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


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


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

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

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,

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.

Worldwar: In the Balance

Did you really think my alternate history series wouldn’t have any Harry Turtledove?

I’ve done regular reviews of some books in this series already.

Raw Feed (1994): Worldwar: In the Balance, Harry Turtledove, 1994.worldwar

Turtledove sets the novel in 1942 when the free nations of the world are struggling against the totalitarian systems of Nazism and Communism. At that time – in June 1942 to be precise – aliens show up. They are intent on conquering all of Earth.

The central theme of this book is the same question that Britain and America faced in allying with Russia against fascism: Is the devil you know better than the devil you don’t? For a peasant in the Ukraine, can aliens be worse than the German armies’ path of murder and destruction? Should Russia actually help Nazi Germany develop the A-Bomb? Should America work with the Japanese? And, most heart-wrenching of all (and the most powerful conflict in the book) should the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto actually help their Nazi oppressors against the “Lizards?”

This is a long, but never dull, novel that features a large cast of both real and fictional characters through whose eyes we see the various political and military theaters of the war. Oddly, most of the real characters appear on stage briefly and aren’t terribly interesting in themselves. The exceptions are Otto Skorzeny and George Patton. All the military action in this book is well-done, and Skorzeny leads a daring commando raid to retrieve spilled weapons grade uranium from a destroyed alien “Race” ship. This marks at least the second appearance in sf of Skorzeny. (He was in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Inferno.) The ship was destroyed by the huge Nazi artillery piece Dora – Turtledove doesn’t give an adequate impression of exactly how many men were needed to operate and support Dora. Another bit of WWII esoterica from our own history involves the Russian ploy of using bomb carrying dogs to destroy tanks. Here it works. In our history, the project was a complete failure since the dogs were accidentally conditioned to home in on the shape of Russian tanks and the smell of Russian fuel and not Nazi tanks. The winter battle at novel’s end where Patton defeats a large alien army on the plains of Illinois was well done, and a sense of Patton the man is conveyed. Another real character is a man I’d never heard of before – Mordechai Anielewicz. He’s a chemical engineer who turns out to be a clever guerilla leader during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. Continue reading

The Pugnacious Peacemaker & The Wheels of If

The alternate history series.

Raw Feed (1991): “The Pugnacious Peacemaker”, Harry Turtledove and “The Wheels of If”, L. Sprague de Camp, 1990.pugnacious-peacemaker
The Wheels of If” — On a historical level it’s notable for being, I believe, one of the first alternate world stories. But it also works for the modern, naïve reader.

One can quibble, as you always can in alternate world stories, over the author’s speculations on what may have happened in history if a couple of events had turned out differently.

Interestingly, de Camp picked two turning points seldom, if ever, used in alternate world stories even now: Arabs winning the Battle of Tours — a battle whose importance is widely recognized, and the obscure event of King Oswiu of Northumbria choosing not to accept Rome’s authority over the Celtic Church. Would the Indians have adopted European technology and military tactics? Wouldn’t they (as William MacNeill pointed out in Plagues and People) been wiped out by European disease even if European gunpowder wasn’t around? Would this world’s parliamentary procedure and legal system so closely match our own?

But one can argue many interpretations of history with equal validity much less the speculations of alternate history. Also, historical knowledge, theories, and interpretations change through time. This story, after all, is 50 years old. Continue reading

The Two Georges

If I would have been thinking straight yesterday (I’m blaming my cognitive disability on a incipient migraine), I would have posted this in honor of Columbus Day (or, as it’s called in my native South Dakota, Native Americans Day) and Yorktown Victory Day (a state holiday in Virginia celebrated the same day).

Raw Feed (1996): The Two Georges, Richard Dreyfuss and Harry Turtledove, 1995.two-georges

This novel about the recovery of a famous painting symbolizing, with the presentation of George Washington to King George III’s privy council, the continued union of North America with England, was ok as a thriller with tours of the militarized frontier (the Queen Charlotte Islands and the border with the Russian), the semi-autonomous Iroquois Six Nations, the hellish and impoverished coal mines of Virginia, and the capitol of Victoria.

However, the treachery of Sir Horace Bragg was obvious about two-thirds of the way through, and the book had one of the oldest clichés in thrillers when Kathleen Flannary and Colonel Thomas Bushell fall in love.

