The Devil’s Dictum by Frederick Gero Heimbach (2015)
I enjoy books that defy easy categorization, that don’t “slot in” to a genre and revisit tropes that the experienced reader has seen before. The Devil’s Dictum doesn’t do that, oh no. This is one of the most unusual, original and creative books I’ve read in a long, long time.
The Amazon description refers to “original and mind-blowing alternate history,” but I don’t know if that’s even big and expansive enough: This is a world where Hitler is the President of the United States (for a while, anyway), where the “Pilgrims” were driven away from Plymouth Rock and established Haiti as their nation, where pirates and Satanists are the “Founding Fathers.” I wouldn’t exactly call it alternative history, to me it was a fantastic, strange alternative Universe, that shouldn’t even work, but does, through the author’s intimate knowledge of the human heart and its foibles, and I suppose, sheer force of authorial will.
The Devil’s Dictum is listed under Steampunk Fiction, Steampunk Science Fiction and “Colonization Science Fiction” as its genres, but that’s way too confining and doesn’t do it full justice. I think new categories should probably been invented for this book: Comedic Dystopian Steampunk Political Satire, perhaps. Like I said, it defies easy categorization, and I loved that.
Since the above doesn’t completely highlight the sheer audacity of this work, a brief plot summary is needed: In a 1946 United States that truly is a nation of immigrants because it has no women, and thus no babies, the Special Master to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (a de facto dictator) is essentially an assassin and enforcer, The House of Representatives is locked inside of its chamber in total darkness and insanity, and the Elite of the Nation’s Capital get around by raven taxi, that is, taxis lifted into the air by squads of literal ravens.
I don’t know how many writers could conceive of any of this, much less pull it off, but Heimbach makes it work, to the extent that after a few pages my disbelief was quite suspended, thank you, and the internal logic of the strange world these people live in became–logical and believable.
I’m not going to describe in detail the events that ensue, but they all fit together nicely, in the end.
And indeed, in the end I think of this book especially as a brilliant satire, of our politicians and elites and of pretense and Will to Power. Brilliant in many ways, in its vivid descriptive language, the characters that exhibit various degrees of evil but also the feelings and urges of all human beings, and in the satisfying way it all comes out in the end.
If you had described the situation and the circumstances and the world of The Devil’s Dictum to me beforehand, I would have doubted that the author could pull such a thing off.
Yet, he did. Highly recommended.
(Addendum: Heimbach recently published a new book, Ronald Reagan’s Brilliant Bullet, which I certainly plan to read. “The setting is the Cold War and Ronald Reagan has a shiny new toy to play with: a rocket powered suit. He’ll need it to battle the terrifying monstrosity Leonid Brezhnev is building on a secret base in Siberia.” What’s not to like?)