THE VALLEY-WESTSIDE WAR
by Harry Turtledove
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Each of the novels in Harry Turtledove's Crosstime Traffic series stand on their own. After visiting a Communist Italy, a Balkanized North America, a German-occupied San Francisco, and other alternatives, Turtledove turns his attention to a post-apocalyptic scenario in The Valley-Westside War. In this time-line a nuclear war broke out between the United States and the Soviet Union some time in 1967. Liz and her parents have been sent to the alternative on a research grant to try to learn what the exact point of divergence was. Unfortunately, they have found themselves in Westwood near UCLA just as a war breaks out with the small neighboring kingdom in the San Fernando Valley to the North.
The books in the series have many things in common, one of which is a smart female character and the other is a smart male character. Liz represents the former as a Crosstime trader who spends as much of her time as possible in the UCLA library. Unfortunately, for her, she has attracted the attention of Dan, an archer for King Zev of the Valley. While Dan treats her well and not like a conquered subject, Liz does not particularly like Dan, partly because she sees him as a barbarian and partly because as a member of Crosstime Traffic she knows she shouldn't get involved with the locals. However, Dan quickly demonstrates the difference between ignorance and stupidity. He is ignorant of the things that Liz takes for granted, but his is far from stupid and can use his intellect to figure things out and rise in King Zev's army.
Set more than a century after the bombs fell, Los Angeles has created its own society, dividing itself into small kingdoms based on geography or the structures of the ancients, such as the Santa Monica Freeway. Memories and folk tales of the Old Times still exist, as do some relics of those times and Liz's family uses the trade in those goods as their cover. Despite their supply of Old Time artifacts, they manage to fly under the radar not only of the Westside City Council, but also under King Zev's occupying forces. It isn't until a spy for the Westside Council-in-Exile gets involved with them that Liz's family finds that things are a little too hot for them, and Dan begins to suspect that Liz is not what she appears to be.
In many ways, The Valley-Westside War provides a nice change in pace for the series. Both of the protagonists do what they are supposed to do, and act intelligently while doing it, and still manage to get into trouble. While many young adult novels teach that actions have consequences, in The Valley-Westside War, Turtledove notes that sometimes consequences are the result of blind luck or the situations one finds oneself in. The important thing is how a person responds to those consequences. When problems occur for Liz, she doesn't bemoan the fact, but rather rolls with the punches and tries to figure out how to handle the new situation. Similarly, when Dan is confronted by things which he world view deems impossible, he tries to incorporate the oddities that he sees into a revised worldview, with the result that he is better equipped than most to solve problems.
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