As an alternate history, there is something lacking here, but I don’t know what exactly since there are lots of touches showing how different – and, generally, more pleasant – the culture of this world’s British Empire is. Policemen don’t regularly carry guns, and the vicious criminal that uses one is rare. TV exists but only as a communal activity. The rare person who can afford a private TV is regarded as odd for wanting one. While we can sympathize with the Sons of Liberty, they are a violent, racist lot and definitely regarded by most as a violent fringe group. John Kennedy is one of their leaders, and Irish in general are looked down on. (And Richard Nixon, murdered early on, is a notorious used car dealer.) The Irish are the main workers in the awful coal mines that power the North American Union. Unions seem totally absent, and the miners are naturally resentful of their horrible conditions, and Bushell, at novel’s end, will perhaps be involved in reforming their conditions. Blacks, after freed from slavery sometime in the 19th century, form a sizeable chunk of the civil service and have a reputation for fussiness. Not only have blacks fared better but so have the Iroquois (though the book is noticeably silent about the fate of other Indians). George Washington is remembered fondly by the Iroquois’ for enforcing a 1763 ban on white settlement west of the Appalachians. Whites eventually move into the land, but the Iroquois have time to reform their culture and learn modern ways and hold their own in the North American Union.

The neatest part about this alternate history is the maps of North America and the world. They show a world largely divided between three power blocs: the British Empire, the Franco-Spanish Empire, and the Russian Empire. The French revolution seems not to have happened (a reference is made to a Beethoven work written to commemorate those killed by Napoleon Bonaparte’s cannon while he served Louis XVI in quelling a revolt). In the absence of an independent America and the two World Wars, technological progress has been greatly slowed. Computer technology (and its effect on long distance phone calls which take a long time here as they used to do in our world) seems non-existent. Air transportation is done by charming dirigibles with aeroplanes (no one needs to be in that much of a hurry is the general consensus) reserved for military use. Military weapons seem stuck about 100 years behind ours. Continue reading

Alternate Kennedys

No, I am not doing a tie in to the upcoming U.S. presidential elections.

This will be a set up for a future posting.

Raw Feed (1992): Alternate Kennedys, ed. Mike Resnick, 1992.alternate-kennedys-2

“Introduction”, Mike Resnick — Goes into the myth of the Kennedys and some interesting facts about them: the Kennedy daughters, JFK’s son who died, Bobby Kennedy’s wiretappings, Joe Kennedy Sr’s disgrace as Ambassador to the Court of St. James, the valid contention that the Kennedys were the last politicians (except Ted Kennedy — and even he tries) to control the press.

A Fleeting Wisp of Glory”, Laura Resnick — An amusing and grim post-holocaust fable where the Kennedy Camelot and the Arthurian Camelot are being strangely mingled into a legend that explains the poor state of a post-atomic war future yet gives hope to the survivors by reminding them the world wasn’t always so bad.

In the Stone House”, Barry N. Malzberg — Generally I haven’t liked Malzberg’s stories. But he’s done some good work with the alternate president idea. His “Kingfish” in Mike Resnick’s Alternate Presidents was good and this story is too. I don’t know if Malzberg tapped into some conspiracy theories which have the Kennedy family behind the assassination of JFK (I’ve just seen such publications sold but have never read them), but I liked the bizarre notion of ex-president Joe Kennedy, Sr gunning for his president brother JFK. One can argue with the plausibility of an ex-President with Secret Service protection being able to plan the assassination of another president, but the story seems very realistic from a psychological standpoint. I don’t know how closely Joe Kennedy, Sr.’s actions, attitudes, and motives match the same man in our history, but he seemed a plausible mixture of man obsessed with slights to his family and Irish heritage, a man driven to make his sons presidents, and a domineering, inconsiderate, bullying father. Joe Kennedy, Jr. and his relationship to his father seemed quite believable. Junior goes along with all his father’s requests. He sometimes resents his father’s demands but always complies, seldom rebels. JFK is the rebel, the man who breaks free of his father’s psychological grip to destroy the latter’s plan. And, as Junior realizes, there is ambiguity in his assassination of JFK. It may be to please his father, punish JFK’s betrayal. Or it may be to punish his father by killing his president son. There is something to remark on in this story, common to a lot of alternate history story. Authors seem to feel it necessary (perhaps as an inside joke, perhaps just to provide a reference for the reader) to put alternate historical events in places famous in our time. For example, why have Joe Jr kill JFK in Dallas at the Texas Book Depository? Is it really credible to believe that events would have worked out so neatly in another world, that JFK wouldn’t have been a better target (or Joe Jr. had a better opportunity) somewhere else? I think the obvious answer is no, but the ploy is used in alternate history stories for historical reference and irony and reader identification.

The Kennedy Enterprise”, David Gerrold — A funny story of JFK and Bobby Kennedy in Hollywood and an alternate history of Star Trek or, rather Star Track and those associated with it. We also get alternate versions of some famous movies. Some of the better bits: Harlan Ellison as a laidback, compliant (hardly a word associated with Ellison) writer for Star Track; Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner fired from Star Track and replaced by JFK (and other changes are made to the show which make it like Star Trek: The Next Generation; JFK as a bad actor (who never meets Marilyn Monroe). I also liked the irritable, conversational style of this piece. Continue reading