Camelot resurrected

Recently I bought Unafraid: A Novel of the Possible by Jeff Golden. It starts with a counterfactual premise: What if John Kennedy had survived his assassination attempt?

Since I enjoy both alternate-world fiction and counterfactual history, I bought the book without reading any reviews beforehand. I’ll know better next time.


President Kennedy is wounded in the assassination attempt, and Governor Connally is killed, instead of the other way around. The assassins are a group of Cuban refugees angry at Kennedy for his “betrayal” of the Bay of Pigs invasion. They hope to take revenge on him, place the blame for his killing on Castro, and cause the USA to invade Cuba. (Since I’m not up on the Kennedy conspiracy theories, I don’t know if the writer made this one up or if someone else proposed it first. Either way, it’s a clever scenario.)

But Kennedy survives. Gravely wounded, he needs time to recover, but eventually he comes back, finishes his term of office and wins a second term. And the rest is (alternate) history: he has an epiphany, quits cheating on Jackie, and changes the world.

The writer makes use of a frame story, set in 2001, when the Kennedy family commissions a biography of JFK. Much of the novel consists of excerpts from the biography. The whole work is well-written and engaging until it devolves into a glorification of Kennedy and the ideas he supposedly stood for.

Among Kennedy’s accomplishments: he ends the Cold War, eliminates apartheid in South Africa, and makes peace in Vietnam. Along the way he appoints the first black Secretary of State (Martin Luther King). 9/11 never happens and all is well. The novel came out in 2008; much of the fictional Kennedy’s agenda and philosophy sounds like the real-world approach of President Obama.

The subtitle of this blog is “Everything but Politics,” and this isn’t a political post–really! Instead, it’s a complaint about message fiction. I never finished Unafraid because I didn’t enjoy being preached to.

Lest anyone think I simply don’t like the philosophy of the book, let me tell you about another one I didn’t finish. A while back I blogged about Cory Doctorow’s book Makers, a work whose philosophy I agree with. But I quit reading once it became a tract.

Sarah Hoyt makes a good point:

I keep – or try to keep – those [views] separate from my writing, except to the extent that what the author believes comes through in the book . . . . I try to keep it separate because I don’t believe in slogans or in sloganising.  I believe insofar as science fiction writing has a function – as any literature has a function – beyond amusing the reader, it is to make the reader think.  Honestly, I don’t care if you read my books . . . but come to the diametrically opposite conclusions from mine.

So, fiction writers: do your best work; let your personal views shine through; but for pity’s sake, don’t write the story to preach the views.


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