|Settling Accounts Return Engagement: Book One of the Settling Accounts Trilogy
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Harry Turtledove’s remarkable alternative history novels brilliantly remind us of how fragile the thread of time can be, and offer us a world of “what if.” Drawing on a magnificent cast of characters that includes soldiers, generals, lovers, spies, and demagogues, Turtledove returns to an epic tale that only he could tell–the story of a North American continent, separated into two bitterly opposed nations, that stands on the verge of exploding once again.
In 1914 they called it The Great War, and few could imagine anything worse. For nearly three decades a peace forged in blood and fatigue has held sway in North America. Now, Japan dominates the Pacific, the Russian Tsar rules Alaska, and England, under Winston Churchill, chafes for a return to its former glory. But behind the fa?ade of world order, America is a bomb waiting to go off. Jake Featherston, the megalomaniacal leader of the Confederate States of America, is just the man to light the fuse.
In the White House in Philadelphia, Socialist President Al Smith is a living symbol of hope for a nation that has been through the fires of war and the flood tides of depression. In the South, Featherston and his ruling Freedom Party have put down a Negro rebellion with a bloody fist and have interned them in concentration camps. Now they are determined to crush their Northern neighbor at any cost.
Featherston’s planes attack Philadelphia without warning. The U.S.A. lashes back blindly at Charleston. And a terrible second coming is at hand. When the CSA blitzkrieg is launched, the U.S.A. is caught flat-footed. Before long, the gray Army reaches Lake Erie. But in its wake the war machine is spinning a vortex of destruction, betrayal, and fury that no one, not even Jake Featherston himself, can control.
Now, President Smith faces a Herculean task, while an obscure assistant secretary of war named Roosevelt rises in his ranks. For the U.S.A., the darkest days still lay ahead. Across the globe, a new era of war has just begun. And in the hands of the incomparable Harry Turtledove, readers are treated to a masterful vision of what might have been. An enduring portrait of history, nations, and human nature in its many manifestations, Return Engagement is a monumental journey into the second half of the twentieth century.
From the Hardcover edition.
- Random House is using DMR to block Text to Speech
For many years most computers have been able to read text for people who have problems reading for whatever reason. The Kindle2 has text to speech enabled as a computer does. This isn't wonderful or anything comparable to audio books read by a talented reader. This is a robotic voice for use by people with no option. Random House and the Authors Guild are planning to block Text to Speech on there books. For this reason I and many other people will not purchase books from their authors. Not even free books...more info
- If it wasn't for the other 7.....
I've had problems with this series from the first book (How Few Remain) and now having read all eight of them back to back since Christmas, I just can't take it any more.
From the monotonous repetition of character traits to unlikely historical parallels,(CSA Stukas?) I don't think I can take the last (next) 2 books. Why bother? Anyone who has a rudimentary knowledge of WWII knows whats coming. Without reading ANYTHING regarding the next book, Drive to the East, I can tell you whats going to happen. The CSA (read the Nazis) will break out east, forcing the US (read the USSR) to pull out of its bogged down southern thrust and consolidate. The CSA will be stopped short of Philadelphia (read Moscow) after a long blody advance. That will set up the last book in the east for General Morrel to "save the day".
In the Pacific besides Sam Carsten being sunburned (shouldn't he have skin cancer by now?) It'll be a simillar outcome to the original war out there. Especially since the US will have a functioning A-bomb by the end of the 9th beginning of the 10th book. THAT bomb will be dropped on the Japanese just as it was in real life. Where the story will part company with actual WWII history is that the Japanese will surrender before the CSA does and it will be because of the bomb, and an advancing US army.
I've enjoyed some of Turtledoves work in the past which is why I added the series to my Christmas list, I just feel in this series he's lost a sense of reality or realism. The books do have their moments but they are few and far between.
The whole rise to power of the Freedom Party and the way the war is going just smacks of taking a condensed history of WWII, changing dates and pertinent character names, flip flopping things around a bit, throw in some fictional conversation and blammo! Here's a new series.
The Drive to the East had better be SOMETHING other than what I described above, or thats it. I'm done with this and the author. Oh more depth and character development would go a long way too....more info
- ...so bad, yet I bought it
Okay a lot was already stated by the previous reviewers. I'm just going to voice my main points about this book.
1) Maybe it's because I read the previous books in the story. Maybe it's because my expectations changed. But what annoyed me to no end throughout this book was:
HORRIBLE WRITING!! It's outrageously bad. Each and every character talks in the same way, they use the same phrases. Is there no editor for Mr. Turtledove?? The book could be made half as long, and much more enjoyable to read, if only the endless references and the in-between-the-lines stuff in the dialogues was left out. Come one, no one needs the references, it's not as if anyone who wasn't hooked on the prequels would bother reading this kind of book.
