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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Alternate Generals III edited by Harry Turtledove

Alternate Generals III edited by Harry Turtledove and Roland J. Green. Riverdale, New York: Baen, 2005. ISBN: 0-7434-9897-6

The premise: take a key battle, campaign or other military event in history, and rewrite it. What if things had gone differently? What if Joan of Arc didn't get burned at the stake? What if Antony had become Caesar, and taken Cleopatra to Rome with him? What if MacArthur hadn't made it out of the Philippines, but had ended up in a Japanese prisoner of war camp? What if Eisenhower and Patton had been in the Philippines instead of Europe? And on and on.

Most of the hypotheses are intriguing enough, and the stories are generally competently written. No great masterpieces here, but good solid entertainment. In the story by Turtledove himself, however, the master of alternate history as he is known, succumbs to temptation and takes a really cheap shot. Shame on you, Harry!

The premise may or may not be a valid one: what if Jesus and his followers had taken up arms against the Romans? I'm willing to give the notion a fair chance as a story, and see how it plays out. But Turtledove is too lazy to do even a minimal amount of research, or else he just doesn't care. In his haste, he isn't satisfied with merely putting lines from the gospels into his character's mouths, he has to steal excerpts from the writings of St. Paul as well!

Anyone who knows anything about the New Testament knows that Paul came along later. Putting his words into the mouth of Jesus is quite absurd and wreaks havoc on the authenticity of the story. Admittedly, the gospels were probably written down after Paul's writings, but the words of Jesus they quote were supposed to have been said before Paul became a Christian and wrote his letters. To have Jesus spouting Paul's rhetoric is almost as incongruous as having George Washington quoting Abraham Lincoln.

Now if Turtledove had been clever enough to bring Paul (in his earlier incarnation as Saul) into the story, and had him quoting his own lines, that would have been entirely different, and could have provided some real interest, not to mention some real alternate history. But no, he just pulls anything he likes out of any part of the N.T. and uses it in his story, regardless of the anachronistic effect this creates.

Thankfully, the editors saved the very best story (IMHO) for the end of the book. Set in the Vietnam war, but in a version of history where Kennedy survives the assassination attempt in Dallas, and puts the US into Vietnam in a major way early on, actually invading and occupying the northern part of that unfortunate country. It's a grimly great story, with plenty of action and angst.

The overall collection is somewhat uneven, but recommended nevertheless for fans of alternate history and/or military stories.

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