In my opinion, Harry Turtledove is the top author is a genre known as Alternate History. What that genre is about is it takes a certain point in history and puts forth the question of what if something different had happened. Turtledove did this magnificently with his World War I series titled The Great War where he based events on how the world might have unfolded had the Confederacy won the Civil War.
Colonization: Second Contact is the first sequel to Turtledove’s Worldwar series. In that series, Turtledove put forth the situation that in the summer of 1942 – just as World War II is going full blast – and alien race decides to invade Earth.
If you haven’t read the Worldwar series, you can still enjoy Colonization: Second Contact. Though Turtledove continues the story of many of the characters he created and followed during the Worldwar series, he does so in such a way that he reintroduces them as well as talking about what has happened to them in the twenty or so years in between the end of the Worldwar series and this novel.
That is also the one difficulty in reading the novel; each character is followed in a series of vignettes. This can be confusing at times and it makes the book definitely not an easy one to read and follow along with.
WARNING Contains spoilers for the Worldwar series
The alien race, known as either The Race or Lizards have control over part of the planet – mostly the warm, southern hemisphere which has a climate they are more used to. Due to the development of nuclear weapons, the United States, Soviet Unions, and Germany have managed to force the Lizards from their land. Britain managed to expel the Lizards using mustard gas, and secured the fact that they remain free, although their empire has been severely reduced in size. Japan has also managed to remain free, although also not considered a true super-power by the Lizards.
Twenty years later, the colonization fleet arrives on Earth. This fleet of ships was already underway when The Race first arrived on Earth and found out that humans were not wearing armor and fighting on horseback. There was no way for them to be turned around and sent home, so here they are – all eighty million of them.
The invasion fleet was all male, but the colonization fleet is comprised of male and female Lizards. Why this is important is the effect that ginger has on the females of The Race. On males, the spice ginger has an effect similar to cocaine. On females, it has an effect that breaks down the one wall of superiority The Race felt it had over humans. Throughout the novel, the ginger takes hold and creates havoc.
In the first series of novels, I felt like Turtledove was writing The Race’s Invasion Fleetlord, Atvar, almost as comic relief at times. Here, it seems to be more evident. I couldn’t help but laugh at Atvar’s thoughts as he deals with the consequences of the ginger-tasting epidemic; or as he deals with the newly-arrived colonization fleet who expect a conquered world and blame him for the humans still having any dominion. He has evolved throughout the novels to an intriguing character, but it is in this novel that he really comes into his own. I actually found myself looking forward to the vignettes in the novel which followed him.
Turtledove weaves a whole lot of intriguing plot twists and suspense throughout the novel, along with quite a bit of fun. Someone has destroyed several ships of the colonization fleet with space-borne nuclear weapons. With all of the stuff up there, The Race finds it impossible to distinguish who it actually is. Having destroyed Melbourne and Sydney previously, The Race sets up its own home-like city in the middle of the Australian outback, only to have a ginger-laced bomb lobbed at it. Again, who is actually responsible for it is a mystery. And what exactly is going on at the Space Station the United States is trying to build? Everyone who inquires about it receives a visit telling them to stop asking questions. Couple that with the fighting over the ginger trade – as the Lizards attempt to shut it down and a variety of people struggle to keep it going and make money off of it – and there is a story that brings various characters together in various ways; makes me laugh at times; keeps me turning the pages, anxious to find out how it all turns out.
In the United States, Earl Warren is the President. The Capitol of the country is now Little Rock (just think what that might mean for the Clinton administration – much easier to find chicks!). The generation of young people cannot imagine a world without the Lizards and is doing everything in their power to emulate them. This is somewhat to the chagrin of their parents.
Over in the Soviet Union, Vyaschaslev Molotov is trying to head off possible overthrow while at the same time playing politics with both The Lizards and the Nazis.
Nazis? Yes, the Nazis are still around. Heinrich Himmler is now Fuhrer. They are one of the most crafty of the humans, but also the most deranged. Everyone with even one Jewish grandparent is considered Jewish and set for extermination. They dominate the European continent with the exception of Spain and Poland, both under Lizard domination. However, their relationship with Britain has begun getting cozier, making life for the Jews there extremely difficult.
I loved this book and blew through it in a few days. Turtledove’s writing is exceptional and he manages to weave a great story involving both historical figures and those of his own creation. The book leaves you wanting more – and that’s good since he follows it with two more sequels.
Previous book in series (link): Worldwar: Striking the Balance by Harry Turtledove
Next book in series (link): Colonization: Aftershocks by Harry Turtledove