Harry Turtledove Reviews



Del Rey, 1990, ISBN 0-345-36477-5, $3.95. A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper Copyright 1990 Evelyn C. Leeper

Though Turtledove's shorter works have been collected before, those collections were specialized: one collection was A Different Flesh, his stories of an alternate world in which Homo erectus settled the Americas rather than the ancestors of the Indians, and the other was Agent of Byzantium, a collection of his stories set in an alternate history in which Byzantium never fell. But Kaleidoscope, as the name implies, is not a single-themed collection, but more varied.

There is one "sim" story ("sim" being the name for the descendents of Homo erectus found in the Americas when the Europeans arrived). But though "And So to Bed" starts out promising--set in 1661, it is the earliest of the sim stories I have read--it ends with a blatant ripoff of a later historical occurrence in our world. "A Difficult Undertaking" is another story set in another one of Turtledove's existing mythoi, his Videssos cycle.

"Bluff" was based on an interesting premise, but I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief (though others more trained in psychology have praised it). "The Road Not Taken" suffers the same problem--Turtledove has fascinating ideas, but can't always make the reader accept them. Suspending one's disbelief in "The Weather's Fine" is even harder: the idea that time is like weather and when you talk about it being "in the upper sixties," you mean everyone is wearing love beads is a bit hard to take. But if you can go with the flow, so to speak, the story is worthwhile. But in this case, the premise is not intended seriously, and I suppose it's no more ridiculous than what happens to Alice after she falls down the rabbit hole and no one berates that for being unbelievable. "Hindsight" is one of the better science fiction stories in which science fiction and science fiction authors play an important part that I have read, and considerably above Larry Niven's much-touted "The Return of William Proxmire."

Turtledove hits every sub-genre. The horror stories include "Crybaby" (which may hit a bit too close to home for some) and "Gentlemen of the Shade," an excellent vampire story which has (for me anyway) a nicely un- final ending. (Yes, I suppose this means there could be a sequel, but it can also stand as is, hinting at what the future may hold.) "The Castle of the Sparrowhawk" and "The Summer Garden" are Turtledove's high fantasy efforts; I found the former had interesting characterizations, but couldn't finish the latter. "The Girl Who Took Lessons" is not science fiction, fantasy, or horror--well, not exactly.

Not all the stories are successful. "The Boring Beast," co-authored with Kevin D. Sandes, was apparently written when they were intoxicated. It shows. If you think that having a main character named Condom the Trojan makes a story funny, you may like this one. I don't, and I didn't. "The Last Article" is another alternate history, this time postulating that Hitler's armies made it to India and were controlling it when Gandhi tried to use his policy of non-violence against them. It is, alas, very predictable.

Still, the hit rate is high: four very good ("The Weather's Fine," "Hindsight," "Gentlemen of the Shade," and "The Girl Who Took Lessons"), five acceptable, and four disappointing. All in all, Kaleidoscope is a good introduction to Harry Turtledove's wide range of talents.

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A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper Copyright 1991 Evelyn C. Leeper

If Tony Lewis ever updates his Annotated Bibliography of Recursive Science Fiction, here is another addition, for this is a novel in which science fiction itself plays a role. Well, more accurately, this is a novelette, a short story, and a novel, with science fiction playing a major role in two of them (and Sherlock Holmes filling that category in the third).

In "The G'Bur" (originally titled "6+" and appearing in the September 1987 Analog), we meet Jennifer Logan, a student of Middle English science fiction like the works of Robert Heinlein. (The story is set in the future, year unspecified, but everyone speaks Spanglish.) She decides to travel with the Traders into space to see firsthand the current reality in order to compare it with the fictional predictions of the old stories. And in the process she gets to use some tricks she learned from reading these old books, sort of like someone today using a Trojan horse to get into an army base. Well, that's not quite fair, because we expect most people to be familiar with the story of the Trojan horse, but there's no reason to expect aliens to be familiar with Heinlein.

The second story, "The Atheters" (originally "Nothing in the Night-time" in the March 1989 Analog) uses a Sherlock Holmes story as the key to the solution, but the whole thing is a bit too obvious. Still, as an interlude between the two longer pieces it provides a brief diversion.

The main part of the book is "The Foitani" (originally serialized as "The Great Unknown" in Analog from April 1991 to June 1991). Here we finally have a chance to see Jennifer use her talents in more than just a cursory fashion. It all works fine, until once again she starts using her knowledge of science fiction. And then it falls apart, because it's all too pat and neat and easy. The result is that the whole story ends up sounding very self-congratulatory: "We always knew that science fiction was better than all that other stuff, and here's proof." (It doesn't surprise me at all that these stories appeared in Analog; they're just the sort of thing Schmidt prints.)

On the positive side, Jennifer Logan is a female protagonist who gets by on her brains, not her beauty. Turtledove describes her as "blond and beautiful" (making the eye-catching cover at least reasonable accurate), but also points out that all humans probably look equally ugly to aliens anyway, and it is with aliens that Jennifer is dealing. And Turtledove is a competent author, so the stories are readable and for the most part enjoyable. But the stress ultimately placed on the value of science fiction undermines them. (If the novels Jennifer uses in "The Foitani" were that convincing, we'd have a lot fewer problems now on this planet than we do.) If this were the summer, I'd say this would be an okay "beach book"-- acceptable for passing the time, but nothing more.

(It's a refreshing note of honesty that Turtledove, or Del Rey, or somebody, listed the previous appearances of the stories on the copyright page. All too often this information is hidden from the reader, and given the title changes here, without this information the reader would have NO way of knowing this was not the first appearance of this work.)

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Congdon & Weed, 1987, 0-86553-183-8, $15.95. A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper

I had heard about this novel at Boskone, but couldn't find it in the Dealers' Rooms there. Then lo and behold! there it was in the Old Bridge Public Library! Well, you know me and alternate history novels (particularly the small minority that *aren't* based on either the South winning the Civil War or Germany winning World War II), so I immediately checked it out and read it.

Well, uh, it was okay, I guess. I mean, the stories were interesting and the characters were reasonable adventure story characters, though nothing remarkable in characterization. But there was a certain sameness to the stories. They were originally written as short stories which appeared in various magazines (chiefly Asimov's). This "novel" was formed by concatenating the stories, without any apparent additional editing. So in each story we get aside references to how Byzantium never fell, how St. Mahoumet converted to Christianity, what a beautiful cathedral the Hagia Sofia is, etc. Had this been edited better, Turtledove could have filled in some new background details instead of repeating these same ones over and over.

In addition, the stories all fit a set pattern. In each one, Basil Argyros (I may have the spelling wrong--it was a one-week book and I had to return it) discovers some amazing technological marvel--the telescope, movable type, brandy, and so on. Given that this takes place in the 1500s the period is right, but it's unlikely in the extreme that all this would center around one man. There's also a Mata Hari subplot that I could have done without.

I suspect this was a case where the individual stories were more enjoyable that the "novel" they formed. If you read this, do it a story at a time, but a week or so in between them. Turtledove has done another alternate history series, his "Sim" series which is running in Analog. I may not like it when it's issued as a novel either, but I have enjoyed the individual stories and recommend them.

