I can’t remember anymore who turned me on to the Harry Turtledove books. I believe it was someone in one of my science-fiction groups. Whoever it was, I owe them a debt of gratitude.
Harry Turtledove is an author who writes primarily in the genre known as Alternate History. The series of his I’d been reading up until now dealt with What if the Confederacy had won the Civil War?
I’d had Worldwar: In The Balance sitting around for a while, but hadn’t picked it up to read it. Now that I finally did, I wish I’d started it sooner.
In this case, Turtledove sets forth the premise of what if in the early days of World War II as the Nazis, Italians and Japanese are battling the British, Russians, Chinese and the United States there is a new foe. What if aliens decided to invade?
I guess the absurdity of the premise is what originally led me to have resistance to beginning this series of novels.
It is a great credit to Turtledove’s writing that he not only makes this work, but also makes it believable. He has a background in ancient and medieval history, and gets so many details down in this novel that I could imagine the events happening just as he describes.
It is the summer of 1942. The Japanese are fighting in China. The Germans are fighting in Russia and in the air with Britain. France is under German rule. In Chicago, a team of U.S. physicists are trying to develop a nuclear weapon. Suddenly, out of the sky there is a blinding flash.
The invasion has begun.
The Race is what they call themselves. They are bipedal lizard-like creatures. Their weaponry and technology is more advanced than ours. There’s only one problem. They were not prepared for our technology at all.
It seems that The Race and others that they have conquered evolve at a much slower pace than humans. The probes they sent orbited Earth (or Tosev 3 as it is known to The Race) eight hundred years before. They did not expect to see an industrialized society, but rather the same level of development that the probes indicated.
To that end, Turtledove makes it believable that even with their greater knowledge and capabilities, they do not have the ability to adapt as humans do. He goes into great detail as the differences between the two races slowly becomes apparent. What should have been an easy conquest for The Race becomes a difficult battle.
Turtledove creates a broad canvas of characters; some fictional, some historical. They interact at various times in a manner which seems very appropriate instead of forced. We get to know three different baseball players from a minor league team as their paths separate when The Race invades. We know a physicist in Chicago and his wife, a German tank commander, a female Red Air Force pilot, a Chinese peasant woman, and RAF radarman in Dover, a Jewish ex-,medical student in the Warsaw ghetto. Through these characters and the historical figures such as Vyacheslav Molotov, General George Patton, Enrico Fermi, and Otto Skorzeny we see the slow change in the canvas as a world at war must suddenly put aside its differences or be conquered.
The Race is also written about with a good deal of information about their society. They are not just a one-dimensional alien-invader type enemy. Instead, I got to understand why they are doing what they do. Their feelings and perceptions mirror the Nazi mindset of the day in many ways. This is what makes it intriguing when the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto reach out to The Lizards for help with the Germans; they are trading one master race for another.
In his usual style, Turtledove has each chapter contain vignettes about various characters and what is happening. It does sort of jump around a bit, making the story hard to follow at times. To that end, at the beginning of the novel is a list of people in the story and a short description of who they are. This is not a book that you can put down for a few days and get back to – you can and probably will lose your place.
Up until the Lizards came, life in the United States had been within shouting distance of normal, war or no war. Now … He’d seen newsreel footage of wreckage in Europe and China, seen black-and-white images of stunned people trying to figure out how to go on with their lives after they’d lost everything – and often everybody – that mattered to them. He thought they’d sunk in. But the difference between seeing pictures of war and having war brought home to you was like the difference between seeing a picture of a pretty girl and going to bed with her.
When I’d read paragraphs like this, it is hard to imagine that Worldwar: In The Balance was written back in 1994. It seems almost prophetic to the current times. Did Turtledove just have a feel for the inevitable? Or is it just coincidence? You be the judge:
Soft, Molotov thought again. The United States, large, rich, powerful, and shielded by broad oceans east and west, had long enjoyed the historical luxury of softness. Not even two world wars had made Americans feel in their guts how dangerous a place the world was.
I think Turtledove is a brilliant writer and I wish more people knew about his works. His writings seem to do better during times of war and conflict such as this. The details he emerges with and the general feel he has for history and its characters make his stories completely believable.
Next book in the series (link): Worldwar: Tilting the Balance by Harry Turtledove