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'McCallandia': Pacific U grad's novel ponders political 'what ifs'

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COURTESY PHOTO - 'McCallandia: A Utopian Novel'The great appeal of science fiction and alternate-history literature is to change a specific detail or insert an imagined historical event and observe the ripple effects.

Many popular mainstream movies, such as the 1980s classic “Back to the Future,” play with the same theme, as does the current Amazon streaming series called “The Man in the High Castle,” which features an alternate history of the United States if Germany and Japan had won World War II.

My interest in this type of fiction led me to recently read “McCallandia: A Utopian Novel” ($20, Nestucca Spit Press) by Bill Hall, a former Pacific University undergraduate who speculates on how the post-Watergate era might have played out differently.

Hall’s storyline prominently features iconic political figure Tom McCall, a two-term Republican governor of Oregon, noted for his unconventional political style and focus on environmental issues. The author also takes additional creative license and inserts himself into the storyline, though only as a minor character.

The central concept of the book is that Congressman Gerald Ford does not become the vice presidential replacement for disgraced Nixon running mate Spiro Agnew in 1973. Instead, the position goes to McCall, who, according to the real timeline, is far into his second term as governor of Oregon.

The Oregon politician is seen as a safe “out of the box” choice by the Nixon administration and likely to merely fill out the ceremonial duties of a VP through that president’s second term in office.

Hall, an elected Lincoln County commissioner and a Democrat, is quite effusive in his admiration of McCall. The author takes this high regard to the level of producing a book-length homage to how McCall could have changed history had he become president.

Michigan native Gerald Ford does figure in “McCallandia,” accepting an invitation to work in the White House as a key staffer charged with spearheading policy initiatives in Congress.

Similarly, Jimmy Carter, former governor of Georgia, also appears in the storyline.

However, in the alternate reality of this work he fails to achieve his objective of the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976. That prize in this retelling is won by another well-known western U.S. political figure — Jerry Brown, the once and future governor of California.

The U.S. presidential campaign of 1976 is a much different tale in “McCallandia.” To give away too many details on this reimagining would be a major spoiler as it’s one of the more interesting and compelling sections of the book.

BlossSuffice to say that the ’76 fictionalized campaign features certain approaches to public policy and a breaking away from the limits of our rigid two-party system that are intriguing. Hall puts his academic and working-journalist background to good use in this chapter (and throughout the book) to describe the heated contest with imaginary press accounts, political speeches, news conferences and a particularly clever turn of events in the TV debate among presidential contenders.

Anyone who lived through the Watergate era would also find it interesting as many real characters in that unfortunate national saga also appear in the book.

Several of them assume reimagined positions in a McCall administration that allows them to continue in public service after their unexpected exits during the Nixon regime.

Hall’s style of presenting his “utopian” vision on a national scale is supplemented with flashbacks to Tom McCall’s life and impact on Oregon. Also, while many of the historically altered events are certainly unexpected, they seem entirely plausible in this retelling.

The book also includes a helpful supplemental section that goes into considerable detail to separate fact from fiction in the main story arc, which runs from 1973 to 1983.

“McCallandia” is a quick read and overall has an uplifting tone.

My only real criticisms are that it has a number of typographical errors and a few outright factual lapses (for example, misidentifying the home state of a U.S. congressman who was a ‘76 presidential candidate).

However, if you’re interested in U.S. history and politics, you’ll definitely enjoy this title.

The added bonus of Pacific University references sprinkled throughout the book should also make it appealing to students and other Forest Grove locals. It’s always interesting to ponder “what if” questions, and “McCallandia” paints a compelling portrait of a very different America of distinctly Oregon values and ideas.

One can certainly speculate, as the book does, that our environmental condition and politics would be unrecognizable from the reality that we find ourselves in today had Tom McCall risen to become a national leader.

John Bloss of Gaston cast his first vote for U.S. president in 1976. Since February he has been working as a researcher on the Gov. Victor Atiyeh Project at Pacific University in Forest Grove.