by Harry Turtledove
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Harry Turtledove introduced his version of Atlantis, an island-continent located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, in the 2005 novella “Audobon in Atlantis.” A few months later, in “The Scarlet Band,” the island made another appearance. Turtledove has now turned back the clock to look at the founding and subsequent history of his strange island in Opening Atlantis. The novel is really three connected novellas following the Radcliffe family through several generations.
The first story, “New Hastings” begins with English fisherman Edward Radcliffe buying the secret of a newly discovered land from the Breton François Kersauzon. Discovering the continent to be a rich fishing ground, and far away from the growing danger of a civil war between the Yorkist and Lancastrian claimants to the throne, Radcliffe moves not only his family, but many other residents of his native town to the new continent.
Atlantis is quickly colonized not only by disenchanted Englishmen, but also by Bretons, Frenchmen, and Spaniards. Nevertheless, most of the inhabitants agree with Edward Radcliffe that their settlement on the new continent should allow them to leave their old world troubles behind. This allows Turtledove to focus on Radcliffe’s son’s exploration of the new continent, one by land and the other by sea. The old war conflicts, however, won’t stay at bay forever, and they begin to impinge on Radcliffe’s utopia when the English kings decide to use the new land as a dumping ground for political enemies.
Set several generations later, “Avalon” sees the Atlanteans taking arms against themselves. By this time, Atlantis is seen by many as an obstacle between Europe and the much larger Terranova (North America) to the west. While part of the obstacle is physical, another part is the presence of pirates on Atlantis’ west coast, most notably Red Rodney Radcliffe. His cousin, William Radcliff enlists the assistance of the British and the Dutch to destroy not only Red Rodney, but the other freebooters operating out of the town of Avalon.
Finally, in the longest story in the book, “Nouveau Redon,” the Radcliffes find themselves at war against the Kersauzons as Roland Kersauzon heeds the call of his distant motherland, France, to carry the wars of the eighteenth century to English Atlantis. Although both France and England send regulars and generals to Atlantis, the main conflict is between Kersauzon and Victor Radcliff, a descendent of William, who fought the Avalon pirates. In this section, Turtledove not only presents a military campaign, but also gives a much more detailed walking tour of Atlantis than he has, as Kersauzon and Radcliff fight their way through English, French, and Spanish Atlantis, eventually setting the scene for the previously published stories and future accounts of the continent.
The three stories that make up Opening Atlantis present an interesting, alternative version of our own world. Turtledove does not offer any explanation for placing what is essentially the east coast of North America several hundred miles to the east, but its placement and Turtledove’s development of it allows him to look not only at political, but also geographical and evolutionary differences between his world and our own. While Turtledove has signed for a three volume series on Atlantis, it is clear that this world could support more stories and ideas than will be possible in those volumes.
Purchase this book from