The Great War: American Front

While I’m posting Harry Turtledove material, I might as well fill in some holes in my coverage of his long alternate history series that began with How Few Remain.

Incidentally, since this is entirely an alternate history of the Great War, it’s not going to be covered in my World War One in Fantastic Fiction posts.

Raw Feed (1999): The Great War: American Front, Harry Turtledove, 1998.american-front 

Turtledove uses his usual technique of a multitude of characters to provide a variety of views in this novel about the American front of an alternate WWI. This technique, with its rapid alternation between viewpoint characters, makes this thick book read fast, but I had a few quibbles.

First, with the exception of Woodrow Wilson, George Armstrong Custer, Theodore Roosevelt (Wilson and Roosevelt are presidents of the Confederacy and USA, respectively), and Leonard Wood – all briefly glimpsed and none viewpoint characters – we see no historical characters, just fictional ones. Some of the internal dialogue of characters verges close, but doesn’t cross the line, of excessive folksiness. Also, we get few scenes of combat and then those scenes are not that detailed. Also, we get no viewpoint characters who are combatants from European powers.

Still, Turtledove uses his characters well to show most aspects of the war (including the scenes of Cherokees, solid members of the CSA, fighting with Confederate officers) and not just naval and land and air combat but the various ways civilians react including sabotage, espionage, and collaboration when conquered. But the most powerful and disturbing bits are the visions of a USA, under the influence of its German ally (it’s amusing to hear Roosevelt’s support of German culture given our history), become, since the Second War Between the States, a bureaucratic, paper-laden tyranny. Second is the influence of Marxism in both the US and CSA. In How Few Remain, Lincoln spread the word of Marx and, it’s revealed here, his actions ultimately led to the socialists splitting off from the Republicans. They have to decide, in typical Marxist fashion, that Britain and France are more reactionary than the Kaiser. In the CSA, slaves and Southern factory workers in the aristocratic South (the most dislikeable character is a rich Southern belle named Anne Colleton) understandably embrace Marxism, and the novel ends with the beginning of an armed black uprising.

 

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Colonization: Down to Earth

While I’m off reading weird fiction for LibraryThing discussion, reading magazines, making notes for new entries, and binge watching The Great War YouTube channel, here’s another entry for another book in Harry Turtledove’s Worldwar universe..

I’m sure tags will point you to other entries in this very long series.

Raw Feed (2000): Colonization: Down to Earth, Harry Turtledove, 2000.down-to-earth

The second and enjoyable installment in Turtledove’s Colonization series packed some surprises: the Germans foolishly provoking war against the Race (and getting nuked big time), the Race taking a cue from Islamic history and taxing those who won’t revere the Lizard Emperors (which, of course, they don’t see as superstition unlike human religions) and being surprised that humans would object, and Sam Yeager (though this is not explicitly stated, only darkly hinted) uncovering evidence that the US launched a surprise nuclear attack on the Race at the series’ beginning.

As with his Great War series, Turtledove adopts a worms-eye view of events. When war breaks out between the Germans and the Race, I wanted a big screen view of events. Instead, we just see how the various characters we’ve been following see the war and are affected by it. However, Turtledove’s characteristic style and method for these alternate history novels has its own advantages. Turtledove, amongst all the chunks of dialogue and internal monologues (which make his books so palatable and quick reading), manages to track the personal nature and consequences of his characters’ problems. Monique Dutourd is coerced into sexually servicing Nazi Dieter Kuhn and, perhaps, learning hard lessons about life from her smuggler brother; Johannes Drucker continues to be a loyal soldier despite almost having his beloved wife carted off to a death camp; Lia Han begins to question her fanatical communism; Rance Auerbach, however, doesn’t really question his attitude toward blacks even after being forcibly relocated to South Africa though he wonders about his girlfriend. It was also nice to see Goldfarb have a bit of luck (and the aid of his old comrades) and land in Canada’s high tech industries. Characters questioning their religious and racial prejudices is a big element in Turtledove’s Great War, Worldwar, and Colonization series.