2) The battle scenes are soooooo bland and boring! Some people say Turtledove gets better when he writes about war. No, he doesn't! He doesn't know jack about it, and the absolute unbelievability makes it only harder to read. For example, Morell is said to be the commander of the armored US troops in Ohio. How comes he never actually does any commanding - he doesn't even have a staff, he just drives an ordinary tank, shoots up Confederate tanks and every now and then says something over the radio. (Which Turtledove insists on calling "wireless". Argh.) What could have made for a wonderful Stalingrad-esque action - the Confederate push into that industrial Ohio town, where one of the characteres observed US troops rushing from their train cars right into battle - is left unused. There is one scene on it, and that's it. And the US fighter pilot (Moss) sure does a lot of fighting, but it's all the same and no different from the stuff he did in the Great War books. He hops into a plane, takes off, shoots down a few confeds, and lands. Repeat until book it over. You'd expect that there would be more briefings, that he would communicate with the radar ("Y-Range"... aaargh) installations, and that someone would tell this officer what's actually going on. Oh and the only general among the characters also never does much real commanding. He sits in an office, like some clerk, answers the telephone by himself and asks his lieutenants idiotic stuff that no general would ever, ever say to a subordinate, like "Damnation. I was counting on those troops to go into the counterattack against the eastern prong. If I hold it up till they do come in... well, what the devil will the enemy to do me in the meantime?" Aaaaaargh.
Did I also mention that troops are mever mentioned by unit name, only by "the reinforcements you asked for", "our armor", "these troops on the other side of town"? This all makes for absolutely unbelievable war scenes. Turtledove (or his editors) should find someone who knows how to write this stuff for the next book.
3) The US and CS are at war, but nothing goes on. Huh? Well, okay, Philadelphia is bombed, and there is news about the war on the newsreels, and everyone says "oh things are so hard now that the US are cut in two and we need to ration gas" but there is zero noticable effect on the civilians. No war bond rallies (that might have gone some way to give an impression of war mentality, and there could have been cameo appearances), no kind of "tightening the belt" that you'd expect when total war breaks out, and none of the spy hysteria that happened in our history in both Britain and America. Especially in the Confederate States there is none of this, althougn you'd expect political life to become much more hysterical.
4) It's all so predictable. In the beginning of the book, a prison camp administrator complains that marching the the prisoners into a swamp and shooting them is so tedious. He then hears that one of the wardens committed suicide through the exhaust gases of his car. And still it takes him all throughout the book to come up with the idea of mobile gas chambers... This way of writing is so incredible tedious, you wonder if Turtledove thinks his audience is a pack of idiots, to quote from Jake Featherston.
Overall, the book fell miles short of what even someone experiennced in Turtledove's books would have expected. There are a few okay scenes... but the general impression was that this book showed all too clearly that Turtledove doesn't know jack about WW2. Well, he has three kids to bring through college, so it's no wonder he writes anything that his publishers pay for....more info
- Too expensive even at $0.00
I downloaded this book to Kindle because it was one of the free offers for the month, and I thought I'd try a new author. I'm afraid I didn't enjoy it much. I normally compulsively finish books I begin, but I deleted this one from Content Manager after the first two chapters.
The storyline is that the South is fighting the North again, but this time, it is in the 1940's and the North has a Socialist President. And at least one female, single-mom, Socialist congresswoman. The story is written from the congresswoman's POV, and very much emphases intelligence and understanding over physical strength, so you'd think it would appeal to a woman, but it didn't hold my attention. I always felt as though I were reading a book, rather than slipping into another world.
I did enjoy the free download of Charlie Huston's book (Caught Stealing) and am looking forward to reading more of Huston's books. ...more info
- Rooting for Rommel
If you never thought you'd admire a Nazi war hero, this series gives you the chance to do so without betraying your Yankee sensibilities. The leading US commander, Irving Morrell, is a thinly disguised Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox who famously frustrated the British in North Africa from 1941 to 1943. Ever since American Front, he's been one of the most vibrant and interesting characters, though he faded in importance in the Depression era depicted in the last three novels. Finally, in Return Engagement, he receives the accolades and rank that are his due, as well as earning the grudging and potentially lethal admiration of his enemies.
Though a welcome up-pacing from the American Empire novels, this book still stalls the inevitable sacrifices and clashes that made the real WW II such a hellish nightmare. Turtledove increasingly impels action with the sweep of history rather than with the actions of the characters, making some of the civilians - Scipio, Chester Martin, Hipolito Rodriguez - more like peripherals than players. The author just isn't getting much mileage out of these characters at this point; he's keeping them along with the hint that possibly they will become central later. Add to this his habit of repeating trivial details using the exact words in every book, and sometimes more than once in each book, and sections of this multi-thousand page series work better than prescription drugs for putting the reader to sleep.
Ultimately, you don't read this series for the brilliant writing, depth of character, vivid descriptions, or even the originality of the plot. None of those things are here any longer, at least not as brightly as they were promised in How Few Remain. This series continues to offer an imaginative view of an alternate universe, and the author's exploration of how the people in that unreal place answer questions much akin to those that faced us or our ancestors is what keeps us reading this series....more info
- Ahh can't buhleave ah read this thang!
