Dragon America: The Phobos Science Fiction Anthology v. 2 Paperback – 25 Sep 2003
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In a fascinating alternative history of the U.S., General Washington recruits Daniel Boone during the height of the American Revolution to lead his dragon army into the war and thereby tilt the conflict in the favor of the fledgling republic. Original.
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Of the two Dragon America is the more realistic, if it is proper to use that word in connection with novels about dragons, because in it the dragon is just another animal, albeit an animal with many militarily useful abilities, something like about as intelligent as a dog or a horse. Unfortunately this greater realism substantially reduces the "fun", and dragon fanciers in particular, used to the intellectual equals dragons are portrayed as in most dragon rider fiction, are likely to be disappointed, maybe even appalled at what is done to what is just another animal in this universe.
The novel begins cleverly with a Historical Note about the controversy aroused when "a science fiction writer named Robert A. Heinlein wrote a rigorously extrapolated novel entitled 'Mammal America'" speculating upon how history might have turned out if European settlers in North America had "found themselves surrounded by the same mammalian ecology that existed throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa". The result was books and more books, documentaries, and "more than one fistfight" among "otherwise sedate scholars".
For reasons not entirely made clear (the lack of French intervention?) the American Revolution is going much more badly for the Americans in this universe, badly enough that Daniel Boone has been sent by George Washington to try and recruit some Indian allies. Unfortunately, the number of braves they are willing to spare would not be enough to alter the war's outcome. However, the Shawnee chief's eldest son suggests an alternative: seeking out the great and terrible dragons of legend that they've all heard stories about in the far west, so this they do. Meanwhile General Washington is experimenting with making military use of the much smaller and weaker local dragons, including even of imaginary dragons.
Resnick has offered some truly fascinating ideas about what a realistic Dragon Ecology, with dragons filling most of the ecological niches filled by mammals in our universe, would look like and how they could be made use of by man for military or other purposes. Unfortunately in the process he has considerably reduced their military usefulness in comparison with "normal" dragon rider fiction, to the point that the scheme by which dragon heavyweights are finally brought to bear would make Rube Goldberg blanch and be almost impossible to duplicate. The focus on half a dozen main characters, many of them historical figures, in four essentially separate narratives hinders reader identification. You will be more intrigued by the concept than swept away by the story. The final paragraph reads:
"This was the first time that the dragons of America played a major role in history. It would be far from the last."
Actually, given their limitations and the difficulties involved, I'm thinking it WOULD be the last, which might explain the lack of a sequel.
Note: if you find yourself intrigued by the idea of Napoleonic or American Revolutionary warfare with dragons, how about American Civil War naval action...
Land of Mist and Snow
Unfortunately, the great fire-breathing dragons Daniel Boone uses at the end to help stop the British are more reminicent of Godzilla smashing through Tokyo, than anything from Dungeons and Dragons. All in all, it's a good book, but it could have been fleshed out more.
Sadly, while a great premise with a fascinating start, "Dragon America" quickly becomes dull, and somehow manages to make its concept boring.
"Dragon America" opens with a snippet of an alternate history, in which Robert Heinlein (yes, THAT Heinlein) writes a book similar to this one called "Mammal America" -- essentially a flipped version of "Dragon America," detailing an America overrun with mammals instead of reptilian wildlife. From there the book divides into four sections, each following a different character. First we follow legendary explorer Daniel Boone as, by George Washington's request and with the help of his pet Darter dragon Banshee, he tries to gather the Native American forces and inspire them to aid the American fighters against the British Army. When he fails in that attempt, he instead decides to recruit some bigger help... the legendary dragons of the frontier. In the second section, George Washington struggles to find a way for an undersupplied army to fight off the well-equipped British forces... and happens upon a plan that involves using dragons as message couriers. The third section follows translator and former slave Pompey as he tries to help Boone in his quest... and accidentally makes a discovery that can help them win the dragons' help and turn the tide of the war. The final section follows Ephram Eakin, a Revolutionary soldier recently promoted to captain, who has to think on the fly to save Washington and his troops from being exterminated... and finds salvation in the wings of a dragon.
I've probably made this book sound more exciting than it really is in the description. The truth is, it's rather dull reading -- Resnick is good at laying down facts, but bad at actually fleshing out his characters or drawing us into an exciting action scene. Descriptions of actions are wooden and have no sense of suspense or thrill to them, and characters are rather flat, even historical characters. One glaring case of this is reading Pompey's section of the book -- I was two chapters into it before realizing it was supposed to be from Pompey's point of view and not Boone's. The only character I found myself rooting for was Eakin, because at least the reader learns to sympathize with his plight as a regular soldier suddenly thrust into a command position he doesn't want... and even then he whines about it frequently, to the point where it gets frustrating.
If you were hoping for epic dragon action as well, you'll be disappointed. The dragons in this book are surprisingly... normal. The biggest ones happen to be herbivores, and even the carnivorous ones are surprisingly unimpressive and un-threatening. Don't go into this book expecting another Temeraire... or another Smaug or Fafnir, for that matter. The writer treats the dragons as just another animal, which might appeal to some but is probably a letdown for many fans of the beasts.
Also, it doesn't feel like Resnick has done a thorough job of researching American history in writing this -- everything feels like it comes from Hollywood's version of the Revolution or a middle-school textbook. Several references are made to "George Washington's wooden teeth" when that myth has long been disproven, and the timeline feels wrong and even rushed in places. Also, there's no reference made to the French and Indian War, despite it laying the groundwork for the Revolution era. I don't know if Resnick was hoping to write these changes off as "part of the alternate history" or if he just didn't care, but it's still jarring to see the research wasn't done, especially when other authors of alternate history do meticulous research before they write.
All in all, this was an exciting premise that needed a better author, better research, and better dragons to give it justice. Pass on this and pick up "His Majesty's Dragon" (if you haven't already) or the works of Harry Turtledove instead.