I liked Moshie Eeuven ponder converting Lizards to, presumably, Judaism. I particularly liked cross-species friendship between Lizard pilot Nesseref and Jewish leader Mordechai Anielewicz and his son and also between Sam Yeager, who, against orders, is taking a personal interest in discovering who launched that sneak nuclear attack on the Lizards. Exiled Shipleader Straha realizes that he considers Yeager a friend when he ponders informing the Race that Yeager is covertly racing two Race hatchlings as humans. This is a counterpoint to Ttomalss’ raising of human Kassquit from infancy. The book derives some humor from Ttomalss trying to sort out the influence of genetics from culture. His relation with Kassquit is similar to a human father with a teenage daughter (and somewhat mirrored by Johnathan’s Yeager’s relationship with his parents), and he labors under the impression that surely a human child isn’t as ungrateful to its human parents. Continue reading

Colonization: Second Contact

More Harry Turtledove, more alternate history while I’m off working on new stuff.

Raw Feed (1999): Colonization: Second Contact, Harry Turtledove, 1999.second-contact

This series takes place about 20 years after the end of the Worldwar series. Like that series, a major theme is racial tensions and tolerance. American space pilot Glen Johnson discusses, with a black bartender, why some blacks sided with the Lizards during the war. Exiled Shiplord Straha acknowledges friendship with Sam Yeager. Mordechai Anielewicz (suffering periodically from exposure to Nazi nerve gas in the last Worldwar series) becomes friends with Nesseref, a Lizard from the colonization fleet. The Jews, of course, operate in a Lizard controlled Palestine, their best chance for survival outside of the U.S. David Goldfarb, from the Worldwar series, finds himself living in a Britain increasingly tainted by the lethal anti-Semitism of the Nazi Reich, Britain’s de facto protector against the Lizards.

Other characters appearing from the first series are Rance Auerbach and Penny Summers, ex-lovers reunited and involved in the ginger trade; Johannes Drucker, former Nazi tank driver who saved Heinrich Jäger from the SS in the last Worldwar book and now a spaceship pilot whose wife is suspected of Nazi blood (and thus ruining his future promotions even though he manages to saves his wife from a camp); Ludmila, Jäger’s wife, makes a brief appearance as a cripple widowed by Jäger years ago (an eventual victim of Otto Skorzeny’s nerve gas); Ttomalss is here with Kassgutt, a new character who is a human girl raised from birth by him. Her tribulations with the Lizard culture that doesn’t accept her claim or desire to be a spiritual and psychological member of the Lizard Empire provides a lot interest of the book, particularly Ttomalss and her’s coming to grips with human sexual demands and needs. Fleetlord Atvar is here, hoping to retire to Australia, the continent most like Home and to be cleared of most humans; Lin Han, commie leader, is here with daughter, Liu Mei – there is a touching scene when, on a trip to beg for US arms, Sam Yeager tells her of her father Bobby Fiore, his old friend and colleague; Molotov is here and survives a coup by NDVD head Beria (Molotov assumed leadership of the USSR after Stalin died); born collaborator David Nussboym is back with plans for vengeance against Anielewicz whom he blames for his capture by the Russians; Mossie Russie is back advising the Lizard administrator of Palestine. Continue reading

Worldwar: Striking the Balance

The alternate history series continues with the fourth book in Harry Turtledove’s Worldwar series. I made no notes on the second and third books.

Raw Feed (1997): Worldwar: Striking the Balance, Harry Turtledove, 1996.striking-the-balance

One of my complaints about many alternate history stories, at least short stories, is they concentrate more on the deviation point where the alternate history deviates from our own rather than the effects of that deviation. This series – of which this novel is the fourth and, supposedly, final – strides the border between those two story approaches to the alternate history sub-genre.

Turtledove, in this conclusion to the Worldwar saga, shows some real consequences to the alien invasion of spring 1942. When the war ends – at least for Britain, Germany, America, and the USSR since the Race aka Lizards intend to pursue war objectives on the rest of Earth – things have changed markedly. America, Russia, and Germany all have nuclear weapons by the time they negotiate a peace in early 1945.

I only noticed in this novel how concerned these novels are with the downtrodden. The Jews of Poland get a respite from Russian and German and Polish brutality when the Lizards create a buffer zone there. However, world Jewry gets no Palestine since the Lizards will colonize the area though Moshie and his family will live there. The war zone of China will continue under uncertain Lizard occupation. Another downtrodden group briefly covered are America’s blacks who will possibly gain greater respect from whites for not working with the Lizards despite sufficient self-interest to do so. Continue reading

Departures

While I’m off working on new stuff, the alternate history series continues with another collection from Harry Turtledove.

Raw Feed (1994): Departures, Harry Turtledove, 1993.departures

Counting Potsherds” — I liked this alternate history of a democratic Greece not surviving its war with Persia. This time around I had a better appreciation of the irony of the haughty Persian courtier Mithredath – who ridicules the notion of, to him, ancient Greeks governing by popular vote – being reduced to poverty due to political convulsions in far off, autocratic Persia.