Here we are, yet another in this seemingly interminable conflict, wor(l)ds without end, Amen. The Turtledove ouevre is flawed, principally by pitiful characters. They are one-dimensional, symbolic instead of real, utterly predictable. Featherstone, the Southern leader (a Hitler-like creation) plots nefarious deeds and sounds half-mad in his harangues about enemies. He is, though, a prototypical Southerner as viewed through through Turtledove's cloudly lens. The dialect is so awful it's good - think Sharon Stone playing Aunt Jemima or Anthony Hopkins as Colonel Sanders. ALL Southerners sound the same- right off the plantation. Depth of character is, how to say this kindly, not a Turtledove strong point.
The author is, at heart, a moralistic. His views on politics, history, literature and society may be flawed but he holds forth in black and white terms. We have caricatures, not characters, each representing some quality - heroism (Roosevelt), evil (Featherstone), curmudgeonly (Stalin), prophetic (Churchill), fighter for justice (John Brown, Mao)...It's the same with minor characters. Hosea Blackford and Flora Hamburger (there are no "Bob Smiths" around) are right out of a Harlequin romance. Complexity of character is not something associated with this series.
Character is only the tip of iceburg. Eventually, one must face this gawdawful story that crawls with the speed of molasses and tortures the reader with endless repetition (some from previous books). Does the author think we can't remember from one moment to the next? Back to character - a common complaint - there are just too many, especially as none are memorable. The cameos by "real" people (Roosevelt, Churchill, Hitler) are staged, as phony as a Hollywood marriage.
Finally there is a total lack of logic. How many times does the North have to be attacked before it wakes up? Despite its blue state advantages (educated, liberal, scientific) it seems to breed military and political idiots stymied by the most mundane events and obvious military thrusts. This is such a failure in nerve, imagination, reason and prose that I would not wish it on my worst enemy....more info
- Battled between 3 and 4 stars - Unique narrative.
I just finished this book this past night. I got it for the Kindle for free.
Overall I liked the book. The author has a different way of narrating the story. He has maybe 10 or 15 different characters that are involved in the conflict. He dedicates few pages to each one in turns. I believe this is an interesting idea. This allows him to write hundreds (or maybe even thousands) of pages without getting too boring. If you get bored with one of the characters you have to hang on only for a few pages and you will have the opportunity to read from another character.
He uses different characters with different objectives and backgrounds. There is a doctor, an aviator, some politicians, few spys, a mexican, some generals, some navy men, etc. Each one has a different perspective on the war.
The story seems pretty straightforward. Not a lot of surprises. For example, at one point some of the characters decide it would be a good idea to kill an specific officer fighting for the other country. Few chapters later the author has a snipper shoot at the officer. You kind of expect that this will happen. So when it does happen there is not a lot of surprise.
In addition some of the characters are not very well developed. For example, there is a general that seems like a charicature. You know he is going to fail the first time he is introduced.
And some of the dialogue seems very unlikely. The doctor character seems to be always having the same dialogue with one of his subordinates. Over and over again.
My overall assessment for this book would be somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. I decided to go with 4 because of the novelty of the approach - I liked the idea of narrating the story from several different characters. I also decided for the 4 stars because I want to read the second book in the series....more info
- Yet another version of WWII, but a good one
Re-fighting World War II with different endings has long been a staple of alternative history, but Harry Turtledove does the theme even better with this book, starting a new trilogy that is actually the 8th book in the series. Positing a Confederate victory at Antietam that resulted in an independent CSA, Turtledove's first book of this series describes a rematch war in the 1880s, won again by the Confederates. We jump ahead 30 years from there to World War I, when the CSA is on the side of England, Japan and France against the USA and Germany. Three novels take us through that war, won by the US this time. Imposing crushing sanctions on the defeated Confederates, the US inadvertently gives rise to a fascist movement that elevates a racist ex-artillery officer, Jake Featherston, to the presidency of the Confederacy. This takes place during books 5-6-7 of the series, as a Socialist administration in the US under Upton Sinclair and his fictional successor ignore Featherston's military buildup. Now we finally come to Book 8, and the start of World War II with Featherston's sneak attack on the US.
Like all of Turtledove's books, we spend much less time in the war rooms of generals and presidents than we do in the lives of everyday people caught up in events. We see some characters depart (Confederate schemer Anne Colleton, a welcome loss), others continue onward (US fighter pilot Jonathan Moss, embittered by the murder of his Canadian wife by a terrorist bomb) and others emerge in their own light (US sailor George Enos Jr, son of George Sr, whose US Navy ship was torpedoed after the armistice in 1917 by Confederate sub captain Roger Kimball, Anne Colleton's lover, who in turn was shot dead later on by George Sr's widow, who then was accidentally shot dead by her own lover, the journalist who ghosted her account of Kimball's execution---somehow, it all ties together eventually).
I enjoy Turtledove's work and am looking forward to further books in the series. One of the most interesting aspects for me is watching for real historical figures to appear, sometimes in very different settings than they did in "our" world. Ronald Reagan, for instance, is a radio announcer calling pro football games in Iowa. Joe Kennedy Jr, brother of the future president, appears in the US Army as a fellow officer of Moss; Joe Sr had a less than honorable appearance earlier in the series as a slimy political hack in Boston. Louis Armstrong appears as the leader of an all-Negro band from the South which defects to the Union side by pulling a daring escape from occupied Ohio. There's even a quick reference to the Marx Brothers, portrayed as the comedy troupe known as the Engels Brothers.
