Book Reviews

Book Review – Colonization: Aftershocks by Harry Turtledove: Is That It?

Author’s note: This was written in 2002. A sequel was written in 2004 that helped with a lot of the issues I had here.

Seven books total comprise the Harry Turtledove alternate history series in which the beginning of World War II is interrupted by the invasion of aliens known as The Race. These Lizard-like beings intend to conquer Earth with relative ease since their probes visited us 800 years ago and they expect humans to evolve and develop as slowly as they do. The fact that humans are running around with tanks and on the brink of discovering nuclear weapons when The Race first arrives is a shock, to say the least.

In Colonization: Aftershocks the setting is twenty years after humans and The Race have called a truce. The major powers of the world – the U.S., Germany, Russia, Great Britain and Japan have managed to hold onto their sovereignty while The Race occupies the remaining countries. At times, this occupation is more difficult. The leaders of The Race have to deal with radical Muslims uprising against their authority and their attempts to force humans to give reverence to the past Emperors of The Race. Though occupied by The Race, Chinese communists continue to revolt against their authority.

Many of the characters in Colonization: Aftershocks are people who were introduced in the first novel of the first series. To really understand all of the nuances and to appreciate the series, it should all be read in order from the beginning. During the book Sam Yeager has many discussions with his son, Jonathan, that allude to there being something else about how he and his wife met that he is not saying to his son. Turtledove never talks about what this issue is, and to understand it you would have had to have read the Worldwar series of novels.

The world of Colonization: Aftershocks has enough familiarity to it that I could recognize events taking place and anticipate what was about to happen. This was especially true in the case of the Muslim uprisings centered around a radical named Khomeni.

With Germany intact and the Nazi Party still ruling, however, this sets in place a very different dynamic. The only thing that saved the Nazis from self-destruction at the end of the war with The Race‘s conquest fleet was one panzer Colonel’s actions. However, the same sentiments have still been simmering beneath the surface these many years, and a nuclear war erupts between The Race and Germany.

Half of Europe is now glowing with radioactive fallout as France was still occupied and ruled by the Nazis. A great deal of the novel revolves around Germany’s attempts to get back on its feet and the relationships that develop and change there. We follow two men whose families disappeared during the course of the recent German/Race War – one German, one Jewish – as they travel through a decimated countryside trying to find out if their wives and children have survived the horrible battle.

It is in Marseille that we pick up the story of a ginger smuggler and his sister. Ginger is to The Race what cocaine is to humans and has been a monkey on their back since almost immediately after their arrival. The effects of ginger and the problems it presents to The Race Are a source of a great deal of the comic relief in the novels.

Because the Nazis still held so much power in Europe, anti-semitic sentiments have cropped up in the British empire. A family who fled Poland prior to the invasion there now fears for their lives; this despite the fact that the father is a well-regarded radarman in the British military. Ginger smugglers in Great Britain attempt to use his religion as leverage to force him to do what they want, and even target him after he has emigrated to Canada.

In the U.S., a series of events is set in motion by what Sam Yeager has learned that threatens to tear the country apart and send it back to war with The Race. It also threatens all of the work the Americans are doing in space in the asteroid belt.

The American projects in space were one thing I could not comprehend during the series which kept me hanging almost to the end of this novel. It finally becomes clear as well as adding a new element to the possibility of future stories.

My biggest gripe about the novels is that for the time being this appears to be the end. There has been so much set in motion; so much information set up; so many characters developed that for this to be an ending is a let-down. I found myself wanting to read more; wanting to know what happens to the characters beyond the sixties; wanting to know what the Earth would be like in the eighties with this alternate history behind it.

The characters Turtledove has developed are very involving. From the Jewish father and son who are doctors in Israel to the mother and daughter Chinese Communist Freedom Fighters, they are interesting and multi-dimensional. They see their ideas and their beliefs challenged. There is violence in these people’s lives on a regular basis.

Most interesting of all I found were the characters of The Race. Here is a race of beings that is used to having things a certain way for many thousands of years. What they are by nature is being corrupted by humans. From ginger to ideology, everything is changing. At times it is very comical to read what is going on. The Fleetlord Atvar has to deal not only with problems from the humans on Earth, but problems from within as the recently-arrived colonization fleet has different ideas about the way the world should be run. His conflicts with the Fleetlord of the colonization fleet are often funny and I sympathized with him on many occasions.

I am hoping this is not the end and we will be seeing more in this series in the future. If it is the end, I am somewhat disappointed as the novel did not seem to have any finality to it.

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