Harry Harrison: A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!

August 2, 2020

91ZDD32iqlL._AC_UL320_     I’m not sure what made me return to this slim novel that I last read 27 years ago. I have a fascination with the genre called alternative history and recently picked several out from my shelves to come back to. Here, the American colonies’ revolt against Great Britain failed and George Washington was executed as a traitor; one of his descendants is an engineer involved in a project to build a tunnel to carry trains under the Atlantic in a world that has atomic power but no internal combustion engine…

We are in 1973, and trains can only manage 150mph. Britain leads the world in technology, including nuclear-powered trains. It seems almost quaint, in our current post-industrial wasteland, that a writer in 1972 could have pictured our country like this in the future, such was the promise of those long-gone days when we had developed the TSR2 and also Concorde…

It’s almost possible to see where the steampunk vision of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s amazing The Difference Engine (a far, far better novel set in an alternative Victorian era) came from, in this science-focused tale, with its Boy’s Own Paper-style heroes and the rivalry between the American engineer Washington and the British Brunel as they strive to build the tunnel and Washington strives also to win Brunel’s daughter.

It’s poor stuff, I’m afraid, almost embarrassing. The characters are thin, cardboard cutouts reminiscent of the worst SF from the early days. Plot drives everything, along with pseudo-science, and there’s precious little plot to engage the reader, with almost no suspense, tension or uncertainty; technology overcomes everything without much effort and the evil saboteurs – French? German? no, merely a blackmailed capitalist – easily thwarted. And Washington is knighted for his successes and gets the girl, and surprise, surprise, the American colonies are granted their independence when Washington asks the Queen… Gordon Bennett!!

One Response to “Harry Harrison: A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!”


  1. […] My biggest disappointment of the year: re-reading Christopher Priest’s The Space Machine, of which I’d carried positive recollections for quite a few years. It palled, it dragged, it was simplistic and it went on the ‘I don’t need to read this ever again’ pile. Ditto Harry Harrison’s A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! […]

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