Death in Vesunna” — Historically minded sf writers like Turtledove, Poul Anderson, and L. Sprague de Camp like to write time travel stories (or other types of sf) where historical people are shown not to be as stupid as popularly imagined. Here a couple of time travelers illegally travel through time to buy up classical manuscripts which are alluded to in works we have but not extant. During the process of such a purchase, they murder a Roman citizen and arrogantly suppose the locals are too dumb and superstitious to figure out what happened or catch them. They prove wrong on both counts as a tesserarius of the local vigiles and a local doctor do just that. The story ends with the Romans accusing the time travelers of being barbarians since they thought the Romans fools and couldn’t imagine the consequences of their act.

Departures” — Third time I’ve read this excellent start to Turtledove’s alternate history series of Basil Agroyos. I still liked the depiction of Mohammed as a Christian monk and how the story ends with his composing a Christian hymn and, with his fellow monks, fleeing the Persians down the road to Constantinople, a journey full of historical import. Continue reading

Kaleidoscope

The alternate history series continues with a Harry Turtledove collection that, of course, includes a lot of alternate history.

Raw Feed (1994): Kaleidoscope, Harry Turtledove, 1990.kaleidoscope

And So to Bed” — I appreciated this story more upon a second reading. The first time I liked the basic idea of this alternate history – that Samuel Pepys, in a world where Neanderthals were never supplanted by modern man in the New World, develops the theory of evolution. On a second reading, I appreciated more Turtledove’s technical skill in reproducing, via diary, Pepys world (and, I assume, style though I never read Pepys) with wit.

Bluff” — A story based – with acknowledgements – on the ideas of neurologist Julian Jaynes’ The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of Bicameral Mind. Jaynes postulated (so I gather from Turtledove’s summation and the intro that says Jaynes liked the story) that primitive man was not truly conscious (defined by psychologist Helga Stein in this story, as being aware, of manipulating mentally metaphorical representations of objects and ideas) and operated on pattern recognition and habit. (Not as silly as it sounds. As Turtledove points out, complex activities like typing and playing a musical instrument are best done unconsciously.) When a novel situation presents itself, the right side of the brain generates auditory and visual hallucinations – often interpreted as gods and dead ancestors speaking. An earth survey mission finds an entire alien civilization at the Bronze Age level built by unconsciousness aliens. But just as Jaynes’ theory has consciousness developing when things get to complicated, so it is starting in this culture with alien soldier Tushratta. Consciousness first begins in merchants and soldiers who deal with strangers who hear other gods’ voices; gradually, they realize that these strangers have inner selves and begin to think of their inner self. A casual poker game with Tushratta and the humans ends in the corruption of the alien culture, the emergence of tyranny, and the beginnings of Tushratta’s consciousness. He is introduced to the idea of bluffing and, its close relation, lying. Turtledove makes a valid point that lying – consciously holding an image of reality and then constructing a distortion of it for social presentation – is a quintessentially conscious act.  (I was reminded of Harry Harrison’s West of Eden where an intelligent dinosaur character is amazed by, and cunningly uses, the human idea of lying.)  Tushratta, at story’s end, is plotting his rise to power via the idea of “bluff”.  An intriguing story that puts to good use an interesting scientific theory.

A Difficult Undertaking” — Basically a pun story set in Turtledove’s alternate Byzantine fantasy universe of the Empire of Videssos (and, on the basis of this story, I’m not eager to read them); allegedly, this story is based on an incident from Byzantine Princess Anna Commena (Turtledove does, after all, have a PhD in Byzantine history) about a soldier escaping a siege by appearing to be dead and transported across enemy lines in a coffin.  Continue reading

Stealing Other People’s Homework: “The Turner Legacy”

turner-legacy

Since the heated up rhetoric before the U. S. Presidential election, I’ve been pondering doing a series on future American civil wars.

And the rhetoric has only heated up since then. (California seceding?)

Well, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. The project — not the war. Do you think I’m some kind of prophet?

(Though I would refer you to my reviews of Richard Peters’ Power Games trilogy for both a satirical yet militarily plausible description of how such a war might turn out.)

One of the books I contemplated reading and reviewing was the notorious The Turner Diaries.

I’ve had a copy for years but never got around to reading it.

J. M. Berger takes a look at it, and its political legacies in “The Turner Legacy“.

The same page has articles on its literary ancestors including works by Jack London.

