We’ve all played the “What If” game. In the military, this can lead to some rather interesting questions: What would happen if I was in charge of this op? What if I put my hands in my pockets? What if 1st Sergeant was nicer?
In his most recent novel “Empire City,” Iraq War veteran and author, Matt Gallagher, answers a question that has circulated in the barracks and across many a dinner table, “What if the U.S. won the Vietnam War full WWII unconditional surrender style?” Gallagher’s novel, set half a century in the future from a North Vietnam surrender and occupation, explores an American society transformed by the Vietnam experience into an empire that would rival Rome or the colonial British. However, buried deep inside the world of “Empire City,” Gallagher also answers a very poignant and pressing question, “What is the real cost of victory?”
“Empire City” follows the journey of Sebastian Rios, a mid-level bureaucrat, who owes his career and his life to the group of veterans that came to his rescue overseas. Known as the “Volunteers,” these special operators toe the line between national treasures and Soldiers of Fortune who when not deployed to the frontlines of conflicts across the Mediterranean are living the high life in Hollywood and the clubs of Empire City – and, SPOILER ALERT – they aren’t even Navy SEALS but they do have super powers. Along with Mia, a former helicopter pilot turned Wall Street banker, Sebastian finds himself caught in a constitutional debate after a terrorist attack on the city, could, or better, should the U.S. deploy their best soldiers onto home territory?
Like the story of Caesar and his legions crossing the Rubicon, “Empire City” recounts the multiple layers of tradition turned upside down when a series of battle-hardened veterans decide to act. Among the key players are a former general turned presidential candidate as well as an army of foreign legionnaires who earned their citizenship by fighting America’s wars past and present. If you’d like to know one possible answer to the questions, “What if the hippie movement had failed?” Or, “What if corporate American bought and sold stakes in military units like NASCAR sponsorships?” And, “What if American patriots became their own sheepdogs?” then you’ll enjoy Empire City.
Military veterans, especially combat veterans like Gallagher, who translated his experiences into his previous books, “Youngblood” and “Kaboom,” have been known to write some of the most fascinating alternative historical novels of our time. For example, Robert Heinlein, a WWII veteran of the Pacific, went on to write the classic “Starship Troopers,” a must read for both military and science fiction enthusiasts. I think it’s safe to say that “Empire City” is the newest addition to our must-read list and Gallagher has just joined a special unit of writers that include Heinlein, Orwell, and Turtledove.
This article was originally published on April 27, 2020, by We Are The Mighty.