Settling Accounts: Return Engagement

Yes, it’s more Harry Turtledove.

A retro review from May 6, 2006 …

Review: Settling Accounts: Engagement, Harry Turtledove, 2004.Return Engagement

This is the eighth book in Turtledove’s Great War series though it’s sort of being marketed as the first in the Settling Accounts trilogy. [It ended up being a series of four books.] It is not a suitable entry point to this universe. Even long time readers of this series will find this book annoying.

It exhibits all the usual, unfortunate features of Turtledove’s padded novels. The Homeric character epithets are frequently repeated. There’s very little onstage battle action for a series about war, and all the important battles are given a worm’s eye view. There are frequent puns and ironic turns of phrases — here German Nazi phrases find their way in to the conversations of Freedom Party people.

Unlike his Worldwar series which featured many historical characters, the only ones of note here are General Patton leading the Confederate blitzkrieg which takes him to Lake Erie, General McArthur (who seems to be doing this world’s version of Inchon by landing at the mouth of the James River), Louis Armstrong (who, after being forced to entertain frontline troops, makes a break with his band to USA lines), and President Al Smith who dies and is replaced by LaFollette.

The war outside the American theater is interesting but only briefly covered with Russia’s Czar battling, with the British, the USA’s ally Germany and Japan’s empire building in the Pacific. But there’s precious little alternate history speculation in a book, however fast reading, that’s 623 pages long. The relationship between the USA and its troublesome Utah Mormons is the most interesting feature of this series.

But this book adds new annoyances. Several of the characters say things which are not that insightful but are hailed as such by fellow characters. Their “insights” just come off as clumsy ways for Turtledove to foreshadow and explicate via dialogue. And not only do we get the usual long interior monologues. We get references to the thoughts the characters don’t entertain. This is a way to highlight the most striking feature of the book: the vicious racism or casual indifference of the characters, with the exception of USA Congresswoman Flora Blackford, to blacks. Hipolito Rodriguez, a character we’ve come to like, has disturbingly little problem committing genocide. And that, the psychology of genocide, is the main theme of this book.


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