Perhaps the author's two most famous "real" characters were Abraham Lincoln, who appears in Book 1 as a disgraced ex-president who has converted to Marxism (and has a memorable confrontation with a young Theodore Roosevelt), and George Armstrong Custer, who appears in the first several books and plays a key role in the defeat of the Confederacy with daring armored attacks through Tennessee in 1917.
A couple things irritate me about this angle, though. Earlier in the series, Woodrow Wilson appears as the president of the Confederacy at the start of WWI. The real Wilson was not a Southerner, if I recall. Douglas MacArthur also plays a role in both WWI and now in the new conflict, although Turtledove for some reason refers to him as Daniel MacArthur.
Also, much time is spent with Featherston, obviously this time-line's equivalent of Adolf Hitler (who himself makes an unnamed but obvious appearance earlier in the series as the virulently anti-Semitic adjutant of a visiting German officer). I don't mind this, as I consider Featherston's character interesting, but hardly any time is spent with US presidents, except as they come into contact with other characters. The only exception is the fictional Hosea Blackford, Sinclair's vice president who happens to be married to key character Flora Hamburger, congresswoman from New York City.
Well, one can nit-pick all one wants, but the bottom line is that Turtledove's work is entertaining and provocative. I look forward to further installments of the series, and seeing who pops up next. With baseball virtually non-existent in this universe, will we see Ted Williams as a fighter pilot? With Socialists running the White House and FDR filling the role of a mid-level bureaucrat, will we see Harry Truman outfitting Confederate officers from his haberdashery in Missouri? Stay tuned. ...more info
- Supermarket Trash
Once upon a time I read and finished any book I could get my hands on. A wife, a job, 4 kids, and a decade later I treasure what reading time I get, and I rely heavily on recommendations from smart people whose opinions I respect on other matters. That strategy failed miserably here. A blogger I read occasionally (I believe Glenn Reynolds of instapundit.com) mentioned reading or liking Turtledove, and I picked this book up at the local library to try him out. I couldn't make it past the first 100 pages or so. Turtledove's writing is flat and simplistic. His characters are unengaging and his jokes are not funny. Dialog between political, military, and social leaders is on the adolescent level (and not even in the Clintonesque sense).
- A really good start for the trilogy.
For the reviewer below, you should remember that in our WW2, the German's conquered france, all the low countries, Poland, Chekeslovakia, Yugoslavia, Norway, the Soviet Union up to 20miles of Moscow and vast areas of North Africa. They were vastly outnumbered but had superior tactics and technology that let them get this far.
Same with Japan they took territory from countries such as china which vastly outnumbered them.
So far all the CSA and Mexico have done is conquer Ohio and the Bahamas and you act like that's an impossibility. Now if the CSA was marching into new york city in book 1 I could see your point. But they had a vast thrust that is very likely even when you don't take into account that the USA had most of their forces in Northern Va, have to put down a rebellion in Utah, have to occupy canada(with help from quebec). And the US has naval conflicts in the Pacific vs Japan and in the Atlantic it's the US and Germany vs the CSA, Britain and France.
So you're leaving out a lot of details when you mention that it's impossible for the events of book 1 to take place.
That being said, while this is a very good start, I'm still worried he's just going to have a complete parallel of our own WW2 and not show any originality.
So pllease show more originality for books 2 and 3 and stop re-enacting WW2 almost note for note....more info
- Alternative History at Its Best
Many people don't like these kinds of books. Harry turns history into a classic bookseller. ...more info
- World War II a la Turtledove
First, let me say something personal: I was in a convention where there was an event about Alternative History that included some of the best authors of the genre (and Mr. Harry Turtledove was the moderator). Me and a friend have the oportunity to talk to him an even take a picture with him.
What was my surprise when the next day I found Mr. Turtledove in a lobby selling and signing this book. I bought it and went to another event that was scheduled the same day. I was early for that and I decided to star reading this novel.
For the next 3 days I just didn't stop until the end of the book. Characters grow, live and die. The action(like a damn Bliztrieg) just keep going and going. And at the end I realize something: that I will have to wait one year for the next part of this incredible well writen novel....
Jake Featherston is in each book getting closer and closer to his austrian counterpart (You know who I'm talking about), while with the others characters of the novel we see how a world can turn upside down with a war on their soil. I like the most the parts of Clarence Potter and the secret war between both countries(with dirty tricks an all!) an Flora Blackford, who teach you that no matter the situation, politics are politics.
Well done, Mr. Turtledove!!!...more info
- War And Peace And War Again
This is the latest installment of Harry Turtledove's alternate history, which begins with Confederate victories in the Civil War and the Second Mexican War of 1881. Now, in 1941, the stage is set for World War II. Jake Featherston, the Fascist-style President of the CSA, is determined both to defeat the United States, thus avenging the South's loss in World War I, and to find a "final solution" to the black population in the South, which in Featherston's eyes treacherously stabbed the CSA in the back. War begins on June 22, 1941, with a sneak attack by the CSA on the USA which splits the North through Ohio in a matter of a few weeks.
