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.
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.