Alternate-history fiction asks readers to imagine what the present-day world would be like if some small long-ago historical event had happened some other way. If Booth had forgot to load the pistol, or Hitler’s momma had pleaded headache on the night of his conception.
One of the leading alternate-history novelists in this country is an Indiana writer named Eric Flint, and his new novel is about Arkansas, albeit an Arkansas that never was. The book is titled “1824: The Arkansas War,” from Del Ray Books, New York, hardcover, $25.95.
Arkansas in 1824 was a volatile U.S. territory that very easily could’ve taken a much different shape and followed a much different political path. In Flint’s novel, it doesn’t become a state; it becomes its own country, a rude and treacherous confederation with many elements that would come to pass historically in the wild Indian Territory of Oklahoma and the wooly Republic of Texas.
Many of the same historical characters parade through this fictional Arkansas as moseyed through the real McCoy, only there are more of them — from John C. Fremont to John Brown — as President Henry Clay leads a much different fledgling United States in a nasty war against the doughty little upstart Arkansas Nation.
It turns out to be a pretty lively tale, nicely written, with lots of what Johnny Cash called kickin’ and a-gougin’ in the mud and the blood and the beer. And it passes the time here in bleak midwinter to muse on might-have-been happenstance had this parallel historical track really elbowed out the other. We never would’ve had a President Bill Clinton, and the Razorbacks probably would’ve been doomed to play ASU and the old cow colleges of the AIC, maybe without pads, but perhaps too we’d have had our own Olympic team and have sent our own delegation to the still extant League of Nations. Or Federation of Planets.
And surely Justice Jim Johnson would still be on the job as our debonair longtime ambassador to Mexico.
See where it leads your imagination.
Deena Burnett is an Arkansas resident who grew up in rural Desha County. She’s the widow of Tom Burnett, the Minnesotan who’s considered by many to have been the hero of 9/11’s highjacked United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania as passengers battled terrorists for control of the plane. She became a Republican activist in the 2004 presidential campaign, and she continues the effort to rally the patriotic faithful in support of President Bush and the Iraq War in a memoir titled “Fighting Back,” published in paperback for $14.99 by Advantage Books of Longwood, Fla., with a portion of the proceeds going to the Tom Burnett Family Foundation of Little Rock.
n The main audience for “Horns Up!!: College Bands of the Arkansas Heartland” by Tyler Thompson of Little Rock are members or former members of those bands and their proud parents and grandparents and siblings and aunts and uncles and acquaintances who make up a bigger percentage than the sportswriters would ever imagine of those game-day football bleachers crowds.
And there’s plenty of interesting reading material here, and hundreds of photos going back a century or more, for those loyal, longsuffering folks to enjoy. But this big exuberant book from Phoenix International at Fayetteville -– it costs $30 –- deserves a larger audience as a genuine work of Arkansas history, filled with original research and entertaining anecdotes from the time of community bands, a hundred years ago and more.
Most of the nine college bands featured here grew up out of the brass bands that were the main source of small-town entertainment back then. With the coming of radio and movies, those community bands might’ve died out -– except that they gravitated over to the college campuses in the towns that had colleges, to remain accessible there to townspeople nostalgic for the old-time bandshell concerts of the Mayberry, N.C., variety.
The nine bands chronicled here are from the University of Central Arkansas, Southern Arkansas University, Henderson State University, Arkansas State University, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, University of Arkansas at Monticello, Arkansas Tech University, Harding University and Ouachita Baptist University. Each one has a distinctive history, and characters memorable in different ways.
The author was once drum major for the Razorback Band at the University of Arkansas, and he published an earlier history of that band. He graduated from the UA with majors in chemistry and German, and, go figure, went on to become an optometrist. He dedicates “Horns Up!!” to his sister, “who served as a majorette in one of these bands,” and that interested me as the uncle of a drum major in one of the book’s photos of another of the bands. At the time we referred to that strutting nephew by his nickname Burrhead, but inasmuch as he’s now a University of Michigan physics professor we’re obliged to call him Dr. Burrhead.
I’m one of the redneck provincials who can’t quite get over regarding the Clinton Library as an eyesore –- it still looks to me like it ought to have a passel of my relatives leaping out of the north end of it, perhaps in flight from revenooers –- but a more stylish and sophisticated perspective on the place is to be found in a sumptuous new coffee-table picture book of the place titled “Building a Bridge to the 21st Century: The William J. Clinton Presidential Center.” It’s published by RAA Editions of New York, and it sells at the library for $42.50. It has 350 photographs by Tim Hursley, Benjamin Krain and Nancy Nolan, and an uncredited text — highly flattering of the former president, of course — that a close examination of the small type in the back of the book suggests might have been written by one Peter Kaminsky. It’s a good substitute for visiting the library, and a good keepsake if you do get the chance to visit. Catch the big man on site someday and get him to autograph your copy and it might be worth a piece of change to your great-greats by Century 22.