by Harry Turtledove
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
While Gunpowder Empire, the first novel in Harry Turltedove's "Crosstime Traffic" series, is set in a ancient Rome alternative, the second book, Curious Notions, is set in a world in which the United States has been under German rule since the Kaiser's armies invaded the country in the 1950s. A century and a half later, the traders of Crosstime Traffic must deal with an America which is still quite aware of its identity as a conquered country.
While the first novel focused on the Solter siblings, Amanda and Jeremy. In Curious Notions, Turtledove introduces us to crosstime trafficker Paul Gomes and alternate-native Lucy Woo. The two meet when the electronics store Gomes and his father run in an alternate San Francisco attracts Lucyís attention since everything they sell is so much better than anything else available in that alternative. Unfortunately for the Gomeses, their wares also attract the attention of the Kaiserís men and the Chinese Tong.
The San Francisco depicted in Curious Notions is set in a world in which the Germans won World War I before the United States could enter. Following the Kaiserís annexation of Europe, he turned his attention to the United States, and by the late twenty-first century, the entire world was under the Kaiserís control. Despite a century-and-a-half of Imperial rule, the United States in Curious Notions still appears as if it is in the relatively early stages of an occupation, in no way assimilated into the German Empire.
While Turtledoveís background doesnít seem proper for the distance between the point of divergence and the action, the story he sets against that background works quite well. Just as with Gunpowder Empire, Turtledove provides two viewpoint characters, a male and a female. The big difference is that one of those characters is a native to the world in which the story is set, which allows Turtledove to show both the natural mindset of the world and the native ability to figure out the secret behind Crosstime Traffic.
Turtledove does a good job of showing a platonic relationship growing between the two characters, despite the rules of Crosstime Traffic not to get involved with the locals. Turtledove also uses their relationship to demonstrate that ignorance and lack of education does not equate to lack of intelligence or rationality, as Lucy is quite capable of demonstrating both of those traits and more.
While early in his writing career, many of Turtledoveís protagonists had a tendency to demonstrate the abilities of a Heinleinian superman, neither Paul nor Lucy has that ability. Both find themselves in trouble and must rely on the abilities of others to assist them. In at least one of those cases, the help comes across almost as a dues ex machine, but Turtledoveís setting and background permit the rescue.While not quite as strong as its predecessor, Curious Notions is still a book well worth reading. Turtledoveís characters come across as real, with the troubles of teenagers being thrust into adulthood with the training which can never be as complete as desired. Their relationships with each other and their surroundings are well-realized as is their ultimate effect on the Kaiser American time-line.
Purchase this book from