Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Robert G. Pielke - A New Birth of Freedom: The Translator - Review

About the Book

Noam Chomsky argues that communication with aliens would be impossible. Stephen Hawking argues that it would be extremely unwise even to try. What if it were absolutely necessary to do so? This question arises with extreme urgency at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, in this time-travel, alternate-history trilogy.

My Review

No one is hotter right now than Abraham Lincoln. From Daniel Day-Lewis' award-winning portrayal of the sixteenth president in Stephen Spielberg's motion picture to his fabled visage appearing in commercials for the 2013 Lincoln town car, Honest Abe is back on the radar of the cultural zeitgeist. As the nation celebrates one of its most beloved presidents this month, science fiction author Robert G. Pielke returns with his own spin on this American icon.

In The Translator, the second installment of his time traveling trilogy, A New Birth of Freedom, Pielke continues to humanize a figure often cloaked in legend. With dialogue steeped in the colloquialisms of the Civil War era, he skillfully demonstrates how Lincoln might have dealt with an alien invasion. A literary exercise that is daring for both the author and the reader. Pielke's depiction of Lincoln's thought processes - on how he might shrewdly coax the United States out of such a predicament - is truly entertaining and enlightening.

Lincoln is bombarded on both fronts. He is waging war against the Confederacy while coping with the unexpected arrival of these extraterrestrial lifeforms at the battlefield of Gettysburg. Yet he takes this new development in stride, launching into fable-like memories from his past, in order to keep his staff at ease. Ironically, his worries about General Robert E. Lee become secondary in importance. In fact, the two sides will have to work together in order to save the planet. Lincoln says, "Each one of us wanted to destroy the other, but neither one of us got what we wanted. It remains to be seen what will happen in the long run..."

And that's where things get tricky for Pielke as a storyteller - the implicit Catch-22 scenario that lies at the heart of time travel. If events are changed in the past, they irrevocably distort the future. And that's where Pielke's protagonist, Edwin Blair, comes into play. He's a visitor from the twenty-third century attempting to rid his world of the 'Pests.' But if he stops them with Lincoln's help in 1863, will he be terminating his own existence, as well as theirs, in the future? It's a tricky line to plot as a writer, and Pielke deftly manages the monumental task. The dilemma of right and wrong bleeds through the novel at every turn, and Pielke guides the reader through Edwin Blair's moral dilemmas. And who better to advise him than the Great Emancipator?

For those invested in Pielke's series, book two does not disappoint. Instead, the journey is interconnected with the power of language, and the ability to communicate with one's adversary. The Translator provides a message relevant for any part of American history, and Pielke interweaves this theme brilliantly through the creation of his 'Pest' motif, since it is only through shared conversation that understanding of any kind can take place. And sometimes it's the messages to oneself that become the most important of all.



Edwin Blair
(July 6, 1863)

Edwin Blair’s headache ebbed and flowed as remnants of what-used-to-be clashed with the influx of what-now-is deep in the cavernous recesses of his mind. At least, he thought, as my memory evaporates in the passage of time, I should expect the rebellion of one against the other to do me less and less harm. Although no one was looking at him at the moment as he leaned against a shady tree, were they to do so they would perhaps have noticed a hint of bitterness on his visage as the word “time” passed through his ruminations. He had neither expected nor wanted any of the Pests to survive. For as long as he could remember, his mantra had been—and he chanted it to himself—the only good Pest is a dead Pest. With all of them dead, he reasoned, a new future would develop without the horrors these Pests would mete out. They simply wouldn’t exist in this modified future. But he soon realized this would bring about a self-defeating dilemma. They have to invade the planet where and when I come from. Otherwise, I’d never have come back to the past to stop them in the first place. He clenched his teeth at the thought and sighed. We can’t kill them all. Maybe that’s why previous attempts to change the future have failed—if there were any. It’s just not possible to exterminate them. Logic trumps everything. The surviving Pests change things. If they somehow escape and warn the all the others about what I’m doing, they could prevent me from doing anything at all, and I’d have to start all over. But I have to do something. He shuddered and looked off toward the fourteen imprisoned Pests. There’s one thing I know for sure, however. We don’t need their eggs. With his valise safely stowed with President Lincoln’s personal belongings and guarded around the clock, he was reasonably confident the mission could be salvaged. But how? He adjusted his back against the trunk of the tree as an early morning mist became an un-refreshing drizzle, and turned the collar of his black leather jacket up around his ears. At least it’s quiet, he mouthed while scribbling into one of the notebooks he had given to John Hay. Using an unfamiliar quill pen, his words only on occasion approaching legibility, he wrote.

Everything now depends on you following through with your plan. You may have lied to the others about your intentions, but you can’t lie to me. If you are reading this, then we have been successful.

At least I think so. He looked up again, put the pen into the inkwell filled with a pale pink liquid sitting on the ground next to him and rubbed his eyes. Then again...will I even believe I wrote this to myself? He picked up the pen and tried to smile, looking this time toward several of his companions that were getting ready to consume coffee and a few hardtack biscuits, perhaps even some pudding. He nodded to them before returning to his journal.

Only the continuing threat of the Pests still lurking in the two prisms is supporting this truce. It’s more fragile than it appears. They think the danger is over, but it’s just begun.

John Hay noticed Blair’s glance from several paces away and pointed to his own steaming cup of coffee with raised eyebrows. He shouted, “Mr. Blair, can I get you some?”

“Please.” Blair kept the volume of his own voice down, relying on an accompanying nod to be sufficient.

“No hardtack yet, but there’s sugar. I’ll be back soon.” Hay strode off with Joseph Pierce at his side.