Many characters from previous books in the series have returned. I am particularly fond of Flora Hamburger Blackford, Congresswoman from New York and former US First Lady, who I hope will eventually become President herself. The many characters tend to be confusing, as some of them are hardly memorable, but I suppose they are necessary in order to provide a full picture of the conflict. Another Turtledove trick I enjoy is his habit of working real historical figures into the action, like Patton, FDR, and Churchill.
I wish Turtledove would focus on fewer characters and round them out a bit more, and that he would give us more news of what's going on in the rest of the world while the war rages in North America. (There are some hints of a British-French invasion of Western Europe and Germany, and of a Tsarist Russian invasion of Ukraine, but these are few and far between.) But even so, I'm enjoying this alternate history and hope Turtledove will carry it right through the twentieth century....more info
- The Reviews are more Entertaining than the Book
These books are sort of infuriating. If you get pulled into the narrative, then they become hard to put down - sort of like a bag of pistachios.
Turtledove is a formula writer. Take a war, make up a dozen or so characters, each representative of a particular group. Start from the premise that something is different about the war from actual historical events, such as it is between the US and Confederacy instead of US and Germany. Give each character an identifying characteristic, such as Jewish exclamations, propensity to sunburn. Lay out the time line, turn on the word processor and start stringing together the time line by writing ten pages or so about each of the characters.
The writing cries for an editor. This is not so much a series of novels, but one long novel that is two and a half times as long as War and Peace; each volume ends after approximately 640 pages. Turtledove makes up words, "barrel" for tank, "flabble" for complain (loosely). This can be jarring, especially his use of the word "flabble" which occurs several hundred times in this series (I counted them on my Kindle).Only the first of these books has any kind of a story arc or sense of a conclusion at the end.
Still there is something wierdly compelling if you are prone to this kind of thing. Turtledove has some real talent as a writer, and badly written as this series is, it still has some narrative force. He also has quite a bit of imagination and intelligence, every now and then he has some intriguing ideas.
If Turtledove were to take the time to read what he wrote and cut it down to a second draft, he'd probably be a good writer. If he were to spend some time polishing in addition, he'd be a very good writer. And, if he had a decent editor on top of that he could be an excellent writer. Alas, he is a writer with intelligence, talent, good ideas and a lot of energy, but his books are poorly written and overly long....more info
- The Man Can't Write
Well, it's the start of another subtrilogy in the never-ending saga that picks up from the world of "How Few Remain," and with it comes the standard assortment of Harry Turtledove deficiencies. Unlike most other reviewers of this book, I'm no Turtledove fan. I treasure alternate history as an sf subgenre, but I find it depressing that Mr. T is the "master" of it simply by virtue of the page mass he extrudes every year.
The problem is that Turtledove is bad writer, period. And I'm not saying he's bad because he's just trying to tell a story, or that he isn't lofty enough, or that isn't striving for immortal prose. Telling a rollicking good story is itself an art form, but it requires knowing your craft, and the fact is that, regardless of how fast he can type, Harry Turtledove is a piss-poor craftsman.
His characters are incredibly two-dimensional, funny-hat types, even for science fiction. A few are endearing and actually somewhat interesting. Sam Carsten has his zinc oxide in every interlude, but he's still lovable. Irving Morrell (whose name is meant to suggest Erwin Rommel?) is engagingly competent. And I will admit a fondness for Abner Dowling (whom I've been expecting to become this alternate world's Leslie Groves) and Clarence Potter (who perhaps will turn out to be its Canaris?). Beyond those four, however, the other characters are remarkably dull and interchangeable, little more than cardboard cutouts.
Turtledove also cannot cast really good dramatic shadows with his prose to save his life. He concentrates of the most mundane occurrences, but misses opportunity after opportunity to illuminate and show character and motive, choosing instead to just tell us, over and over again. He has no ability to craft smooth transitions, either. Again, I'm not saying that he's not lofty enough. I'm saying that he hasn't mastered simple techniques that should be in every competent writer's toolkit.
Then there is the now serious problem of peopling this alternate universe with individuals who at least have the same names as historical personages of our world, but who were born well after the year (1862) when the two histories diverged. Take Winston Churchill, for example. In our world, his mother, Jenny Jerome, was an American from New York City. Given the decades of antagonism between the U.S. and the U.K. in Turtledove's universe, is it likely that rising British politician Randolph Churchill would still have wed her? And even if he did, would the very same child be conceived at the very same moment, possessing the very same genes as the real Winston? Unlikely. Very unlikely. The same argument can be made for Franklin Roosevelt, who appears in this novel complete with paralysis due to polio, and to George Patton, and Al Smith, and Joe Kennedy, Jr., and so on. Turtledove has to use many people from our timeline in order to create a connection for the reader, but the sheer improbability of them all still being the same person with the same name weakens the reader's ability to suspend disbelief.
Turtledove uses his standard fictional formula: Spend three to seven pages on one of many characters, then switch to the next, then the next, and after three or four rounds -- presto -- you've got a book. And, like his others, not a very good one. Most of the episodes are pretty boring and add little in the way of moving the story forward or illuminating themes. The Canadian scenes are particularly useless. And the repetition -- my god, the repetition!