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Hodder & Stoughton, 1988, 0-450-42172-4 A book review by Danny Yee copyright 1994 Danny Yee

What if Justinian had succeeded in rebuilding the Roman Empire and Mohammed had been a Christian archbishop and saint? In the alternative 13th century world of Agent of Byzantium a powerful Byzantine empire faces a Franco-Saxon kingdom in the west, Persia in the east and nomads on the steppes. In a series of six short stories the hero, Basil Argyros, soldier and secret agent, confounds the enemies of the empire, in the process discovering smallpox innoculation and ferreting out the secrets of the telescope, gunpowder, distillation and the printing press. This is a bit implausible really, but the emphasis on technological discoveries is probably due to the intended audience (the stories were originally published in hard science fiction magazines) and it makes for a good story. Agent of Byzantium is hardly very deep, but it's a lot of fun as simple adventure even if you don't enjoy the alternative history.

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A book review by R.B. Schmunk (Copyright 1992)

The Guns of the South is a new alternate history novel from one of the more prolific writers of that sub-genre, Harry Turtledove. Although Turtledove's specialty in graduate school was Byzantine history (see his Agent of Byzantium short stories), he turns in this case to the American Civil War, or as it is called in The Guns of the South, The Second American Revolution (actually, I was rather surprised that was only one very late reference to the War Between the States). But be careful; you may not find this volume in your favorite bookstore's science fiction section. Like Robert Harris' recent Fatherland, this is apparently being pushed to a more mainstream audience, perhaps too catch the wave of interest set in motion by the PBS documentary of two years back. Although the book was published by Ballantine, it does not bear the DelRey imprint, and the only cover blurb is by James MacPherson, author of the Civil War history Battle Cry of Freedom (much recommended, by the way).

The premise of the story is not new, having been used before in Harry Harrison's A Rebel in Time and Charles L. Harness' "Quarks at Appomatox" and that is of someone going back in time to give aid to the Confederacy. In this case it is Afrikaaners from the year 2014 who have decided to smother that pernicious concept of racial equality before it evers reaches South African shores. To this end, they show up at Robert E. Lee's encampment in January 1864 and offer to provide the entire Confederate army, both Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and elements elsewhere, with AK-47 automatic rifles. After a demonstration of that weapon's capabilities, Lee readily accepts.

Marse Robert is, however, not without his suspicions. The strangers, who only state that they're from Rivington, North Carolina, have other strangely new technology besides automatic weapons, and the cost at which they are selling the guns to the Confederacy is ridiculously low. Six weeks later, when the strangers demonstrate uncanny advance knowledge of Kilpatrick's cavalry raid on Richmond (in our history an embarrassment to the Union; in this book a rout before it barely commenced), he puzzles out that they must be from the future. When he confronts their leader, Lee is told that they have come back to prevent the North's vicious postwar subjugation of the South, implemented by Abe Lincoln and his successor, Thaddeus Stevens. This sounds well enough to Lee and he now happily accepts their aid in the soon-to-occur battle of the Wilderness, details about which they provide. When that battle begins May 4, it immediately becomes an overwhelming Confederate victory, and by the end of the month, rebel troops have occupied Washington, DC, captured Lincoln and forced the end of the war.

Sounds like quite a story, right? And to think that's only the first 175 pages of a 500-page novel. What remains to be told is the history of the CSA over the next four years (particularly the settlement of the border between USA and CSA and the Confederate presidential election of 1867) and of their relationship with these men from "Rivington". To tell the tale, Turtledove has essentially employed two main characters. One of course if Lee, and the other is a member of the 47th North Carolina, a sergeant named Nate Caudel (who actually existed, though Turtledove has presumably invented much of the detail about him). Following the war, Lee continues to serve the govt in various capacities, but Caudel is mustered out and returns to his home town, which lies near Rivington.

While I admire Turtledove for attempting something in this book that I don't recall seeing in any previous alternate Civil War novel, I found myself not getting terribly involved with the characters and perhaps the story itself. What he has done that is perhaps unique is attempt to describe in relatively fine strokes what the Confederacy would have done after the war was over, both in its dealings with the US and with itself. Other authors have used some of the same ideas before, notably Winston Churchill in his "If Lee had not Won the Battle of Gettysburg" and Ward Moore in Bring the Jubilee, but both of those authors usually made broad statements about history and kept going. Turtledove has put some more meat on the bones, and I particularly liked the arguments he used to explain why Lee comes around to deciding that the slaves must be freed. The only author I can think of who attempts to detailing a post-war CSA was Leonard Skimin in Gray Victory, and that novel was focused in another direction.

What's the problem then? Well, two major ones in my eyes. First, having seceded because the Federal govt was too bossy, many of the Southern states were no better in their dealings with the govt in Richmond. During the war, several governors were often openly defiant of the soon-despised Jeff Davis, and his own Vice President Andrew Stephens spent the bulk of the war at his plantation back home in Georgia. In The Guns of the South, such fractiousness is barely hinted at and no sign is seen of any conflict between Davis and Stephens. Given Turtledove's PhD in history, I know he must be well aware of this and I can only assume that he omitted such detail in order to prevent cluttering up the story.

The other flaw is perhaps more important, and that is the lack of information about the "benevolent" Afrikaaners. It's obvious that they're trying to preserve apartheid in South Africa, but little else of real import is shown about them until near the end of The Guns of the South and it is too little. Turtledove has taken the easy way out by depending on the modern rejection of apartheid and in this case the skeleton contains no flesh.

Connected with this last point is perhaps a trivial point, but one that will niggle at the back of my brain for some time. This is the connection between the Afrikaaners in the 1860s and their home time. From the amount of equipment they bring back in time, one can only assume that they have a very large time machine or that there is a continuing link with home. If the latter is true, wouldn't that connection be severed when they alter history? Alternatively, they may be returning to the 2010s to measure the effect of their changes. Or possibly the 1864 and 2014 which have been connected are not in the same timeline, as James Hogan did in his Proteus Operation. Well, whichever the case may be, Turtledove doesn't get into it and I am left sitting here, stewing in my own juices.

And two other truly trivial points which somehow got under my skin. At one point the "Star-Spangled Banner" is played to salute the American flag. It's my recollection that the SSB did not become the national anthem until the 20th century, and earlier in the novel Turtledove does mention the use of "Hail Columbia" in a somewhat similar situation. Pardon me, but I'm a bit confused by that one. The other trivial bugaboo occurs when Caudel returns to his home town, goes to the local postmaster to buy some writing paper and off- handedly asks for a postage stamp. The US did not begin using stamps until 1847, and the Confederacy issued so few that I wonder if a butternut soldier would have had much opportunity to use one. In both these cases Turtledove may be correct in his usage, but I wonder.

I mentioned above a major point in favor of The Guns of the South and I suppose I ought mention a trivial one also. Early in the novel, Turtledove describes a baseball game being played by the encamped North Carolina soldiers. I have long been aware that the Civil War was responsible for the spread of my favorite game through the country and for the relative standardization of its rules. This book, though, is the first Civil War novel in which I have ever seen the game mentioned. Finally!

