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Underground Airlines
(Unabridged)
Now a New York Times bestseller! It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it: smartphones, social networking and Happy Meals. Save for one thing: the Civil ...
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Now a New York Times bestseller!
It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it: smartphones, social networking and Happy Meals. Save for one thing: the Civil War never occurred.
A gifted young black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service. He's got plenty of work. In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called "the Hard Four." On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that something isn't right--with the case file, with his work, and with the country itself.
A mystery to himself, Victor suppresses his memories of his childhood on a plantation, and works to infiltrate the local cell of a abolitionist movement called the Underground Airlines. Tracking Jackdaw through the back rooms of churches, empty parking garages, hotels, and medical offices, Victor believes he's hot on the trail. But his strange, increasingly uncanny pursuit is complicated by a boss who won't reveal the extraordinary stakes of Jackdaw's case, as well as by a heartbreaking young woman and her child who may be Victor's salvation. Victor himself may be the biggest obstacle of all--though his true self remains buried, it threatens to surface.
Victor believes himself to be a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he has worked so hard to earn. But in pursuing Jackdaw, Victor discovers secrets at the core of the country's arrangement with the Hard Four, secrets the government will preserve at any cost.
Underground Airlines is a ground-breaking novel, a wickedly imaginative thriller, and a story of an America that is more like our own than we'd like to believe.

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"A rich noir in a terrifingly convincing alternate America. It's both beautiful and brutal. The Handmaid's Tale for Black Lives Matter."—Lauren Beukes, author of Broken Monsters and The Shining Girls
"Strange, modern . . . [A] genre-bending detective yarn"—Oprah.com
"Underground Airlines is a masterful work of art with a gripping mystery at its most basic level. It's also a complex allegory woven throughout with sparking rich dialogue and multiple shades of awareness. Passengers, fasten your seat belts. The ride may be turbulent, but that's what makes it great."—Jen Forbus, Christian Science Monitor
"A daring and very well constructed novel"—Booklist
"Am I allowed to curse? Because holy heck, I want to. This book is shocking, bold, sad, human and wise. Put an expletive in front of each of those adjectives. It's not post-apocalyptic fiction, but if you like that sort of thing, you'll like this too. If you liked Station Eleven (an overused but appropriate comp!), World War Z, or Brief History of the Dead, then this is a book you should read."—Rebecca Fitting, Greenlight Bookstore
"I could not put Underground Airlines down. A brutal, hard-boiled detective mystery about what might have happened if Lincoln had been killed before ending slavery, it is thought provoking and vivid. It will live with you for a very long time."—Rene Kirkpatrick, Eagle Harbor Book Co.
"Explosive, well plotted, and impossible to put down, this alt-hist by the Edgar Award-winning author of the "Last Policeman" trilogy will attract readers of all genres. . . . Fast paced and filled with menace, the story has an ambience that makes it special."—Library Journal (starred)
"Underground Airlines is like nothing I have ever read before. I know it will be a pivot point in my reading life. Thought you'd wrestled sufficiently with the stain of Slavery? Have a seat. You'll only need the edge. By spinning a pounding thriller in a past that did not happen, Winters has somehow wrapped his hands around the catastrophe that did. This is how it might have been, I kept thinking, if history had gone that way. But the moral shock at the heart of the book: Winters's rabbit hole is not strange enough, the gulf between that and this is not wide enough. Underground Airlines does what all great speculative fiction wants to do - show the reader that Everything is possible. That's the good news and bad. The novel's many-named narrator descends from Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man - his voice is mesmeric, it comes from any corner, it can boil with savagery, sing with grace or do pretty much anything in between. Oh, and he descends from Jason Bourne as well; he has mad field skills. So does Winters. You're set down in motion on a tilted mirror and then it's turn after gripping turn - my every next hour depended on which way he went."—David Shafer, National Bestselling author of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
"Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man meets Blade Runner in this outstanding alternate history thriller. . . . The novel's closing section contains several breathtaking reversals, a genuinely disturbing revelation, and an exhilarating final course of action for Victor."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"An immersive thriller as well as a provocative alternative history, 'Underground Airlines' showcases a fully realized central character who believes his own disturbing past can be kept safely buried. But history has a way of bubbling to the surface of the present."—Jean Zimmerman, New York Times Book Review
"Ben Winters' Underground Airlines is an ingenious speculative thriller wrapped around the core of our nation's ouroboros history of institutional racism. While that may sound bizarre to some, Winters pulls it off with ease, crafting a novel that is both fantastic and scarily believable at the same time."—Ian Kern, Mysterious Bookshop
"Underground Airlines is the rare book that actually fulfills the promise of being unlike anything you've ever read. The alt-world premise of a present day US where the Civil War never happened and slavery still exists in four states, is so perfect for the current dialogue about race that's going on right now. It's not that common to be reading a gripping page turner of a mystery and be thinking about voices like Ta-Nehisi Coates at the same time. It's one of those books you only want to stop reading so that you can go out and start talking to people about it. I can't wait until this book is out in the world so I can engage with other readers about it."—Robert Sindelar, Third Place Books
"This one kept me up at night and changed the way I saw the world once I was finished."—Ann Patchett, Time
"Astonishing . . . A timely novel focusing on race and equality . . . Winters handles the controversial topic with sensitivity, yet isn't afraid to ask some bold questions along the way."—BookPage
"Underground Airlines is a work of astonishing originality and ambition. Like the best art, it forces us to question our own assumptions. Is the machine of modern civilization really that far removed from the alternate reality that Winters presents here? We're all implicated in this unsettling and visionary novel. Ben Winters is one brave writer."—Patrick Millikin, The Poisoned Pen Bookstore
"A top-flight thriller that's as emotionally searing and tragically plausible as anything in contemporary fiction."—Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians
"Chilling"—Alexandra Alter, New York Times
"A swift, smart, angry new novel . . . Its vibrant imagination never slackens. . . . As a feat of world-building, Underground Airlines is astonishing, immediately taking its place in the genre's very first rank."—Charles Finch, USA Today
"[A] striking work of speculative fiction . . . Winters creates a powerful and timely ethical framework for his fast-moving new thriller."—Jane Ciabattari, BBC
"The most timely of alternate history novels. Ben Winters has created a spellbinding world that forces the reader to look around-and to look within. This is a thriller not to be missed and one that will not be easily forgotten."—Hugh Howey, New York Times-bestselling author of Wool
"Smart, quick and tricky, Ben Winters knows how to pull off a high-concept thriller. Fans of The Man in the High Castle will love Underground Airlines."—Stewart O'Nan, author of The Speed Queen
"An extraordinary work of alternate history . . . Indisputably a winner"—Maureen Corrigan, NPR
"It is a rare thing when a writer has a fresh new provocative idea - and then executes it beautifully. This is what Ben H. Winters has done in his novel Underground Airlines. Imagine an America in which slavery still exists. Now imagine a dramatic telling of the story."—James Patterson
"Brilliantly written, terrifyingly conceived, Underground Airlines had me from the first page to the last. Many writers might have been content to set a few characters loose in the middle of the kind of powerful premise - slavery in four states never ended -put to work here, but Winters gives us gripping plot, clear-eyed social commentary and chilling implications. This may be alternate history, but what it has to say about actual, enduring race and racism cuts awfully close to the 21st century American bone."—Laird Hunt, author of Neverhome
"Underground Airlines is bold, brilliant, and beautiful -- everything you could want from a novel, Ben Winters delivers ten-fold. He's a writer to watch, one of exceptional vision and imagination whose characters draw the reader in to the point that an alternate history seems not only plausible, but the only one that counts until the final page."—Michael Koryta, author of Those Who Wish Me Dead
"Ben H. Winters has crafted a timely, necessary, and gripping page-turner. The plausibility of Underground Airlines' central conceit is terrifying, made more so by the author's deft blend of alternate history and modern mundanity, but the loose, often jaunty narration of its flawed protagonist, Victor, prevents its descent into hopeless, maudlin territory. Victor's desperate pursuit of freedom or redemption, whatever the cost, propels the novel toward its inexorable and satisfying conclusion."—Jake Cumsky-Whitlock, Kramerbooks

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