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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Valley-Westside War by Harry Turtledove

The Valley-Westside War by Harry Turtledove. New York: Tor, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-7653-1487-1

"A Novel of Crosstime Traffic," proclaims the cover. I've read and reviewed all but one of the previous books in this series, Gunpowder Empire, Curious Notions, The Disunited State of America, and The Gladiator. The only one I've missed is In High Places, which comes between Curious Notions and The Disunited.

To remind you of the series premise, in our future, scientists have learned how to cross between alternate realities, and set up incognito trading franchises in many of them, which invariably involve families, including one or more teenage kids. Making these books great YA (Young Adult) novels, likely to be enjoyed by young and not so young (like me) readers alike. In this volume, we visit an alternate timeline in which the U.S. and Soviet Union didn't manage to keep the cold war cold, but destroyed one another's civilizations in a nuclear war, which seems to have knocked the entire world back into a pre-industrial civilization.

Our young heroine, Liz by name, gets involved, somewhat against her will, with a young man named Dan, who is a foot soldier in an all-too-real war between local warlords. Dan likes Liz, but Liz doesn't particularly reciprocate the attraction. Liz spends her spare time in the UCLA library, what's left of it, reading old news magazines, trying to help her dad figure out why in this timeline, the cold war turned hot. Her dad has a grant from the UCLA history department back in the home timeline.

There's just one giant hole in the plot, in my view. Our timeline traveling family has a secret room in their house, equipped with modern amenities like a refrigerator, electric lights, and the like. The room is very carefully hidden, and only opens by password. Liz (and presumably her family) use the famous Mellon "speak friend and enter" password from Tolkien's Ring trilogy as their password, because she knows those movies were made after the break in the two timelines.

What she doesn't know is that the books predate the break, and her "friend" Dan has read the books. But the hole in the plot? The idea that they would use a mere password to control entry to their hideaway. Surely they would have used voice recognition! It makes no sense to use something as simplistic as a mere password for somthing this important. Nor would it work as well. It's a lot harder (I would imagine) for a machine to recognize anyone saying a particular word, then it would be for the machine to identify the precise voice prints of those programmed into its memory.

Nevertheless, it's a good yarn, told as well as Turtledove usually manages, although there is a fair amount of excess verbiage that doesn't really contribute to forwarding the action. A quick and easy read, recommended for anyone who's been enjoying the earlier books in the series.

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