To sum things up then, my recommendation is that The Guns of the South is not worth purchasing in hardback. Alternate history fans with some money may wish to rush out and grab a copy, but other should wait for the paperback or get their local public libraries to order it. Those of you who don't care for alternate history can safely give this one a miss.

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A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper Copyright 1993 Evelyn C. Leeper

If the point of studying history is to learn from it, then surely one should learn something from alternate histories as well. And certainly I found a lot in The Guns of the South that is relevant to current concerns--in fact, far more so than one usually finds in alternate histories.

But first, the story. Harry Turtledove has credited Judith Tarr with the inspiration for this book (previously known as THE LONG DRUM ROLL). It seems that he was talking to Judith about one of her books and she bemoaned the fact that the cover on it was "as anachronistic as Robert E. Lee holding an Uzi." Well, Turtledove thought about this and decided that Uzis were not the right weapon, but what about if Lee had an AK-47? What if Lee had a *lot* of AK-47s? And who would give Lee a lot of AK-47s? Time traveling Afrikaaners, of course. So Turtledove postulates a group of Afrikaaners from 2014 who have traveled back in time 150 years with thousands of AK-47s to help the Confederacy win the Civil War and set up a white supremacist government. In addition to the AK-47s, they have two additional "weapons": information about the Union's battle plans, and the spectre of the horrible outcome if the Union wins. The former, however, diminishes in value with time as this timeline moves further and further away from the timeline the Afrikaaners know. And the latter has its own pitfalls, as some soon discover.

The most interesting part, though, is after the Confederacy wins the war. (Okay, this is a slight spoiler, but with thousands of AK-47s, it's hard to believe they might lose.) Though the war was fought in large part to maintain slavery, which in term was based on the belief in the inferiority of the black race, Lee finds himself faced with two very uncomfortable facts. First, though the common wisdom in the Confederacy (and in the Union, for that matter) was that blacks wouldn't--couldn't-- fight well as soldiers, the evidence of his own experience against black troops has taught Lee otherwise. And having begun thinking that maybe all the other "facts" about blacks that he's been taught are equally false, he is then brought face to face with the realization that history--his great- grandchildren and the great-grandchildren of those around him--would condemn slavery, and the men who upheld it, as evil. How he and others resolve this conflict is the focus of the last part of The Guns of the South and to a great extent of the book as a whole.

And here is where I see the relevance. What do you do when evidence disproves a widely held belief about a group of people--in particular, about the fighting skills of a group of people? What do you do when you suspect (for can we ever *know*?) that history will condemn your age as bigoted for its treatment of a group of people? In case you haven't figured it out by now, I'm taling about the whole argument about allowing gay and lesbian soldiers in the military. Unless Turtledove is psychic (or had visitors from the future), he couldn't have foreseen just how relevant The Guns of the South would be. Yet that is what most impresses me about it. The historical aspects are, I am sure, impeccably researched, but it is the moral questions that gives this book meaning and body. It is more than just a laying-out of alternate Civil War battles. It has characters who have feelings and convictions, and who face dilemmas, and who change and are changed by the events around them. Don't think of this as just another "What if the South won the Civil War?" novel; it's much, much more.

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dani@netcom.com (Dani Zweig)

Harry Turtledove's "The Guns of the South" begins near the end of the American Civil War, with the Confederacy facing near-certain defeat. The history portrayed in this book begins to diverge from the one we know when a group of strangers (whom the reader will recognize as modern Afrikaaners) supplies the South with 100,000 AK-47 rifles, and adequate ammunition. A crushing Southern military victory swiftly follows.

Having won the war, the South must then win the peace. In particular, the problem of slavery will not go away. Worse, from the perspective of the Afrikaaners (who had hoped to make this Confederacy a bastion of white supremacy), now that the issues of slavery and of survival are disentangled, there is actually some movement towards gradual emancipation. (In this novel, Lee becomes part of that movement after the war.) When their attempt to dictate the politics of the victorious Confederacy fails, the Afrikaaners take direct action.

The book has some promising premises, but what Turtledove does with them is disappointing. The first half of the book is "How would the Civil War had gone if the South had had Kalashnikovs?", and the answer, unsurpringly, is "swiftly". It's an uninteresting fantasy, on the order of "The Trojans would have won the Trojan War if they'd had a couple of tanks." A closer analogy might be WWI, if one side had had machine guns and the other side had only had bayonet charges.

The second half is "How would the South have then handled their racial problem?" This could actually have been interesting, but Turtledove comes up with too pat an answer: The legislators learn that the future will scorn slavery, and this embarrasses them into voting for its dissolution. That's one more plot device than the book can really carry.

The first plot device was clumsy and sloppy. Afrikaaner extremists in 2014 steal a time machine which can only function across 150-year gaps. Rather than use it to build a power base in nineteenth-century South Africa and change history there, they decide to forget about South Africa and mould America to their liking. Aside from the time machine, all their equipment is effectively out of the 1980s or 90s -- Turtledove chose the year 2014 for the existence of a time machine and for the round numbered year-gap, but he makes no effort to flesh that out in any other way. And even loonies would have more logic than to declare open warfare on the Confederacy when things don't seem to be going their way. These people are only in the book to shove the plot in whatever direction the author wishes.

It's a well-researched book, it has some good ideas, and it's ultimately a waste of time. Return to Harry Turtledove Bibliography


Review copyright (c) 1995 by Doug Ingram

Harry Turtledove is probably most well-known to readers of this newsgroup for his alternate history novels. Most of the people I've heard from who recommended this author to me suggested I try this book first, and if it is any indication of Turtledove's writing, I'll be on the lookout for more.

Much of the premise of The Guns of the South can be derived from the cover, which shows Robert E. Lee (commanding general of the Confederacy in 1864) holding an AK-47. A group of white supremacists from an organization they call "America Will Break" (AWB) have come back to 1864 from the future in order to provide the Confederacy with enough firepower to reverse the tide of the Civil War.

This story is told largely from two viewpoints. First, as the Confederacy starts to reap the benefits provided by AWB, the implications of AWB's actions start to sink in for General Lee, who tries to find out more about them. Meanwhile, another perspective is provided by a sargeant in the Confederate army named Nate Caudell, who fights his way through several battles with his new weaponry and then ultimately must find a place for himself in the post-war Confederacy. The reader is rewarded with two very different and very insightful views of the way the alternate history is played out, both before and after the Civil War.

Summarizing the plot any further isn't really necessary, other than to say that the Civil War's resolution itself takes up only half the book, and what happens to the Confederacy afterwards is just as interesting as the events of the Civil War. This very fact leads me to one of the things I like about this new "genre" of speculative fiction (and allows me to avoid providing more spoilers).

Typical SF is set in the future, and the author often times attempts to predict and analyze the effects of some current or new aspect of our society (either an invention, a social change, or a major event such as alien contact) by extrapolating from current society into an unknown future. This leaves the author with a little extra baggage, as it can take a long time to set up the framework for the story. Often, authors either get so involved with descriptions of the details of this new society that the book either drags or suffers from "name-itis" in which the reader is asked to commit to memory the names of dozens of people and/or places in the first few chapters.