Again, it's all about complete lack of craft.
I slugged my way through this loser because of an honest love for alternate history, even in the hands of someone as inept as Harry Turtledove. Two more volumes and then this bloated dog of a series is over, I hope, unless Mr. T is going to do some kind of Cold War analog. I'm on my knees praying already....
- I'm an addict and I need help!
Ok, I've read much of Harry Turtledove's books and short stories and he shows he's got talent. But this is ... well, let's try boring. Why?
1. Characters. He seems to want to say the same things about the same characters each time. Ok, Mary Pomeroy is an angry terrorist bomber. Chester Martin's wife doesn't think the war matters to her or her husband. Sam Carsten is always focused on his sunburn. The Mexican gentleman always thinks whatever the leaders say makes sense to him. At least he isn't going on and on anymore (like in the other series) that General Dowling is really fat! Do we need a rehashed and flat description of the cahacter each time we read of them? Are they all so one-dimensional? This isn't a movie, it's the 7th book of the series, there's time to flesh these people out.
2. Can we at least have ONE good argument? There are so many times in this book where Character A says one thing, Character B makes a contrary point and we read something like this, "Character A couldn't say that he liked what he was hearing from Character B but couldn't say he was wrong either." C'mon, someone please tell the other character they were wrong, just once, no one is this agreeable!
3. I get the feeling he picked up a WW2 history book, kept the basic events and changed out some names and locations. We have Stukas, we have war breaking out June 22, 1941, we have a CSA preesident modeled on Hitler whose long on fight and short on imagination, we have the US fooling around with hush-hush radioactive stuff in Eastern Washington, we have death camps for blacks and a final solution, it goes on and on. I can accept that there would be a war between these two fictional powers but let's extrapolate, let's create something new and novel here.
I've seen Harry Turtledove do better, much better. I've seen it in many books but it isn't in this one. Perhaps that's inevitable. A series is not a good forum to showcase talent as things generally get stale over time and I wonder if it's gets boring to write after awhile.
So why am I buying these books? I think I'm addicted, I have after all read all the others of the series and it's hard not to break away now. I am starting to get better though, I got this from a Christmas gift and if I do read the others it'll probably be from the library....more info
- Way over the Top!
Although I am a fan of Turtledove's alternative American histories, this latest novel resonates as being WAY over the top. First, consider the population card. If the USA has a 2 to 1 population advantage over the CSA, and 1/3rd of the citizens of the CSA are Black, that adds up to a 3 to 1 ratio of available Northern troops vs the Southern army, (not to mention millions of angry young black people who will put their lives on the line as a vicious 5th column against the CSA.)
Assume approximately 135 million total pop of N. America (as it was in our 1940). That's 90 million vs. only 30 million white people in the CSA (subtracting the 15 million Black inhabitants of the CSA). Mr. Turtledove, you are going to need a substantial percentage of CSA troops to hold down such a restive, large population willing to put their lives on the line for their own freedom.
A word about the 90 million white people of the USA who you have basically aluded to as being somewhat uncaring about the black man's plight in the south. That's ridiculous! But lets say that only a few percent of the US population really, honestly care about the plight of the black man in the CSA. Given the huge population of the north, thats still several million white farmers, truckers, professionals, young people, idealogues, anyone who sees the merit in actively helping out their fellow man. Coupled with the fact that out of the 15 million CSA blacks, you will find hundreds of thousands of young black men (and women) who will be immediately radicalized to take the occasional pistol, rifle, or grenade, covertly parachuted in or driven in by and endlessly resupplied by these northern common folk, and use it against the CSA military, or even instill fear against white families (the soft targets). Remember that for a few days in 1944, something like 200 Jewish partisans in the Warsaw ghetto uprising kept over Ten Thousand German troops at bay. What would 200,000 armed blacks terrorizing the countryside, to white families, do to the Southern war effort? Probably grind it to a screeching halt!
The Southern command also could not patrol a border of thousands of miles, as we are currently finding in our long border with Mexico. And if they tried, that would take away significantly their precious manpower from the front lines against the USA. Furthermore, imagine what a handful of terrorists did to our country on 9-11, and multiply that by a thousand-fold. How long can the CSA survive when their railroads, their families (as terrible as that sounds), are also machined gunned down? The loss of CSA military manpower to post troops around millions of white-owned homes or business in the CSA would bankrupt the country within months! Even if the South expedited the campaign to place blacks in concentration camps, the black terrorism would rise to a fever-pitch level, and with the whiff of victory, even the most ardent white segregationist USA commander would agree to increase the armaments to the now numerous black guerrilla groups to fight against the CSA military. Supplying the black population just over the border is incredibly cost-effective, low budget, and low manpower cost to the USA.
The fact that Turtledove gives this scenario short thrift in the latter part of this novel seems specious. 5th column strategy would be a major campaign of northern military strategy years in the making, not some peripheral, idealistic thought! I hope Mr.Turtledove considers this strategy in the sequel to this interesting novel.
