of the Sons of Liberty's plan: the huge, heavy frame of The Two Georges is replaced with a near-identical one loaded with explosives. Bushell only caught on to this when he realized the Big Bad's Smug Snake attitude isn't broken. In the end, he disarms the device with a bit more than five minutes in the clock.
  • The Daily Misinformer: The narrative paints the publication "Common Sense" as this In-Universe; in the Alternate History presented in the narrative, America Is Still a Colony, and Common Sense's calls to break off from Britain are seen as radical. The paper is speculated to be the public face of the anti-British Sons of Liberty group.
  • Double-Blind What-If: In this world, the German states never unified and still frequently squabble among themselves in the 1990s. An alternate history novel entitled "The United Colonies Triumphant" involves a united Germany starting a major European war in the 20th Century and the former American colonies, which gained their independence in the 18th Century, coming to the aid of Britain. Bushell thought that the idea of Germany uniting under a single malign ruler to be absurd and that the novel was very poorly written. Others found it entertaining, even if the idea was far-fetched and improbable. The major difference between the world of "The United Colonies Triumphant" and the real world is that slavery still existed in 20th Century America in the former.
  • Fictional Painting: The eponymous "Two Georges."
  • Food Porn: Bushell eats very well. Meals in the book tend to be lavishly described.
  • For Want Of A Nail: Keeping ahold of North America meant that Britain was powerful enough to enforce a 'Pax Britannia'note  that lasted throughout the twentieth century. Not even France was in a position to challenge British interests, and Germany never united. There were no World Wars or major conflicts, meaning that the European (Colonial) Empires never fell. However, though the world is much more peaceful and stable (albeit with a non-nuclear Cold War between the different colonial powers rather than the USA / Soviet Union), it is also technologically less-advanced; the novel is set in the 1990s but the technology used is steampunk.
    • The British also intervened earlier to stamp out slavery in the North Americas, with something of a cross between the American Civil War and a second American Revolution happening in the 1830s. Americans consequently don't really believe in races or see them as an issue worth making a fuss over, much as you'd expect of our timeline's 1990s Britain (although it has been discussed with regards to how much of this is Politically Correct Alternate History). Class-ism and snobbery are the big issues of the day.
  • Honest John's Dealership: Despite not entering politics, Richard Nixon apparently has the exact same reputation for honesty and fair dealings as in our timeline, with many characters noting that the cars he sells are often very dodgy.
  • Hypocrite: From Bushell's perspective, at least; he often notes that a lot of the Sons of Liberty who view themselves as oppressed and struggling masses under a tyrannical regime bleeding them dry are actually quite prosperous and have benefited greatly from the same empire they wish to overthrow. He's a bit more sympathetic to more struggling, poorer types (such as miners) who have more legitimate grievances against their treatment, however.
  • In Spite of a Nail: A lot of people who otherwise probably wouldn't have been born are still around anyway (see Richard Nixon, the Used Car Salesman).
  • Richard Nixon, the Used Car Salesman: Trope Namer; in this world, Richard Nixon is a successful used car salesman. Other examples include:
    • John F. Kennedy is a newspaper publisher with anti-British sympathies.
    • Martin Luther King Jr. is the Governor General of the NAU.
    • The original McDonald brothers own a fish-and-chips shop in the Valley, but haven't created the fast food franchise.
    • Though the case of Nixon himself is actually downplayed: he still is a figure with political influence and a presence amongst the elite of society. It's just that he got there by being amongst the richest men in America (he doesn't sell cars in person, he owns a large chain of used car stores) rather than by being a politician.
  • Scenery Porn: Especially heavy during the Alaska segment. Which just makes the resulting gunfight all the uglier.
  • Self-Made Man: This universe's version of Richard Nixon takes great pride in how he came from humble beginnings and built a business empire. He also embraces his lower-class background because it distinguishes him from the Upper Class Twits surrounding him.
  • Space-Filling Empire: In North America, at least; the NAU comprises of a union between Canada and what would be the United States in real life.
  • Utopia: Played with; in many ways, the world of the NAU is a lot nicer than the world we live in — it's a lot more relaxed, peaceful and tolerant in many ways — but it's not without its issues either.
    • This is actually true of most of the world, with Africa and South America in particular divided up between a couple of colonial empires. Weirdly, this doesn't include Italy and Germany, which are still divided up into smaller nations.
  • The World's Expert (on Getting Killed): Felix Crooke is introduced as the RAMP's expert on the Sons of Liberty but proves to be stunningly unprepared for a face-to-face encounter with the people he's spent years studying. After a few chapters of accompanying Bushnell and Stanley, he's unceremoniously gunned down when he breaks cover to order several dangerous terrorists to surrender without even bothering to point a gun at them. He's even wearing a Red Shirt at the time.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: Airplanes are around, but they're mainly for military use and the potential for them as a form of civilian transport is generally disdained; who needs to get anywhere that fast?
    • The novel deconstructs it gradually, however; as the deadline to find The Two Georges gets increasingly closer, Bushell at several points ruefully reflects that having a form of transport that can cross the nation within hours rather than days might actually be pretty useful in these types of circumstances.