"Historical SF", on the other hand, presents the reader with a familiar background. Turtledove can dive right into his story without too much in the way of introduction. We already know who Robert E. Lee is, and we know what the historical setting of the time was. Everything is familiar, yet with the twist from the future, we find that life is just different enough to be extremely interesting and unpredictable.

You will probably find that the deeper your knowledge about the Civil War, the more you will appreciate this book. Implicit in this novel is Turtledove's interpretation of Lee's personality as well as the social conditions of that era. It is interesting to see the way politics worked back then (almost depressingly familiar, I might add) and also somewhat educational.

I will admit that the book dragged a few times, as the attention to the details of everyday life for both main characters (Lee and Caudell) started to bog me down, in spite of the fact that I realize this was just a way to "back door" more information about society back then. In a few cases, I would have preferred a little less education and a little more action. But this is only a minor point. The bottom line is: I strongly recommend this book.

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Reviewed by Garner Johnson

The story follows a portion of a Roman legion that is transported from Gaul (during Caesar's conquests) to a fantasy world called Videssos. The main character is the commander of the legion who is untried and has political ambitions. In this new world the legion becomes a mercenary band working for a large empire. They are beset with bureaucratic problems, a holy war between good and evil, sorcery, religious prejudice, politics and intrigue that all combine to make a richly detailed and complicated story. Videssos has a Byzantine/middle east feel to it that reflects Turtledove's historical specialty and is a nice change from the typical western European fantasy. It also has a great deal of military action and accuracy also due to the author's expertise. His attention to religion and how that affects the various characters and nations is also good and integral to the plot. The characters are varied and well done, and their actions seem to follow naturally. If there is any problem with the book it is that its pacing is a bit slow due to all the detail that is given. There is still plenty of action and things going on, but they do unfold fairly slowly. This book leads off a four book series and is well worth reading.

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A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper Copyright 1993 Evelyn C. Leeper

While Turtledove is perhaps best known for his alternate history stories, and while many of the stories in this collection are alternate histories, the back blurb lies when it says, "Here Harry Turtledove explores such 'what-ifs' in twenty alternate history stories ranging from ancient times to the far, far-different future." Even counting stories with werewolves or vampires as alternate histories, only eleven of the twenty stories here are alternate history. But all twenty are good.

Perhaps because of the historical nature of Turtledove's writing, the stories are arranged chronologically (by when the story takes place, not by when it was written). In fact, this collection was originally to be titled Pasts, Presents and Futures. And this historical bent is evident even in the non-alternate-history stories, as you will see.

"Counting Potsherds" takes place in the early second century B.C.E. and IS an alternate history story. What if the Persians defeated the Greeks and democracy never developed? Turtledove has done his research on the Near East (his degree is in Byzantine history and he has also used the near East as the setting in his set of alternate history stories collected in AGENT OF BYZANTIUM, about which I will say more later), and the world here is as well-developed as a reader could hope to find.

"Death in Vesunna" is about history, and books, and the mistake of under-estimating one's opponents. Although reminiscent of Poul Anderson's "Time Patrol" stories, it focuses more on the residents of the period to which the time travelers go than on the time travelers themselves or their time--and this is the whole point.

Turtledove's best known alternate history stories are his "Agent of Byzantium" stories, and "Departures" is a prequel to that series. 'Nuff said.

"Pillar of Cloud, Pillar of Fire" is a regular "Agent of Byzantium" story which takes place between "Strange Eruptions" (a.k.a. "Etos Kosmou 6816") and "Unholy Trinity" (a.k.a. "Etos Kosmou 6824"). Turtledove has at last gotten away from having Basil Argyros invent or discover something famous, although the story does center around a very modern problem.

"Islands in the Sea," by its placement here, reads as an alternate alternate history from "Departures" and the entire "Agent of Byzantium" series--not only does Mohammed NOT convert to Christianity, but the Muslim Arabs successfully invade southeastern Europe much sooner than they actually did. There is something odd, however, about reading a theological argument between a Christian and a Muslim written by a Jew. Well, at least no one can claim he is biased.

If the existence of werewolves makes a story an alternate history, then "Not All Wolves" is an alternate history. A young boy who is actually a werewolf is fleeing from an angry mob in Twelfth Century Cologne. Cornered and desperate, he finds help from a most unexpected ally. Though the message is perhaps a bit unsubtle, the story is effective.

"Clash of Arms" is NOT an alternate history story, but a story of a heraldic duel. I suspect one needs to know heraldry better than I do to appreciate the story, though even I found it mildly interesting.

"Report of the Special Committee on the Quality of Life" is not, strictly speaking, alternate history. Rather, it's a parody of government feasibility studies by having Jaime Nose'nada ("I know nothing" in Spanish) write up all the reasons why Spain shouldn't bother to follow up on Columbus's journey. Cute, but more than a little preachy--I'm sure all the pro-space groups love it.

An alternate history story only under the most liberal of definitions, "Batboy" is a baseball story, but probably wouldn't appeal to the average baseball fan--it's primary focus is fantasy rather than sports. "Designated Hitter" is another baseball story, but it is a straight science fiction story rather than alternate history. It didn't work as well for me as "Batboy" did, probably because it requires more knowledge of the techniques of baseball than I have.

"The Last Reunion" is definitely not alternate history, though it recalls The Guns of the South in its story of a Confederate captain returning to Richmond in 1932 for a reunion of the Forty-seventh North Carolina. Turtledove recognizes the conflict between the nostalgia of the old soldier and the horrors of war, and my only complaint is that he doesn't do an entirely successful job of reconciling the two.

If there's such a thing as an alternate future story, "Gladly Wolde He Lerne" is one. Unfortunately, it's a bit predictable (especially after the introduction Turtledove wrote) and a bit preachy. In fact, while I like Turtledove's introductions to the stories, I would recommend reading them AFTER you read the respective stories.

We're on the receiving end of time traveling in "The Barbecue, the Movie, and Other Unfortunately Not So Relevant Material," an amusing story and a good change of pace from some of the more serious stories in the book.

"In the Presence of Mine Enemies" is set in one of the more common alternate history worlds, one in which Germany won the Second World War. It's about survival under adversity and if it seems unlikely, one merely has to look at the recent revelation that large numbers of Catholics in the Southwest are descended from Jews who fled to the New World to escape the Inquisition.

Just as "In the Presence of Mine Enemies" might have been inspired by news that post-dated it, but wasn't (of course--Turtledove is a good writer but not a fortune-teller), so might have been "The R Strain." In the latter case, it is the report of the babirusa, a cud-chewing pig, that could have generated this story of a genetically altered pig that just might be kosher. There has been much discussion on Usenet lately as to why pork is the ultimate non-kosher meat, even more so in people's minds than shellfish or anything else. And Turtledove's story acknowledges this by having its Conservative rabbi more concerned about whether the animal is prohibited than whether it has been killed in the kosher manner. To the non-Jew this may not matter, yet to a Jew reading this story there will remain the nagging feeling that if the rabbi is so blase about the manner of killing the animal, his opinion on its kosher status may also be suspect.

