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.
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.
The twin themes of this series are the ways each side changes the other and, secondly, how each side finds new talents, new potential for adaptation. (Lots of real estate gets nuked too.) Chuck Yeager (I was glad to see him surviving the war) puts a love of science fiction to use in helping out (by interrogating Lizards) US atom bomb and rocket efforts. Liu Han is a rather unpleasant example of personal discovery and betterment. From being a put upon peasant widow, she becomes a guerilla leader and Communist party hack with an interest in possibly becoming Mao’s (who shows up for a scene) future lover. To be sure, her life wasn’t very pleasant before she joined the Commies and the lizards took her daughter, but she becomes a ruthless, party hack wielding power and sex appeal for personal ends. She becomes a sort of example of negative self-realization. Still, even she exhibits the tolerance that springs up amongst most of the combatants. She kidnaps Lizard psychologist Ttolmas in retaliation for experimenting on her and her child. (Ttolmas experiences with a human baby provides much of the straight-faced humor.) She lets him go after understanding his actions were based on ignorance and not malice.
Tolerance is a theme running throughout this book and series. Heinrich Jäger begins to put his life at risk for the Jews of Poland. He and his Russian lover Ludmila Gorbunova become political exiles (as is Lizard ex-Admiral Straha) for treason against both their countries. Mutt Daniels (another character I’m glad survived though I would have liked to have him meet old teammate Yeager) has an informative meeting with a Lizard soldier when a truce is declared. Being soldiers, they have great understanding and sympathy for one another. The Lizard soldier is appalled at the conflict always present on Earth though such perennial conflict has made humans adaptable at war. He sees a hierarchical caste system as the only way to avoid a waste of resources. When Daniels and another human soldier learn the Lizards don’t always have soldiers around, Sergeant Muldoon remarks “Almost makes you wish they won the war don’t it?” “Yeah,” Mutt said, “Almost.”’ The Lizards adopt very reluctantly, a more flexible approach when they negotiate a truce among certain Earth nations in order to secure landing sights for their colonization fleet. They’re not pleased about the deviation in plans and still see humans as dangerously preoccupied with gaining short term advantages and ignoring long-term consequences. Still, they are confident in ultimate victory. So are the humans. And they are not totally oblivious to the long-term consequences of what they’ve done to win the war – or, at least, get a peace. Like the Allies in the closing months of WWII, the three major powers are looking forward to having to resume war.
Britain seems upset at having lost their empire – as they did slightly later in our timeline. Stalin clearly sees a future of trying to buy possession of alien computer, missile, and nuclear technologies. America worries about a world in which two totalitarian powers have nukes. The anti-example of all this new found flexibility in politics and new tolerance between human and human and human and alien is the Nazi regime as epitomized in the persona of ruthless, clever, courageous, and vicious Otto Skorzeny who once, unsuccessfully, tries to nerve gas the Jews of Lodz though they are helping the Nazis against the Lizards and then, at novel’s end, tries to nuke Lodz. Much of the novel’s conclusion involves a Jager-led attempt, successful, to stop him.
All in all, we have an exciting tale of alternate war and politics, but there is a great deal to explore after the war ends. Much uncertainty remains on the future of Lizard-human and intra-human relations, questions of ultimate conquest of Earth, ultimate dispositions of human powers, and the molding of human psychology not to mention Lizard psychology. Still, at novel’s end when the Yeagers ponder the world their son will inherit, they realize the future is unknowable which is one of the series’ points – the uncertainty (despite Lizard wishes to the contrary) of the future and all life. The novel concludes with a sentence that not only harbingers more potential novels but life’s eternal quandary: “’We’ll just have to wait and see what happens, that’s all.’”