Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Gunpowder Empire, by Harry Turtledove

Gunpowder Empire, by Harry Turtledove

I really enjoy alternate history stories. Harry Turtledove is the current master of these, so I was pleased to find the first of a new collection. This series is more like Sliders (exactly like Sliders, actually) that the typical What If... style, which will hopefully have future tales visit multiple alternate worlds. This book was okay, but not fantastic. It focused on two modern high school kids and their trying to stay alive during a siege in Roman times. A great setup, but the kids were a bit preachy for my tastes: the boy (Jeremy) is sickened by people wearing fur, and the girl (Amanda) can’t understand why the slaves don’t all revolt. Delving into their reactions to bloodshed and primitive medical help was much more satisfying; Jeremy, after being raised on modern videogames, was believably shaken when confronted with the violence of an actual war. This wasn’t as good as Turtledove’s Guns of the South, but then nothing is!

An interesting thread that wasn’t pursued was that of religion. In the alternate Earth our characters visit, Christianity has a status closer to what we expect of the Church of Scientology here, Judaism has a smaller following than that, and Islam doesn’t exist at all. There is a line in the novel about how the group that controls the portals between worlds has a strict non-interference policy (think prime directive from Star Trek) and therefore religious customs (slavery, sexism, ...) are off limits. From what I’ve seen of zealots in our world, however, a simple policy isn’t going to stop many of them from trying. Hopefully a future story in this universe will examine the politics around the beliefs of the alternate worlds.

First Sentence:
When Jeremy Solters found a note from his mother in his lunchbox, he started to laugh.

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