Posts Tagged ‘Harry Turtledove’

Adaptation

Sunday, 28 August 2011
Cover of "In High Places (Crosstime Traff...

Cover of In High Places (Crosstime Traffic)

111. In High Places by Harry Turtledove

I just read this book this weekend and I enjoyed it a lot. It’s a science-fiction novel for young adults (notably YA only in that the main characters are teenagers and there’s no bad language – it’s a good book with some really big issues in it) set 100/150 years in our future where a means of transferring between alternate realities has been found. A teenage girl and her parents (completely secular Jews) go to an alternate where the Black Death killed off far more of Christian Europe’s population, and thus the Muslims were never pushed out of Spain and now hold southern France as well. Europe is only now getting towards the beginning of a Renaissance and technologically is medieval. Since Jews are as badly considered in that world as they were in our medieval Europe, this family is acting as Muslim traders, and to fit into that world they are fully covered, with the women including face veils.

There are lots of different issues in the book, with slavery, tolerance and whistle-blowing some of the big ones, and covering only a minor one, but it’s fairly sympathetically covered at that.

Annette/Khadijia accepts her veil as a costume that she’s not especially fond of, but she realises quickly that her face covering is the only real difference from what the local Christian women are wearing, and that for a trader it can be quite useful to have her face covered in negociations, and that it’s not so terrible or derogatory as she’d previously have thought. Then when she and others are taken prisoner and forced to remove their veils she doesn’t mind the removal all that much, but the other women are shown as being horrified, and feeling practically stripped naked by the loss of something they’ve worn for years/life.

All in all I thought the book addressed the negatives and positives of its various issues well, and in a way to provoke thought. Those who are careful about what their kids read may well want to read it themselves first, but I doubt it’s one for anyone to reject out of hand.

Down the side of the bed

Monday, 16 May 2011
The Speed of Dark

Image via Wikipedia

I read in bed quite a lot. It’s something I’ve always done, and it goes together quite well with a baby who doesn’t like to sleep without a parent next to her. I usually have a few on the go, piled on the top corner of the bed (in a corner of the room) and occasionally one or two fall down the side, from where I fish them out as I realise they’re missing. The bed got jogged out of place this morning, however, and when I went to retrieve the avalanche I realised that there were a few older escapees. To be unnoticed as missing these were ones I hadn’t actually got into, and sometimes hadn’t even started, but had just thought might be interesting. Anyway, I thought I’d list them here, with comments on how I’m getting on with them. (The order is just as they were piled.)

The ones I really wasn’t reading will probably go back on the shelf for now, but renoticing them has got me intrigued by some of them again. Watch this space to see which ones make it to the ‘Read’ lists…

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

Unstarted, although it looks interesting. Looks a bit different from the other science-fiction I’ve been reading of late.

Cover of

Cover of Farewell, My Queen

Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas

About three-quarters of the way through this novel of the last days French royal court in July 1789, and enjoying it quite a lot.

Cover of "The Green Flag: A history of Ir...

Cover via Amazon

The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism by Robert Kee

While this officially covers the history right from the 12th century it really picks up the detail from the mid-17th century. I’m up to the late 18th century, approaching but not yet at the 1798 rebellion.

The Little Girl Book by David Laskin and Kathleen O’Neill

A rather different approach to a parenting book than I’ve come across before, this discusses the complicated issue of bringing up little girls while negotiating the stereotypes and sexism of our societies. The book was published in 1992, so still seeing how it stands up two decades later to my own opinions. Definitely interesting, though.

Cover of "Byzantium Endures"

Cover of Byzantium Endures

Byzantium Endures by Michael Moorcock

The two or three chapters I’ve read of this so far are decidedly odd. I’ll give it more time gradually and hope it grabs my attention. I wasn’t enjoying it all that much, and yet it was somewhat compelling.

Cover of "PEOPLE OF DARKNESS"

Cover of PEOPLE OF DARKNESS

People of Darkness by Tony Hillerman

I got side-tracked from the Hillerman books, but will get back to them. (I’d better, seeing as I ordered the entire set on Bookmooch!) I’d read a chapter or so of this one, but would probably restart from the beginning.

The Sea Wolf by Jack London

I haven’t read any London since I was seven, and read White Fang in one sitting (staying with my grandparents I picked it up off their shelves to sustain me through a long morning meeting of my grandmother’s). I’m still in the introduction here, and I hadn’t realised what a fascinating life the author himself had.

Cover of How I Came West

Cover of How I Came West

How I Came West, and Why I Stayed by Alison Baker

A rather bizarre collection of often fantastical (but always so far set in modern-day USA) stories that I’m enjoying so long as I read each story in a single sitting, as they can be hard to keep track of after a break.

I don’t think I’ve read a collection of stories that was neither from one of the orthodox Jewish publishers nor aimed at children in an absolute age. (These are definitely not for children, although not crude, just for adults.) I’m enjoying the different perspective, and wondering why the general market avoids them so much.

Med Ship by Murray Leinster

I think this is a compilation of a lot of stories and novellas Leinster set in the same universe, but which aren’t always about the same characters, but I’m not far enough in to be sure.

Cover of China WitnessChina Witness by Xinran

More academic in its feel than the other books by Xinran I’ve read, this offers a very broad sweep of 20th century experience in China, as told by the survivors and thrivers of that period, an apparently reticent and now elderly generation. Each chapter, about a different person or small group, is relatively short, and tends to leave me wanting more, but that’s not a bad thing.