- Excellent as usual - Turtledove doesn't disappoint
Once again, Harry Turtledove delivers the goods in his latest installment of a fractured North America. From Los Angeles to Philadelphia, from Richmond all the way down to Mexico, Turtledove crafts a wonderous "what if" that places WWII squarely on the American landscape. Characters from his previous books continue to tell the story, and as some become casualties of war, others rise to continue the yarn while "real" people make cameos along the way. There's even a nod to "our" history in a way that doesn't come off self-serving.
Two minor nits, though: although the first 100 pages or so gives enough backstory to bring in new readers, most will probably have to read the previous 7 novels to get up to speed. Second, the sheer number of viewpoints often leads to some repetitive notions and dialogue, which can grate on anyone not familiar with Turtledove's style of writing.
Overall worth the price....more info
- Open rant to Harry Turtledove
Let me start off by saying Harry Turtledove has long been a guilty pleasure of mine. That said, I will now start a rant that has been building for some time.
1. I don't care if Sam Carsten sunburns! I don't care if folks make fun of Scipio / Xerxes' tuxedo! Damn'it Harry, these things are ANNOYING! If you think these repetitive character traits are cute, just put them in once a novel and let it go.
2. How come every time someone states the obvious they are treated like a genius? No wonder the North is getting it's butt kicked.
3. Use some imagination. Don't take actual historical events from our timeline and just plug in different place names and people. Sure, things might go down similarly to actual events. But exactly? Would the Confederates have developed a Stuka dive bomber right down to the sirens on the gull wings without outside influence?
4. All Southerners are not straight out of Faulkner. Some normal people live there too.
5. If you're going to write in accent, get the accent right. Texans and Georgians do not sound the same. You've seen too many movies!
Whew! That said, I'm still buying the damn books. There must be something good about them.
- The saga continues
Harry Turtledove doesn't disappoint with his new book.
The year is 1941 and President Jake Featherston of the Confederate States of America has begun a new conflict with his northern neighbor, the United States. "The #@$%& didn't even declare war first!" one of the characters yells in the first chapter. Turtledove continues the pattern established in the seven previous titles in this gargantuan epic: long running characters are killed off and new ones are introduced to provide a variety of perspectives on this world turned upside down.
The previous trilogy, "American Empire," has been criticized for slavishly following the events of real 1920's-30's history transplanted to North America. I was pleased to see that this new world war doesn't appear to be following any particular WWII campaign. Featherston's strategy is to push up through Ohio, where most of the fighting in this story takes place, and cut the US in two. Turtledove gives the reader a panoramic view of the conflict through the eyes of soldiers, sailors, and pilots (but still no detailed accounts of the European front, alas.) If you pay close attention, there are several clever references to our history (at one point Featherston says of the Holocaust he's perpetrating on African-Americans "This may not be the final solution to our problem, but it's damned close.")
Turtledove still hasn't broken his irritating habit of constant repetition. His cast is so large, he feels the need to virtually reintroduce each character each time he reappears. People who buy this book will almost certainly have read the previous seven books. They don't need to be reminded yet again that Sam Carsten sunburns easily and zinc oxide doesn't help, or that Mary Pomeroy hates Americans because they killed her father and brother.
It's only the first volume of a new trilogy, but the ending will leave you desperate to find out what happens next. I highly recommend this book....more info
- Another Great One
For those of you who have been reading this series since "How Few Remain" will just love the lastest one. Without revealing much of the plot, I can tell you this series of if the south wins the civil war is just getting better and better. Im a big WWII history fan, and anyone else who loves that stuff would love to read this. Turtledove follows the lives of characters from his earlier books and their relatives and goes through every aspect. He looks at the North and South point of view, an ethnic Mexican's view and what I really like is the way he is bringing the South into a more Nazi like perspective. This is only fiction, but if a few events changed, it would be really similar. This book however, is not for the faint at heart, as we see the South's Freedom Party start the eradication of the blacks in ways similar to the Holocaust. This book made pretty sad at times, but i still love it. Can't wait for the new one due out in August, keep writin' em Harry!...more info
- Formulaic, like Michener
This book is the first in a new trilogy, but the eighth in an overall series that started with "How Few Remain". The fact that eight books have now been published in the series is a tribute to Turtledove's skill as a writer. Plus, all these came out initially as hardcovers, which is an extra note of distinction, since these have greater risks of losses for publishers.
But this book and its predecessors are also an indication of Turtledove's skill in choosing a topic that strikes an enduring chord amongst many presumably American readers: The American Civil War and its legacies. He was scarcely the first writer to plumb this field of alternate history. But other works in this field have never extrapolated it to the depth of detail and plausibility that he has.
Granted, if you read this latest novel, you can see him cranking a handle. The sheer repetitiveness of some of the character discourse is striking. Exacerbated by the number of characters. Some of this is unavoidable, and the price to be paid when you have characters spanning several novels.
But where else are you going to find accounts of Union and Confederate troops going at each other with machine guns, tanks and planes?
I would compare Turtledove with James Michener. Both used clearly formulaic methods to build lengthy novels. [I don't think Michener's characters ever spanned across his novels.] It does not lead to the very greatest of writings. In reflection of this, Michener never won the Nobel, though he aspired for it. Likewise, none of Turtledove's novel series, including this book, would be in the highest ranks of science fiction. But both authors still had millions of fans....more info
- Kudos to Turtledove this time!
