The Gallatin Divergence is the fifth novel written in the Confederacy series, but the sixth in chronological sequence according to my reckoning, which is subject to change as I re-read the series and Smith turns out new books. Prior to this novel, Edward William Bear (the one from the USA timeline) and Clarissa MacDougal Olson Bear have moved to the Second Asteroid Belt and established a homestead, where they practiced their professions and raised their daughters. Now their daughters are away on the Tom Paine Maru and Clarissa has acquired a fatal disease on a mercy mission to a ravaged timeline. Since the disease was incurable at the time, Win and Clarissa have themselves placed in stasis to wait for a cure.
In this novel, Win is awakened by Lucille Gallagos Kropotkin to take on a mission to prevent a Hamiltonian agent from going back in time to kill Albert Gallatin, founding father of the Confederacy timeline. Edna Janof, a staunch Hamiltonian, has somehow survived her presumed death in an aircar crash -- helped by gunfire from Win and friends -- and has commissioned Hirnschlag von Ochskahrt, a competent if not brilliant physicist, to invent a time machine, then stepped into the past, leaving Hirnschlag manacled to a bench with three metric pounds of plastique on time delay. Fortunately, he escaped but the time machine and the laboratory itself were destroyed. Oolorie P'wheet, the theoretical physicist porpoise, determines the space/time coordinates of the time broach and builds another to send back a rescue party -- for Gallatin, not Janof.
Clad in faux buckskins over a 22nd century thin-skin suit, carrying an imitation "Kentucky" rifle with a Heller Effect stasis beam, and bearing an anachronistic Bowie knife, Win steps into the 18th century and immediately stumbles over Hirnschlag, dropping pots, pans, powder horns, and knives all over the place. After this auspicious start, Win and friends -- Ed (his Confederacy doppelganger), Lucy and Hirnschlag -- make their way to an observation point on Bower Hill, each loaded with essential supplies and equipment, include Hirnschlag's cello. From there, they watch the crucial events leading to the Whiskey Rebellion and keep watch for Edna Janof.
The following chapters portray a version of the actual events of that time, up to a point of divergence at Braddock's Field. Like all reenactments, the minor details are fictional, yet reasonably consistent with written accounts and the customs of that time. Both the Rebels and the Federalists come across as mostly long-winded and indecisive, with some exceptions such as John Baldwin and Alexander Hamilton. The Rebels have meeting after meeting until the critical council where only the (fictional) intervention of Albert Gallatin focuses the issue on the illegal (in the alternate timeline) nature of the Constitution as designed by the Federalists.
In the Confederacy timeline, Thomas Jefferson used the phrase "the unanimous consent of the governed" in the Declaration of Independence, differing thereby from the corresponding phrase in this timeline only by the word "unanimous". An armed rebellion of citizens, Gallatin pointed out, was prima facie evidence of lack of unanimity and thus the illegality of the revenue act.
This novel fills in the backstory of the Confederacy, but also illustrates the author's cynicism and sense of humor. The chapter heading are modifications of well-known phrases -- e.g., The Bombs of August -- and the situations have more than a modicum of slapstick -- e.g., Win has an overfull bladder and a gunpowder bomb with a short fuse rolls in...what to do? -- but the premeditated topper is the list of Confederacy presidents, including Harriet Beecher, H.L. Mencken and A. Rand. It is wordy -- Win Bear's stream of consciousness is like the Mississippi river: wide and winding; also windy as Chicago on a bad day -- but still fun. Don't read this book if you are a no nonsense, straight to the point type, but Faulkner fans will feel at home with the style if not the content.
Recommended for Smith fans and anyone who likes SF adventure stories with political sidebars.
-Arthur W. Jordin