Posts Tagged ‘United States’

Alternatives

Sunday, 24 April 2011
Days of Infamy series

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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.

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The elephants are coming!!!

Monday, 4 April 2011
Footfall

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45. Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

This is a fun SF alien invaders novel where the authors know the basic premise has been DONE umpteen gazillion times before, but are out to have fun with it anyway.

So, we have a variety of representative characters from among the invaders, the military and US civilians. We’re told this is a worldwide invasion, and get reactions to things that happen elsewhere, but we’re only shown the USA and a bit of Soviet Russia, this being from the Cold War era. This multiple unconnected POV set-up seems to be common to war novels, in my experience, as a way to show a broad spectrum of what’s going on. (In most cases by the end of the novel there is a loose web of connections between all/most of the POV characters.)

I really haven’t read that many alien invasion novels (yet – they seem to be coming through…) but I enjoyed this one quite a bit. The scenario fits together, and the characterisations and opposing cultures do too. The idea of the invading Fithp being a thoroughly herd-based society not able to understand the invididuality of humans at all works, and their herd culture is fleshed out. My quibble is that they don’t really seem to take much or any interest in Earth’s elephants, that they resemble so much, although those are mentioned.

Still, despite them nearly all being Americans we do get a reasonable range of human characters, between different branches of the military, politicians, journalists, survivalists, loners and others, as well as both influential members of the invasion fleet (including their leader and their main specialists on humans) and their foot soldiers. Ultimately, it’s the level of understanding of the enemy, or the lack of it, that will win or lose this war, and leave the humans in charge or chains.

For a purpose

Friday, 25 March 2011
Cover of "A Book About The Four Seasons (...

Cover of A Book About The Four Seasons (blr)

I mightn’t have got to discussing this yet, but I think it might be of interest to one of my blog buddies, Hakea, so here goes.

41. Caps, Hats, Socks & Mittens: A Book About the Four Seasons by Louise Borden

Basically this is a book of drawings and statements of things that happen during the four seasons, from a mid to northern US perspective. (Winter is snowy, summer is hot, spring and autumnfall are distinguishable and the flags and cultural events are American.) For each season we get expected weather, activities, food and clothes, along with drawings of kids enjoying themselves appropriately.

Honestly, I think this book could be great for inspiring discussions about the different seasons and favoured activities etc. The downside is that I don’t find it to read all that comfortably as a single entity. I think I want it to be poetic, and it really isn’t (and doesn’t claim to be).

Matching pasts

Friday, 18 February 2011
The Guns of the South

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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.