I liked "Lure" for its use of Cenozoic mammals, a newly found interest of mine. Everyone is interested in dinosaurs, so I have to be different, I guess. Of course, this somewhat outre interest means I picked up some errors, such as Turtledove's having Cynodesmus, Diceratherium, and Syndoceros, all early Miocene North American mammals, in late Miocene Italy (my reference is The Macmillan Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals). But what the heck--we have dinosaur movies with cavemen and dinosaurs co-existing, and those are considerably further apart in time, if not in space. And "Secret Names" is a perfect follow-up to "Lure," even though it is set in a post-holocaust future and at first appears to have nothing in common with a tale of prehistoric mammals. In fact, "The R Strain," "Lure," and "Secret Names" form a nice biological triptych.

"Les Mortes d'Arthur" is primarily a science fiction murder mystery, with some sports thrown in. I found it similar to some of Isaac Asimov's "Wendell Urth" stories, and wonder if it isn't an homage of sorts to Asimov.

The only story I have a real problem with in this collection is "Last Favor." Its evolutionary premise is interesting--and has to some extent been proposed as a model for certain groups here on Earth--but I think there are major problems in assuming its conscious self-application, particularly as described here. Then again, I'm sure if I'm wrong, some biologist will tell me.

The final story is "Nasty, Brutish, and ...." It's a bar story, and also a "So there!" to H. G. Wells (in a manner of speaking). Unlike the five stories preceding it, this one at least has some chance of being an alternate history, or at least a secret history.

(There is also an excerpt from Turtledove's The Guns of the South, but since it's more an ad than a story, I won't review it here. I do recommend the book, though.)

DEPARTURES is a must-buy for alternate history fans, and highly recommended even for the general science fiction fan.

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Del Rey, ISBN 0-345-38241-2, January 1994, 488pp, US$21. A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper Copyright 1994 Evelyn C. Leeper

First, a warning: this is the first book of a four-book series. (According to what I've heard, the other three are WORLDWAR: TILTING THE BALANCE [already in Del Rey's hands], WORLDWAR: UPSETTING THE BALANCE [just finished], and WORLDWAR: FINDING THE BALANCE [still to be written].) Nowhere on the cover (or inside) does Del Rey warn you of this, and unlike some first novels which can be read as stand-alone stories, this ends on a very open-ended note, with little if anything resolved. Shame on Del Rey for not warning the reading! (Oh, and the cover art by Bob Eggleton has been flip-flopped. One assumes this is for some arcane marketing reason, but the result is that all the swastikas are backwards.)

It is May 1942. War is raging around the world. Major Heinrich Jager is fighting for the Third Reich on the Eastern Front. George Bagnall is a flight engineer for the RAF. Ludmila Gorbunova is a pilot, but for the Soviet Air Force. Moishe Russie is a Jew in the Warsaw Ghetto. Liu Han is a Chinese peasant woman. Jens Larssen is an American physicist on the Manhattan Project. Sam Yeager us a minor league outfielder and science fiction fan from Nebraska. Atvar is the fleetlord of the invading spaceships of the Race.

Say what?

Oh, didn't I mention it? It seems that in this alternate universe, lizardlike aliens from outer space invade Earth in 1942. Needless to say, this changes the progress of World War II considerably. Alliances shift in interesting ways as humans attempt to repel the invaders. This often involves uneasy truces and alliances, as countries unite with their erstwhile (human) enemies to fight the invaders while trying to avoid conceding any advantage to these (human) enemies that might backfire if and when the Race is defeated.

One thing that Turtledove has managed to do is take plot devices and writing techniques that often fail, and make them work. For example, the book starts with a bit of a cliche: the Race surveyed Earth eight hundred years ago and is amazed at the amount of progress made since then, since they show change or progress only over periods of millennia rather than years (for example, between steam engines and powered flight, or between dynamite and atomic bombs). But there is further explanation and elaboration of this as the story progresses and as the history, biology, and psychology of the Race is revealed. the result is that there are REASONS given for this "slowness" on the part of the Race. That's the flip-side of an alternate history, I suppose. An alternate history asks, "What would have happened if Y had happened instead of X?" Here Turtledove asked, "What would have had to have been different for X to happen instead of Y?" It's the difference between induction and retroduction (as described by Charles Peirce). Detectives use retroduction (also known as abduction) to figure out what could have led to a certain result; Sherlock Holmes was famous for it. It is seen in science fiction, but more common is the inductive aspect: build a world, then decide what would populate it. (There's also some rather obvious foreshadowing when the Race complain of the cold in Poland-- in the middle of the summer.)

The characters on the whole are well fleshed out, though with as many major characters as WORLDWAR: IN THE BALANCE has, it's not too surprising that a couple of them are still thinly sketched (undoubtedly some of these will be further developed in the remaining volumes). The multiple points of view do give a very good "global" feel to this book that many alien invasion stories lacked--how often is everything told through American eyes, with only passing reference to the rest of the world? Here the parts of the world not portrayed are those which are not on a war footing when the Race arrived, and so have less ability to resist the Race. (The end papers contain a list of all the major characters--and some minor ones--with indications as to which are real and which are fictional creations. I would have hoped the latter clarification wasn't necessary, but after someone asked Connie Willis whether the General Grant character in her LINCOLN'S DREAMS was real or fictional, one never knows. And admittedly some of Turtledove's "real" characters are less famous than others. At any rate, I hope Del Rey continues this for the rest of the series--in a story published over a period of years, some memory joggers are helpful.)

Turtledove knows how to write a plot and characters that keep the reader interested and turning the pages. Whether he can sustain this for two thousand pages remains to be seen, but this book is at least a good start.

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Baen, ISBN 0-671-72196-8, 1993, US$5.99 A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper Copyright 1993 Evelyn C. Leeper

This is, I suppose, an alternate history of sorts. Magic works, all the gods and goddesses and other supernatural beings are real, and so on. Yet except for a few minor name changes (the District of Columbia is the District of Saint Columba, for example, and Los Angeles is Angel City), everything else is pretty much the same. While this is extremely unlikely in a real alternate history (is that an oxymoron?), it hardly matters here however, since this story is *not* trying to be a classic alternate history story. I mention it only for those who have come to expect Turtledove to write alternate history stories.

There are two aspects to this book: plot and puns. The plot involves David Fisher, an inspector for the EPA (Environmental Perfection Agency) and his investigation of a possible leak at a toxic spell dump. This leak appears to be causing babies to be born without souls. The puns are layered on top of the plot--often, in my opinion, obscuring it completely. It's too easy to get so wrapped up in spotting puns that you stop following the storyline. And Turtledove is shameless when it comes to puns. Not only does he refer to an overweight psychic and a Britisher who contacts spirits from the past as "the large medium and the English channeler," but he doesn't shirk from talking about the "devil with a blue dress on" or even including as narrative almost an entire verse of "Love Potion Number Nine." It may seem an odd criticism, but I think Turtledove's plot is interesting enough that the constant puns hurt, rather than help, the book. Conversely, the puns are good enough that you sometimes wish the plot didn't distract you from them. I like sushi and I like hot fudge, but they don't mix well either.