Author Harry Turtledove must have read some of the criticism levied against earlier books in the series before turning "Return Engagement" over to his editiors, for the latest book in this long semi-series is the best in some time. To begin with, something momentous happens right away instead of just in the last fifty pages of the book: World War Two breaks out.
The characters on stage this time are also flexible, and less repetitive. Abner Dowling doesn't have to eat large meals at every appearance for instance. And a welcome trend, started in the last book, is keeping the plotline fresh by allowing some characters to expire or be killed while shifting the viewpoint to a relative. The plot moves right along, And so will readers, enjoying a large and gripping volume.
The book isn't perfect. It's slow in patches. Readers will wonder why Jefferson Pinkard is taking forever to come up with the inevitable mass extermination technique after 500 pages, or how many times they will have to follow Scipio on his way to and from work at the Huntsman's Lodge. But Turtledove does move faster this time and often lifts his loyal fans above the momentary scenes so they can see the big picture of his alternate history on a regular basis. He has also chunked this long series into trilogies, adding organization and an end point.
Those readers having come this far will definitely want this volume and will eagerly anticipate the next one!...more info
- Featherston Is Back as the Confederate Hitler
I've enjoyed Harry Turtledove's alternate history series of the United States of America versus Confederate States of America, but frankly can't wait for it to be over. He offers a feeble rewrite of the opening battles of the European sector of World War II, with Jake Featherston as the Confederate version of Adolf Hitler. Much to my amazement, Turtledove offers a credible version of what a Confederate Holocaust might have been like, using the term "population reductions" in lieu of the "Final Solution". Still, to his credit, Turtledove offers some interesting vignettes featuring a diverse cast of characters ranging from old-timer U. S. Navy officer Sam Carstens to U. S. Army pilot Jonathan Moss, and Confederate Brigadier General Clarence Potter, to name but a few. I suppose I'll read the sequels, but Turtledove has done much better work in the past....more info
- The Confederacy Strikes Back
When I finished The Victorious Opposition, I couldn't wait for the next book in the series to come out. Unfortunately, like everyone else, I had to. For a whole year.
Fortunately for me, Return Engagement was Mr. Turtledove at his finest and the book was certainly well worth the wait! As I worked my way through the 623 pages (thankfully, it was longer than The V.O.)I was drawn through a whole spectrum of emotions; I was shocked at the effectiveness of the CSA's blitz in Ohio, and the fact that they were able to so thoroughly whale the everloving snot out of the United States had me worried for a little bit about the outcome of this war. It was also disheartening to see Abner Dowling's first Command position go so horribly awry (the poor guy can't seem to catch a break!).
Another of the things which I like about Mr. Turtledove's style of writing is his use of irony and understatement. Example: Strom Thurmond--"a young congressman named Storm or something like that was the first one up to address the [Freedom Party] meeting...He was very good on the Negro question, weaker elsewhere.(31)" Other reviewers have also referenced to the "Final Solution" line.
As a young Black man in America, I was, of course, drawn to this fictional "Black Holocaust". It was interesting to see the USA's reaction, best typified in the scene where the Martin family is gathered around the radio while President Smith decries the Freedom Party's crimes against humanity. Chester Martin and his wife, Rita, both seem to shrug the news off with cold indifference, seemingly more concerned with helping their son with his arithmetic than the fact that thousands of blacks are being ruthlessly slaughtered. Of course, one can hardly hold them accountible; genocide in foreign nations often goes unnoticed--look at the real life instances of slaughter in Rawanda, or even the antipathy shown towards Jews by most Western Nations before the real Holocaust. The world it seems can be a fairly ugly place, and Mr. Turtledove paints his story bearing this fact in mind.
Towards the end of the book, Scipio notices that the Terry has been cut off from the rest of Augusta by barbed wire. It would seem that the Terry has become the first American ghetto.
SPOILERS!!! Okay, I just need to get this off my chest: I am so glad that Mr. Turtledove killed Anne Colleton! Out of all the characters in the series save for MAYBE Jake Featherston (the dirty @$%#%&!) I think that that woman was the most unabashedly evil. I hated what she did to Scipio--the way she made him live his life in fear like that. Good riddance to bad rubbish!
Further, was I the only one who though that Hip Rodriguez had died when he electrocuted himself? That was some creepy, Final Destination-type stuff there, man.
If I were to have any problems they would be as follows: item: not enough young characters and or average footsoldiers (their stories were what made the Great War series so memorable, and the lack thereof was what made How Few Remain so detatched); and item: I wish the characters would show a little more emotion. Jonathan Moss' wife and daughter were murdered just a few months before the war started, but Mr. Turtledove only references back to them two or three times. If you lose your wife and kid, that screws you up permanently.
In spite of those few stylistic short-comings, all in all, I thought that this was a great book, and well worth the year-long wait. Great use of irony, as usual, solid characterisations save the above exception(particularly for the black characters; I was amazed at how well Mr. Turtledove applied to understand W.E.B. DuBois' "Double-Consciousness" theory--whether intentionally or no), fast-paced military action, and all-around great historical application.
Bring On Book 2!...more info