Wisdom of the Fox by Harry Turtledove

I don’t know why I haven’t got into this, seeing as I’ve been enjoying Turtledove’s alternate histories so much. I think I wasn’t really in the mood for what appeared to be more classic fantasy. I’ll try again at some point.

Cover of Wild Swans

Cover of Wild Swans

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

The first book about Chinese history I read. That was as a teenager, shortly after it first came out, and with all the Xinran I’ve been reading I thought I should go back to this one too. I’m picking up on details I certainly hadn’t remembered, partly because I’m older and partly because I do know a bit more about China now and can make more sense of what was going on (not that it’s badly explained in the book, but there’s only so much context a writer can be expected to give). Still looking for other modern writers on the country.

Alternatives

Sunday, 24 April 2011
Days of Infamy series

Image via Wikipedia

53. Days of Infamy by Harry Turtledove

It seems Turtledove writes two types of alternative history: one, as in The Guns of the South, previously discussed here, uses a science fiction mechanism to change things (there time travel, in his Worldwar series an alien invasion); the second, as here, simply posits a different decision being taken somewhere along the line that he feels would have caused a significant deviation from our recorded history. He will then write about the same episodes in history (usually major wars, from the books I’ve seen) through both mechanisms, as completely separate series or individual books.

In this particular book, the Japanese when attacking Pearl Harbor (my UK spell-check thinks that should be ‘harbour’, but as a place name I’m disagreeing) back up the devastation of its forces by air attack with an invasion, taking the islands and thereby not only slowing the Americans down in the Pacific, but also giving themselves a base from which to attack the US mainland‘s West Coast.

This is where I should admit that my knowledge of the Pacific part of WWII is pretty sketchy, and largely based on novels and films. (As a European Jew, my studies of WWII tended towards the Holocaust and the war in Europe.) I can’t comment much, therefore, on where the history and the alternative diverge, but certainly Turtledove makes everything seem pretty plausible.

As a novel, the story certainly works. We have several viewpoint characters, both Japanese and American (and one Japanese man who’s been living on Hawaii for decades but can’t quite understand why his sons consider themselves American rather than Japanese). All but one or two of these are based on and around the Hawaiian islands for most of the novel, and those are US mainlanders who give us some perspective on how things are being seen from afar, as well as in positions likely to get them more involved later in the series. I think the mix is good to show us what’s happening to the various populations involved, and yet the characters are developed individuals that we can care about or at least understand.

I don’t have the sequel to this yet, but I am looking forward to it. I’ve really taken to Turtledove’s alt. history, and they’re good and thought provoking.

Matching pasts

Friday, 18 February 2011
The Guns of the South

Image via Wikipedia

I do believe this is the first book both DH and I have read and reviewed on our respective blogs, so I will refer you to his take on this book for his discussion of its historicity, which leaves me to focus on how it worked for me as a novel. After all, I’m the first to admit that my prior knowledge of 19th Century North American history comes largely from novels and television series about it. What I remember most are John JakesNorth and South trilogy, which I saw the television series of before seeking out the books. He, having grown up in the USA, has far more knowledge of the history than I do.

18. The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove

So, we have two main viewpoint characters in this novel, both attested real historical people, although far more is known of the one than the other. We begin with General Robert E. Lee, in charge of the Army of Northern Virginia, and alternate with one of his First Sergeants, Nate Caudell. At the opening of the novel the army is under-supplied and demoralised, up against an enemy with not only more soldiers, food and weapons, but far more technologically advanced equipment as well, and Lee as their commander is thoroughly aware of the fact.

He is approached by a strangely dressed and unrecognisably accented man who offers him weapons far better than anything available anywhere, in vast numbers at a nominal price and despite some qualms about what this gift horse might be hiding in its mouth, sees some hope for his cause, the right to self-determination of his beloved state of Virginia. As the fortunes of the Confederate States of America dramatically change, both his hopes and his fears in the new situation are validated, and he is inescapably drawn into politics and nation-building, even when the direction his conscience takes him is completely opposite to the desires of his strange new friends of the AWB.

Both Lee and Caudell, neither of whom fight on a principle of keeping slavery, but rather through loyalty to their respective states (Virginia and North Carolina), gradually grow less and less enamoured of the behaviour and arrogance of the AWB and more and more convinced that an end to slavery must come – Lee because he feels this is the way his new country must go if it is to receive any respect in the community of nations, and Caudell (who was never well-paid enough to be a slave-owner, even had he wished so to be) because his horizons are widened in the war, and he sees that given the opportunity to be so, Negroes are just as good soldiers and men as anyone else. (To simplify vastly in both cases.) Through these two perspectives, as well as the view of people around these two, we are shown how some attitudes and people can change.

While the AWB men are thoroughly evil, with it being made clear although thankfully not generally shown in graphic detail that besides their supremacist ideology at least some of them are complete sadists happy to take advantage of their new ability in the past to own, control and hurt others, we are also shown that some of them at least do actually believe wholeheartedly in the supremacist position. I don’t personally see this as a redeeming feature, although I think the lack of hypocrisy is supposed to be one for at least one of the vilest characters. It is their inability to change, or to allow the Confederacy to be other than what they wanted which is ultimately their downfall, but that downfall comes at a great cost in lives of all sides.

As a novel this works, and certainly I think we can all hope that even if the US Civil War had ended with two nations rather than one that slavery would still have ended shortly thereafter. Who in sanity can but be glad that’s officially gone? Now for the world to work to rid us of all forms of slavery in modern fact as well.


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