“Thanks, John,” Blair muttered as he watched the two of them depart. Pierce was waving his arms with some sort of patterned repetition—no doubt trying to explain some complex Indian phraseology he thought might be useful. Washburne, Stanton and Pinkerton were nowhere to be seen. Probably already with Lincoln in his tent. He returned to his writing.

If I’ve really succeeded, then all these changes should be reflected in the historical records on the computer—the fight with the Pests and this truce—but if not then something’s gone terribly wrong.

He stopped writing for a moment and shook his head. I’ve got to get back into the computer soon. I shouldn’t have even turned it off. I don’t like logging in while people are watching. I should probably change the pass-code, but it’s based on my wife’s birth date so I’m not likely to forget it. Should I take the chance?

The only thing I know that’s changed is my memory. The historical records may not have changed at all, but I’m slowly losing my memory of them…and everything else too, it seems. My guess is that the changes I’ve made to the history I used to know so well are rapidly affecting future events—too rapidly. As a result, my memory about them is no longer referring to anything, yet it continues to try.

The sounds of hooves slogging through the rain-soaked grass and the clattering of wagons startled him but didn’t interrupt his writing.

The courier traffic is beginning to intensify, and as the circus gets larger it will become unmanageable. Maybe today Lincoln will issue the martial law decree he promised...or threatened…depending on one’s perspective.

He wasn’t planning to write much—just enough for his words to be a reminder of what he had to do. If I have to try again, I have to make sure these same people are included…did I write that list of four names to myself on a previous attempt? Was it me? If so, nothing has changed. Am I just repeating everything over and over in an infinite circularity? He paused and looked over what he wrote. How can I know? Have I written this before? I have no memory of earlier attempts…but that means nothing.

He stopped and pulled the list out of his jacket to look at it. The same as it used to be…or is it? How would I know? He drew a deep breath while rubbing his temples, his teeth gritted. I really have to find out somehow if any changes have occurred in the future. I have to get into the computer. I just may have to start over immediately. Another interruption ended his contemplation.

“Mr. Blair! You’re in luck. There was fresh coffee...genuine coffee, to boot! I watched a soldier crush the beans with a rifle butt. And there were a few hardtack puddings, too.” John Hay trudged through the sodden grass, placed the steaming cup and plate on a rock behind Edwin Blair, and then put his hands on his hips. “’Tis good to have the Tycoon amongst us, though he’s a bit jarred by the Hellcat’s carriage accident a few days ago. But, as suspected, Mrs. Lincoln has earned her reputation. The very ground she fell upon was too terrified of her to do her any serious injury.” Then, laughing, he added while looking skyward once more, “How are you this gloomy morn? It may rain again, judging from the clouds.”

“I’m puzzled, John.” Blair picked up the coffee then paused to shake his head.

“As you usually are, sir.... Why this time?”

“It’s that...” Blair took a swig of the black brew. “Yeow!” He promptly spit it out. “It’s scalding!” People nearby glanced over at him, shocked at the sound. “And it tastes terrible.”

Hay laughed and shook his head. “I never did see anyone quaff hot coffee before. Quaffing’s for cold beer. And it tastes better too.”

Blair swirled his tongue around the roof of his mouth, wincing and muttering curses under his breath. After a moment, he ventured a much smaller sip. “When I first met you in the President’s office, if you had remembered me being here before, that would have been very odd, right?”

“It sure would have, Mr. Blair! It would have been impossible!” Hay rolled back, laughing. “No one remembers you from before. You were a real top sockdolager to us all then.”

Blair eyed Hay directly and just above a whisper said, “Someone remembers me.”

Hay scrunched his brow. “Who?”

Blair inclined his head toward the prisoners’ enclosure. “That Pest.”


A New Birth of Freedom: The Translator buy links:

Whiskey Creek Press

Whiskey Creek Press

Price: $4.99 ebook, $16.95 paperback
Pages: 394
ISBN: 9781611605426
Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press
Release: November 1, 2012

About the Author

Robert Pielke, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, now lives in Claremont, California. He earned a B.A. in History at the University of Maryland, an M. Div. in Systematic Theology at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, and a Ph.D. in Social Ethics from the Claremont Graduate School.

He taught on ground and online for countless years at George Mason University in Virginia, El Camino College in California and online for the University of Phoenix. Now happily retired from “the job,” he is doing what he always wanted to do since he wrote his first novel at ten in elementary school. It was one paragraph, three pages long and, although he didn’t know it at the time, it was alternate history.

His academic writings have been in the area of ethics, including a boring academic treatise called Critiquing Moral Arguments, logic, and popular culture. Included in the latter is an analysis of rock music entitled You Say You Want a Revolution: Rock Music in American Culture. He has also published short stories, feature articles, film and restaurant reviews. His novels include a savagely satirical novel on America and its foibles, proclivities and propensities, Hitler the Cat Goes West, and an alternate history, science fiction novel, The Mission.

Most recently, he has updated and revised his book on rock music, which is being republished by McFarland & Co.

He swims daily, skis occasionally, cooks as an avocation, watches innumerable movies, collects rock and roll concert films, is an avid devotee of Maryland crabs and maintains a rarely visited blog filled with his social and political ravings. His favorite film is the original Hairspray; his favorite song is “A Day in the Life”; his favorite pizza is from the original Ledo Restaurant in College Park, MD; and he is a firm believer in the efficacy of “sex, drugs and rock and roll.” Somehow his family and friends put up with him.

Links to connect with Robert:
Web site
Blog Tour Site


  1. Thanks tons and tons.....and you are correct: it's a tricky balance to maintain....

    Bob Pielke

    1. Keep up the great work, Bob. You handle everything brilliantly :)

  2. When will the final book of this trilogy be released? Looking forward to it.

  3. When will the final book of this trilogy be released? Looking forward to it.