Recently I was in an antique store here in town and came across a 1997 novel which caught my interest. Since it was only a dollar I picked it up. The book is Washington’s Dirigible by John Barnes.
The story is told from the point of view of Mark Strang, who was a college professor until he saw his family murdered by the Closers, bad guys from a multitude of timelines who want to impose their will on the multiverse.
Strang finds himself recruited by the ATN, a federation of timelines fighting to stop the Closers. He becomes a member of Crux Ops and sent on his first mission to a timeline the ATN has cultivated.
You see, instead of raising armies in this war, both sides raise timelines to a certain technological level to be their allies in the war.
Strang is transported to an alternate 1775 Boston, where he arrives just in time to see another version of himself go on a shooting spree. This evil Mark Strang seems hellbent on wreaking havoc, but why? Fortunately, historical figures like George Washington and John Paul Jones are there to lend a helping hand and shut down the Closers in that timeline.
This book is a real gem. Not only is it dripping with steampunk (which arguably was still in its infancy when this book was written), but the story is gripping as well as funny.
Since the story is told from a first-person perspective, we’re always inside Strang’s head. We not only witness his personal demons — he has to face the evil he could become — but his sense of humor as well. He frequently delivers hilarious comments on topics ranging from the Closers to the various time periods he finds himself in to the numerous close calls he experiences.
Also, Barnes dedicates whole passages to the science of airships, steam engines and time travel. He really has everything covered.
Finally, the explosive climax brings it all to a satisfying conclusion.