One aspect of the premise I found fascinating, if a bit paradoxical, was the idea that all religions were "right." With the constant proof of them in everyday life, people in Turtledove's universe are more religious-- because they really believe that they will be punished if they're not. Aside from what ramifications this has for free will and faith versus proof, it leads me to wonder why the god(s) of one religion don't (or can't) punish the believers in a different religion. David Fisher is an observant Jew (actually another nice touch--one rarely finds the heroes of novels to be observant Jews, or even observant anything-elses), but why? He recognizes that all other religions are "true," so why does he remain Jewish? Is conversion not allowed? If so, what does that do to religions that require "informed consent" (i.e., you can become a full member only when you are old enough to make your own choice)? Do these religions never form in this universe? Does it have only religions one is born into? (Or baptized into at birth?) Maybe this whole subject interests me because I've been reading about why people change their religion and it seems to be more a social or emotional thing than that they decide they actually believe the formal tenets of one religion over another. (Lots of stuff here in case there's a sequel, I guess.) At any rate, Turtledove gives one a lot of food for thought here, and this may be somewhat of a surprise in a book that is basically a comedy-adventure.

It may be just my personal taste for religious-based science fiction and fantasy, but I found THE CASE OF THE TOXIC SPELL DUMP enjoyable and surprisingly meaty. If you have an appreciation--or at least a high toleration--for endless puns, I strongly recommend it.

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dani@netcom.com (Dani Zweig)

Harry Turtledove's "The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump" is silly, it's overflowing with bad puns, and -- unusual for books of that sort -- it's a good read even without the silliness.

The basic premise is a variation of a familiar one: The story takes place in a world just like ours, except that magic does everything that science does here. (Actually, most of the magic is theurgic, relying on divine or demonic powers.) So people drive carpets instead of cars, but LA still has traffic jams, and Japanese knitting mills are still turning carpets out more cheaply than American ones. Badly injured people wind up in the Intensive Prayer Unit and everyone's excited about the possibilities of Virtuous Reality and Djinn Splicing. Central Intelligence really does employ spooks. You get the idea.

David Fisher's job at the Environmental Perfection Agency is fairly bureaucratic in nature. He worries about containing the spread of the Medvamp and whether importing Leprechauns will upset the local thecology. That is, it's fairly bureaucratic in nature until he gets a tip that something is wrong with the local Toxic Spell Dump. He soon finds himself way over his head, in a case that seems to involve black magics, the threat of global war, and lawyers from every firm that uses that Dump.

The book is no "Operation Chaos" -- the bad puns guarantee that, if nothing else -- but it was fun to read, with a solid story that doesn't *depend* on the silliness.

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dani@telerama.lm.com (Dani Zweig)

Turtledove's "Prince of the North" is competent formula fiction. In this instance, the formula is Turtledove's own: Create a milieu based on a familiar historical model, put a man with relatively modern sensibilities at the head of a military force, and give him a series of conventional or unconventional opponents. (The protagonist can be pseudo or actual Roman, Byzantine, American, whatever, but he can't be so much a product of his time and place that the reader will find him unsympathetic.)

"Prince of the North" is set in a fantasy world based on northern Europe (probably north Gaul, less probably England) after the Roman withdrawal and the first barbarian incursions. Sorcery and theurgy both work (the fact that Gerin the Fox, the Prince of the North, has gotten on the bad side of the God of wine is significant to the plot), but aside from that the landscape is familiar. Minor barons in the abandoned lands have declared themselves princes and dukes, lesser leaders have placed themselves under the protection of the more powerful ones, peasants have taken the first steps on the road to serfdom. (As is common in such fantasies, the existence of magic makes incredibly little difference in how people live. A more subtle problem is that although swearing by a God is a near-guarantee of honesty -- the Gods taking a personal interest in such oaths -- this also seems to have relatively little effect on how people order their lives.)

The book has a number of subplots, but at its center is an incursion of beast-men. An earthquake destroys an ancient warding and the land is invaded by hordes of ravening, relatively-intelligent, monsters. (One wonders what they ate for the centuries or millenia they lived underground.) This keeps Gerin busy for most of the book -- fighting the beasts, fighting the barbarians who have allied with the beasts, allying with rivals to fight the beasts -- a book written to Baen specifications -- until, with the book about to end, the problem is resolved by a deus ex machina. So one way to look at it is that the book serves mainly to introduce the characters and the milieu: There will be a sequel.

I found it an adequate read, but the sense of reading formula clouded my pleasure in the book. I enjoyed the Videssos tetralogy, but this didn't mean that I was looking for another book about a Roman-type military leader (with similar romantic fortunes) backed up by a tough soldier and a well-educated advisor. The fact that the book was so thoroughly first-in- a-series -- with remarkably little difference between the situation at the beginning of the book and at its end -- also detracted.

Whether you'd enjoy the book depends on your previous experience with Turtledove. If you haven't read any of his books before, this isn't the place to start: The Videssos tetralogy (starting with "The Misplaced Legion") does military fantasy better, "Agent of Byzantium" does alternate historical fantasy better, and "The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump" is good semi-light fantasy. If, at the other extreme, you're reading and enjoying his Krispos novels, you'll enjoy this too.

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Del Rey, ISBN 0-345-38997-2, 1995, 478pp, US$22
A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 1995 Evelyn C. Leeper

This is the second of Turtledove's "Worldwar" tetralogy. The first, WORLDWAR: IN THE BALANCE, came out a year ago, and the next two will be out in 1996 and 1997. (This fact is mentioned peripherally in the blurbs and the jacket copy, but is not evident from the cover. I mention it because the reader should know to read the first book first. I am not going to give a thorough summary here.)

While the first book set up the premise--an alien race invades the Earth in the middle of World War II--the second continues the many threads started therein. So we're still following stories in the Soviet, Poland, Germany, Britain, China, Japan, Illinois, Colorado, and probably a few more that I've forgotten. (Oh, yes, and Croatia, though not quite the same Croatia that he wrote about in "Ready for the Fatherland." There's something about the Balkans, apparently, that makes them an ideal setting for novels about conflict.) Even Turtledove realizes that he's juggling too many balls and can't keep introducing new characters forever, so he starts eliminating some of them. (Luckily the book includes a five-page cast of characters to help the reader keep the people and the aliens straight.) Personally, I think there may be a few threads too many, and there were one or two that I found myself skimming (Russian tactical maneuvers just don't do it for me, I guess).

Intermixed with the stories directly related to the invasion stories are the personal stories, which are not as effective and often seem to have been added either to make some philosophical point or to provide some not-so-subtle motivation for the characters to do what Turtledove wants or needs them to do. The result is that a character at one point completely rejects a certain path of action, while later expressing great admiration for a group that had traditionally followed that path. (It's hard to avoid spoilers, but I'm trying.) This seems just a bit inconsistent to me. In fact, what this character wants is basically that what happened somehow "un-happen," so we have an interesting internal alternate history parallel.

