by Harry Turtledove



440pp/$24.95/December 2010

Atlantis and Other Places
Cover by Steven Stone

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Only three of the stories in Atlantis and Other Places have previously been reprinted since their first publication: “Audubon in Atlantis,” “The Daimon,” and “Someone is Stealing the Great Throne Rooms of the Galaxy.” The remaining stories were published in venues as diverse as Analog and the anthology Crime Through Time III, which means there is a good chance that many, if not all, of the stories will be unfamiliar to many of Harry Turtledove’s readers. This collection presents a varied selection of Turtledove’s stories, not all of which are historical (or even alllohistorical) in nature.

Turtledove first introduced his version of Atlantis to readers in the story “Audubon in Atlantis, published in Analog in 2005.  He followed it up with another story, “The Scarlet Band,” the following year, and then three novels. Unlike the Atlantis described by Plato, Turtledove’s Atlantis is a mid-Atlantic island that is clearly the east coast of North America, broken off from the main continent and moved several hundred miles east by continental drift.  The collection Atlantis and Other Places is bookended by Turtledove’s two stories set on this mid-Atlantic continent. The first describes the unusual fauna of the land before it was completely destroyed by the incursion of European humans and livestock, the latter pays homage to Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous consulting detective.

Not only do the two Atlantis stories form a sort of diptych, but so do “Bedfellows” and “News from the Front.”  In this case, Turtledove presents political satire from both sides.  “Bedfellows” is a liberal conspiracy concerning George Bush and Osama bin Ladin while “News from the Front” is a applies today’s news techniques in an attack on Franklin D. Roosevelt following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The stories are interesting, although the satire doesn’t entirely work.  A reader’s political point of view will effect their reading, but probably not enjoyment, of the stories to some extent.

A more straightforward parody is “The Catcher in the Rhine,” which posits Holden Caulfield suddenly whisked back to the banks of the Rhine in the middle of Das Niebelungenlied. Although an intelligent, if disaffected, boy, Holden can’t quite grasp the utter strangeness of being transported back to a mythical time, probably a much more realistic reaction than so often is used in science fiction and reminiscent of Turtledove’s own (with Judith Tarr) novel Household Gods. His pastiche of J.D. Salinger’s style is also on target.

Sokrates and Alkibiades are the two main characters of Harry Turtledove’s “The Daimon,” about a world in which Alkibiades refuses to allow himself to be recalled to Athens, instead continuing the sack of Syracuse and turning his attention to Sparta before returning, triumphantly, to Athens. While Sokrates and Alkibiades are both portrayed well, Turtledove only provides quick sketches of his supernumeraries, even those such as Kritias and Platon who are based on historical figures. Where the story falls down is at the beginning, when Turtledove does not give the reader a clear understanding of the crime Alkibiades is accused of, and at the end, when Turtledove fails to provide an extrapolation of the change, although a weakening, if not outright slaughter, of democracy seems likely.

“Farmers’ Law” is a straight forward mystery set in a small Turkish village near the end of the eighth century.  When the wealthy farmer Theodore is killed, the village priest, Father George, must figure out which of the villagers killed Theodore before Theodore’s widow travels to Amorion to seek justice, and incidentally expose the village’s iconophilia.  Turtledove presents a close-knit community in which grudges are rife, but relationships are strong and everyone knows everyone else’s business.  The title refers to the governing law, which doesn’t cover murder and, more importantly in this instance, doesn’t cover the feeling that the law is not entirely just.

Turtledove has written several stories set in one form of the middle east or another. In “Occupation Duty,” history diverged in the tenth century BCE when the Philistine Goliath defeated David and the Hebrews were destroyed.  Now, three thousand years later, the Philistines occupy the region and must deal with the recalcitrant Moabites. By replacing the Jews and Palestinians, Turtledove is able to look at some of the underlying issues in the region and separating out the emotional aspect, especially since each of the two groups are each an amalgamation of the existing groups.

In “The Horse of Bronze,” centaurs are in a battle against the sphinxes. The centaurs have recently lost their source for tin, which means that they are unable to turn copper into bronze and their weapons are not as advanced as those of their enemies. A group of centaurs decide to travel to the distant Tin Islands to discover why tin is no longer making its journey to them.  Turtledove’s decision to use a cast of almost entirely mythological creatures sets the story apart from so much fantasy as he creates a truly alien version of ancient Europe.

“The Genetics Lecture” is a short lark, originally published in Analog as part of their “Probability Zero” feature. Taking the form of a classroom lecture as indicated by the title, it is only at the end that Turtledove reveals the very different direction this world has taken from our own.

Sometimes science fiction just needs to be light-hearted and fun, and “Someone is Stealing the Great Throne Rooms of the Galaxy” fits the bill quite nicely.  The title comes from a 1978 comedy and the setting and tropes used in the story come from the golden age of space opera.  Turtledove doesn’t write grand galaxy-spanning science fiction very often, but this story shows that he remembers how to do it.

All too often, alternate history authors take an historical figure, put them in a different situation and proceed to alter their personality to the extent that the author could be writing about anyone.  Harry Turtledove avoids this trap with his portrayal of Adolph Hitler in “Uncle Alf.”  Following the German victory in the Great War, Hitler finds himself sent to Lille, where a group of socialists are threatening the German occupation.  Turtledove’s portrayal of Hitler shows his hatred turned towards anyone who he perceives as having wronged him or not living in the world as he sees it.  Although not depicted as the monster he became historically, Turtledove’s character is still loathsome in his self-congratulatory manner.

Audubon in Atlantis Occupation Duty
Bedfellows The Horse of Bronze
News from the Front The Genetics Lecture
The Catcher in the Rhine Someone is Stealing the Great Throne Rooms of the Galaxy
The Daimon Uncle Alf
Farmers' Law The Scarlet Band

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