Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party

At first I thought this was a futuristic novel about a remote kingdom. Then I realized, it was historical fiction, focussing on the life of a northern slave during the time of the civil war.

Octavian grew up in an intellectual house in Boston during the pre-revolutionary time. He both studies himself and was well-studied by the other intellectuals there. The people had a degree of respect for the blacks. They didn't quite see them as equals, but saw them as people capable of intellectual achievement.

However, the patron of the house passes away. Things look good with the new patron until Octavian's mother rebuffs his advances. He promised all sorts of things in England, but she knew she would just continue to be a slave. (It turns out, that England would soon thereafter free the slaves. However, it was too late for them.)

They have a "pox party" where people are all infected with pox together in a house. The slaves are also kept there (in part to prevent the possibility of a revolt.) Octavian's mother dies, but most others make it through fine.

Shortly thereafter, Octavian runs away and aligns with revolutionary forces. He is eventually caught and brought back. (The 'intellectual' slave who spoke multiple languages and played musical instruments was easy to find.)

The story provides an interesting underside to the the American Revolution. As an attempt to defeat the insurgency in the colonies, Britain freed slaves. Had the American revolution failed, the US might have retained a population of free blacks, and never had a need for the Civil War. (Or slavery may have simply reinstated.)

There is also the subplot of dubious science. When the intellectuals received patronage from southern plantation owners, their studies were supposed to help prove blacks were inferior. This they accomplished by changing the study so that it "looked" objective, but in fact was so removed from the real world to make the results a foregone conclusion. There are always way to spin things to make extremely valid looking "lies" with science.

This story brings Octavian back to his slavery and "wraps" some things up. However, there are plenty of areas open for doing additional stories.

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