One thing I like about Turtledove's writing in general is that he has Jewish characters--real Jewish characters, not just a lab assistant named Saul Rubinstein who shows up in a couple of scenes, but rounded, central Jewish characters who think and act Jewish. And WORLDWAR is no exception. This makes it doubly strange that so many of his other characters seem stereotypical: the Illinois nurse, the Japanese officers, the Croatians, and so on. Maybe this is part of the price of having so many characters: it's impossible to build them all from scratch. Whether this ever veers into something negative enough to complain about is not clear, but some groups do seem to be portrayed fairly negatively (and not just the Nazis, many of whom are the good guys!).

The first volume covered about a year, as does this. But Turtledove sets up some long-term events that seem to indicate that either the last two books will cover a longer timespan or there will be room for a sequel. (It is possible he can wrap up the threads in another two years, but it seems unlikely.)

Well, okay, I've talked about bits and pieces of WORLDWAR: TILTING THE BALANCE, but what about the novel as a whole? I found it not as enjoyable as the first, but in part this is due to its placement in the series. The first book of a tetralogy is fresh and new, introducing the scenario and characters. The second develops them further, the third (one presumes) will do the necessary setup for the last volume, and the last (one hopes) will wrap it all up. This means that of necessity books two and three won't have the "punch" of the first and last books, and that is the case here. Turtledove does his best, but the sheer multiplicity of story threads, and the knowledge that there are still two years and two more volumes to go, is a bit intimidating.

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by Richard Dreyfuss and Harry Turtledove
A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 1996 Evelyn C. Leeper

The cover describes Dreyfuss as an Oscar winner, and Turtledove as a Hugo winner. Of the two, the latter is perhaps more germane to the book -- Dreyfuss won as an actor, not a writer. But Turtledove has said that Dreyfuss contributed heavily to the dialogue, so perhaps this is a more equal partnership than last year's team of Gingrich and Forstchen. However, this book does have the (apparently) obligatory sex scene. Mercifully, this one is shorter.

The premise of THE TWO GEORGES is that there was no American Revolution. The exact details of how this occurred (or perhaps more accurately, failed to occur) are not spelled out. This is actually a good touch, because too often the background is given as a sort of "lump," something like, "Fred mused how different the world would be if Queen Mary had died earlier and her bastard sister Elizabeth had become Queen of England." There's actually something refreshing about NOT getting all the details.

Of course, Dreyfuss and Turtledove don't entirely avoid this sort of thing. There are a fair number of references to what Washington or King George (the two Georges of the title) did and how that affected the present. Given that we rarely find ourselves thinking how different our world would be if there were no American Revolution, at least in our daily routine, this does feel a bit artificial. And the main character at one point is reading THE UNITED COLONIES TRIUMPHANT, an alternate history book about OUR world.

The book is alternate history but the plot is strictly mystery: the famous Gainsborough painting "The Two Georges" has been stolen while touring the North American colonies and just before King-Emperor Charles III was due to speak in front of it. The radical separatist group, the Sons of Liberty, has stolen it and is demanding a ransom for its return, and Colonel Thomas Bushnell and Samuel Stanley of the RAMP are assigned to recover the painting, which is a major cultural icon (sort of like the original Declaration of Independence).

Turtledove is good at research, so it's hard to find errors per se. One of my complaints is more a stylistic one: I find it difficult to believe that two hundred years after the break point we would have any of the same people as we have in our world, and in very similar positions. In particular, I find it difficult to explain how Martin Luther King, Jr., would have been as involved in politics in a society with far fewer racial problems that our own as he was in ours. I also question whether the Irish would be as prominent, since a change in politics preventing the American Revolution might very well have prevented the Irish Potato Famine as well. Other references that served more as stumbling blocks than stepping stones were Beethoven writing his Third Symphony to celebrate Napoleon's uprising against Louis XVI, and the use of "To Anacreon in Heaven" as the North American anthem. Language-wise Dreyfuss and Turtledove sick fairly closely to British English (with references to serviettes rather than napkins, for example), but do occasionally slip, calling trousers pants, or vests undershirts. (I am reminded of the recent report of the British MP who was found dead in "pants and suspenders." To most Americans, this doesn't sound too shocking; however, the American translation is that he was found in "undershorts and a garter belt.")

Unfortunately, the mystery part of this novel, which is the main plot, is not particularly well-constructed. Clues are telegraphed, and in general there is a lot of fairly standard stuff going on. There is also a fairly standard romance with Bushnell meeting a professional woman with whom he initially does not get along, and so on.

I liked the background of THE TWO GEORGES, even with my reservations, and would recommend it for that reason to alternate history fans. But it is the alternate history aspect that makes this book worthwhile. If that aspect doesn't appeal to you, you can skip it as a mystery.

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THE TWO GEORGES by Richard Dreyfuss and Harry Turtledove reviewed by Alayne McGregor

It's 1996: King-Emperor Charles III is the middle of his glorious reign over a British Empire covering the globe, while the Sons of Liberty plot his overthrow. Giant airships carry passengers from Victoria, the capital of the North American Union, across the continent to New Liverpool; however, when Governor-General Sir Martin Luther King wants to cross to the California coast, he does it by train, with political speeches at every whistle-stop.

You may have gathered this world is slightly different from ours.

In this world, there never was an American Revolution. Instead, George III and George Washington reached an agreement in the 1760s to create a separate privy council for the American colonies, satisfying the colonists' concerns and keeping North America securely in the Empire. That agreement was immortalized by Gainsborough in his painting The Two Georges, which has become an icon in the NAU. Copies of the painting even adorn paper banknotes.

It's no wonder Colonel Thomas Bushnell of the Royal American Mounted Police is nervous. He has the duty of guarding The Two Georges for a two-month stay in a museum in New Liverpool. Everything looks secure at the opening reception at the governor's mansion, but the Sons of Liberty are cleverer; a guest is assassinated, and, in the confusion, the painting is spirited away.

That's the signal for Bushnell to embark on a search across the continent from the far north-western islands to the east coast, trying to discover the Sons' network. On the way, we see a very different society than today's United States or Canada: more hierarchical and linked to Britain, but also more peaceful, and with better treatment of its black, Hispanic, and Indian minorities.

Together with his stalwart black adjutant, Samuel Stanley, and Kathleen Flannery, the chief curator for the travelling exhibition (who can't quite be dropped from the list of suspects), Bushnell has to dodge Russian bullets and grenades as he fights for his country against a bunch of xenophobic extremists, who will do anything to make America "free".

I suspect that, as a Canadian, I didn't find this alternate history nearly as shocking as an American would. On the other thing, I had some problems with the implicit assumption that a British North America would be that much more civilized or less revolutionary than the U.S.: the authors perhaps didn't know about the Corn Riots in 19th century England, or the Mackenzie- Papineau Rebellion, the Riel Rebellion, and the North-West Rebellion in 19th-century Canada?