I don’t buy all of Berger’s political assumptions and values, but it looks to be an interesting look at some dark (no pun intended) byways of American science fiction.

Incidentally, I would be happy for title suggestions for any future American civil war titles regardless of the political axes they might grind.

The Guns of the South

The alternate history series continues with a time travel novel.

As I recall, Turtledove said the inspiration for this came from a conversation with Judith Tarr. Griping about inaccurate cover art for one of her historical fantasies, Tarr said it was like giving Robert E. Lee a Kalashnikov.

Raw Feed (1994): The Guns of the South, Harry Turtledove, 1992.the-guns-of-the-south

If alternate histories are to be judged by the skill they evoke another world and the rigor and seriousness of their extrapolations, than this is one of the best alternate history I’ve ever read.

Even though only the first paragraph of this book (a quote from Robert E. Lee) is from history, I had to remind myself several times that this was not a history of my world, an account of something that really happened. The book had that much verisimilitude.

Turtledove makes two excellent choices in viewpoint characters: Robert E. Lee to give us the large scale picture of the political and military matters he is involved in and First Sergeant Nate Caudell to give us the common man’s view of the changes that sweep the South in the wake of the change to history Turtledove postulates. Specifically, Turtledove introduces time travelers in the year 1864. They can only travel back 150 years into their past – no later, no sooner, and they didn’t get a time machine quick enough to help Lee earlier in the war. They are white supremacists from South Africa who think things for their cause begin to go wrong with the defeat of the Confederacy. They propose to arm the Southern army with AK-47s to make up for their smaller numbers and fewer resources. With the aid of the new arms (and a few rifle grenades during the taking of Washington and some nitroglycerin pills for Lee’s heart condition – however, the time travelers aren’t willing to reveal their knowledge of computers or radio), the South wins.

Turtledove doesn’t have the time travelers on stage a lot – though their existence looms large in the minds of the leaders of the victorious Confederacy. Turtledove makes a few points about the limited use, out of historic context, of the technology and knowledge of a time traveler. The South has problems manufacturing the cartridges and powders suitable for an AK-47 nor is their metallurgical skill up to duplicating them. The South Africans’ knowledge of Civil War history is only of use in the first stages of the Battle of the Wilderness – the first battle after their intervention. Latter, when they are suppressed, Benny Lang – the most decent of the South Africans – tells the South that they’ll only be able to use their captured computers until they break down. Continue reading

Stealing Other People’s Homework: The Sonora Aero Club

 

A secret history of lost technology?

Another example of early science fiction disguised as hoax?

Proto steampunk?

The strange case of Charles Dellschau: “Secrets of the Sonora Aero Club” with more pictures of Dellschau’s art from Claire Voon’s “Early-20th-Century Drawings of Fanciful Flying Machines“.

A World of Difference

I’m off catching up on my reading for LibraryThing’s weird fiction discussion group, so you’re getting another posting on another Harry Turtledove alternate history. This one is a relatively obscure one.

Raw Feed (1994): A World of Difference, Harry Turtledove, 1990.world-of-difference

This is one of those alternate histories (like Harry Harrison’s Eden series) based on a variation of physical science. Here Mars (called Minerva here) is big enough to support an atmosphere and an intelligent race has evolved there. Human history has altered a little, particularly astronomy and mythology. About the most Turtledove gives us of altered human history is some mention of various near clashes of Soviet and American forces in Beirut and a shortened Gorbachev regime.

It’s this history of Soviet-American tension that forms the background of this story about a joint Soviet-American mission to Mars after the Minervans trash the Viking lander. A proxy war results as each side lands on different sides of the Jötun Canyon (the scenery of Minerva, particularly this huge canyon with its mighty seasonal floods, is one of the best parts of this book) and gets involved in a local war of expansion. The expansionist side is backed by the Soviets because Marx tells them this tribe, somewhat industrialized, is further along the path to revolution.

The Americans decide to help the other side and also solve a very old Minervan problem: while Minervan males are very long lived, Minervan females die in childbirth. An American doctor, through surgical techniques, solves the problem. The plotting is competent, the characterization is adequate and the story held my interest, but it was nothing special. Apart from their morphology and reproductive biology, the Minervans could have been humans, and I think the story could have been shorter. Perhaps the problem is that Turtledove’s forte is alternate history of the intensely sociological and historical kind. Merely altering the planet of Mars doesn’t give him much opportunity to use that talent.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.