I also wondered whether so large an Empire could have really stood united for so long. Obviously the world wars in this century made the underpinnings of Empire much less stable, but even still the serious concerns of many residents in places like India and South Africa would still have destabilized continued colonization of their countries?

As well, I had serious doubts that the NAU would be governed by a politician as governor-general. If one looks at other large British colonies like Canada or Australia, they consistently moved to having the governor-general as a (mostly) figurehead representative of the Monarch, with a Prime Minister and a local Parliament wielding the real power, at least in internal affairs. Given that the Prime Ministerial/Parliamentary system was already well established in England in the 1760s, I would have expected the NAU to have either immediately adopted that model or evolved to it.

Lastly, I found some of the suggested place names in the NAU bizarre: Victoria was reasonable as the capital (although why anyone would choose the Washington, DC, area as a capital given the whole of North America is beyond me), but Ontario for the current location of Manitoba? I strongly doubt that Quebec would have exactly its current boundaries in the NAU: more likely the top two-thirds would be a separate Cree nation.

Turtledove and Dreyfuss obviously had fun with inserting a few recent politicians as characters: Tricky Dick (known as Honest Dick to his friends), who makes millions selling used steamers (aka steam-powered cars); Sir Martin Luther King whose preacher background still sometimes shows in the speeches he makes as Governor-General; and John F. Kennedy, the fiery 70-year-old publisher of _Common Sense_, the journal that still preaches liberty for Americans. I had my doubts that an alternate history could produce characters corresponding so closely to ones in our history, but the liberty was forgivable.

As a story, this book was lots of fun. The descriptions were consistently interesting -- although I didn't really need to know every detail of each meal or every time Bushnell felt the need to hit the bottle. Bushnell and his cohorts were convincing as police officers, and were involved in some really exciting scenes, although the pace sometimes flagged a bit between those scenes. I particularly appreciated the fact I didn't guess the real villains or all the plot twists until the end.

But you'll enjoy this book best if you were raised on Haggard and Henty, Doyle and Buchan and Kipling. This book is set in a neo-Victorian world because it comes straight out of the tradition of Empire-builders, >from the Victorians and Edwardians who expanded the British empire and who were utterly convinced that they were civilizing the world.

If you're familiar with the style -- and the assumptions -- of that tradition, this will be a comfortable and thoroughly enjoyable read. Just don't expect anything more than a well-written thriller.

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THE TWO GEORGES by Richard Dreyfuss and Harry Turtledove reviewed by Bruce Byfield

I just finished Harry Turtledove and Richard Dreyfuss' "The Two Georges." The novel kept me reading, even though I am starting to recognize some of Turtledove's pet motifs (such as the scene in which a man refuses to sleep with a woman who's just made a pass at him). However, the background of the novel was often unconvincing. To start with, the novel is full of the Great Man view of history. George Washington makes his peace with England, so the American War of Independence never happens; Napoleon Bonaparte is a royalist, so the French Revolution never happens; a single Iroquois sees the need to modernize, so the whole Six Nation modernizes. Connected to such events, this view isn't very plausible: you might argue that Washington won the American Revolution, but there were dozens of reasons for it to happen, even without him. Secondly, the novel assumes that, without these revolutions, the world would generally be a more conservative place. Maybe so, but I doubt it. What is noteworthy in 19th century English history is the degree to which reform happened without revolution. Moreover, as many reforms happened under Conservative English governments as Liberal ones. And, far from being less technologically advanced, a world in which 19th century values still existed in 1996 might be ahead of ours--it's this century, not the last one, which questioned the myth of progress in a big way. Thirdly, the world seems dominated, not so much by Victorian values as those of the 1940s and 1950s. Turtledove has often been complimentary about the social mores of a generation ago; his view seems to be that we'd be better off if we still kept them, adding only a little tolerence. That's a matter of opinion, but the view makes for inconsistency. For example, at the same time that "The Two Georges" shows a world in which men watch their language in front of women and ask them before smoking, career women are starting to appear. In other words, at the same time that women are given special status, they're starting to assert their equality--all without any breakdown of the values which give them special status. Fourthly, since I live in Canada--in some ways a real life counterpart to the North American Union of the novel--I found much of the background inaccurate. For example, the NAU isn't a colony, but it's ruled by a Governor-General. In fact, it has Dominion status (a term not used in the book), so it would have a Prime Minister. Nor would this PM be as free to act as an American President; unlike the GG in the novel, he'd constantly be consulting cabinet ministers and parliament. Similarly, the police in the novel--obviously based on the RCMP--wouldn't have the old English tradition of not carrying weapons. If, like the RCMP, they started as a paramilitary organization to keep order on the frontier, they'd be perfectly familiar with firearms. For that matter, details like not carrying guns seems to have far more to do with stereotypes about England than with reality or plausibility (although I understand why such a detail might be used--it allows for more contrast with the violence of our society). Despite these faults, the book kept me reading. And I appreciate a scene set in the Queen Charlottes, even if the writers don't consider the difficulties of carrying full-length weapons through a west coast rain forest. But, with a little ore attention to details, the book could have been much better than it was.

The Great War:  American Front

Reviewed by James Neal Webb
Originally appearing in BookPage, 6/98

With The Great War: American Front, Harry Turtledove continues to fascinate readers with his stories of “alternate history." From his Worldwar tetralogy (aliens invade the earth during World War II) to The Guns of the South (time travelers equip Robert E. Lee with AK-47s). the "what ifs," of war are played out on the printed page. In his newest series, Turtledove returns to a world where the South won the great conflict, but the result, while enthralling, is not very cheery.

In The Great War, the world was we know it hinges on a lost set of battle plans wrapped around some cigars during the Civil War.  In Turtledove's world, the plans weren't lost, and the South won the War Between the States.

In How Few Remain, the first book of this series, a second. bitter war is fought in the 1880s, ending in a standoff, but the real story is how the lives and philosophies of the two countries are forever altered.  In The Great War, the uneasy truce comes to a violent end with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914: the first World War begins, but this time it is fought on American soil.

Picture this--from Maryland to Utah, Quebec to Oklahoma. Kentucky to Hawaii. Americans are fighting Americans, on the ground, in the air, under the sea, in trenches, in tanks, with aerial bombardments, poison gas, prison camps and firing squads.

Despite a plethora of interesting characters, it's really hard to root for either side.  That is also the strength and power of this book:  Turtledove offers a balanced portrayal of the men and women on both sides of the conflict.   Whereas in How Few Remains the main characters are Abe Lincoln, Mark Twain, George Armstrong Custer, and Teddy Roosevelt, famous Americans of history play only a peripheral role in this book.

The real heroes of The Great War are those that look with horror at the war.  They are the poor and down-troddeni-African-Americans, manumiitted and second-class citizens in both nations. and the poor white working class in both the north and south. They are communists.

That's right. communists. They read works by Marx and Lenin and Lincoln(!). And, as astonishing as it might seem, the "reds" offer the only hope the two countries have-but at what cost? Their fate rmains to be seen, as Turtledove leaves us hanging at the end of The Great War, I'm sure his next book will be worth the wait.

Return to Harry Turtledove Bibliography

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