Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Done With Harry Turtledove For Awhile

It's been out of my system now for a couple of months, so I guess it's time to write up this little obsession of mine.

Off and on for a year or so, I've read 22 or 23 Harry Turtledove books.  I kind of lost count.  But, he wrote two long series of books, each with 11 volumes or so, and I read every one of them, in order, heaven help me.

One series is pure alternate history, which he's famous for.  The second is alternate history mixed with science fiction, which he's also famous for.

The first:  All my life I've heard this stupid question - what if the south had one the war?  What if the Confederacy had defeated the Union?  But I had never heard a good plausible answer, nothing that examined all world history changing ramifications of that.  Harry Turtledove's 11 volumes on the subject is as close as anything to a decent analysis of what could have happened.

Harry Turtledove's history breaks away from reality at the Battle of Antietam, in Maryland in 1862.   In real history, a confederate soldier (an officer no doubt) dropped a copy of Lee's general orders for the battle.  It was found by a union soldier, and made their way to George McClellan who suddenly knew the disposition of Lee's forces.  McClellan was extremely intelligent, but was also very methodical, so it was a while before he acted.  Another stupid "what if" goes something like this: what if McClellan attacked immediately, with everything he had?  The war may have ended right then and there.  Maybe, we'll never know.   As cautious as he was, he still managed to force Lee to retreat back into Virginia.

Antietam was a terrifying bloodbath for both sides.  I've been to that battlefield, more than once.  I've seen the rail road cut out where hundreds of confederates died,  and hundreds of union soldiers died tying to take the position.  I've seen Burnside bridge, a bottle neck of sorts where hundreds of union soldiers died trying to get across the creek.  I could feel the terror on both sides.  The Confederates had the advantage of position in this spot, but the Union had overwhelming numbers.  If you were on the Confederate side here, you knew that at the moment it's a turkey shoot, but you also knew you don't have enough ammo, and slowly but surely the people around you are being killed and wounded, and it's just a matter of time before it's all over for you.  If you were across he creek on the union side, you  experienced a lot of terror, as people around you, seemingly at random are being shot, and there was no place to hide.  As a group, you were in the advantage of numbers, but as an individual, you stood a very good chance of being shot.   Not a good place to be, in either situation.  I've stood at a plaque across from the road from the Dunker church, showing pictures of Artillery and dead bodies, and I realized I was standing in the middle of death, in the middle of a killing field.  Well the whole battle was a killing field.   It was a terrible battle, people were slaughtered, thousands upon thousands died in a very short time, and I'm kind of glad I managed to avoid it by a century or so.  

In Harry Turtldove's world, the battle still happened, but those orders were never lost, McClellan never knew how spread out Lee's forces were.  McClellan assumed he was facing an  overwhelming force, and fought cautiously and defensively.   Lee broke through, and marched on toward Harrisburg, PA.  Another battle was fought at Camp Hill, across the river from Harrisburg, Union Forces were defeated, and the British and French stepped in and forced a peace agreement on the United States.   The United States could not fight the British & French, so they capitulated and the Confederacy was independent.

That is the basis for the next 11 books or so.

The Confederacy, besides including the states that actually seceded, also included Kentucky, and Oklahoma (which they called Sequoiah).   Stonewall Jackson did not die, he lived on to become the ranking general in the Confederate Army.  Slavery continued as an institution until the 1880's, when the slaves were "manumitted", as opposed to emancipated.   The former slaves were not considered citizens, and an apartheid like system developed.

In the United States, Abraham Lincoln lost the election of 1864, and was NOT assassinated in 1865.  He went on to lead the 'liberal' wing of the Republican Party into the Socialist Party in the 1880's.   The party system in the United States evolved into a 3 party system, Democrats, Socialists & Republicans, with the Republicans being by far the minority.  George Custer, did not die in 1876, because he was busy with border patrol duties on the Kansas/Oklahoma border.   He went on to become the ranking field officer during "WW I", and disobeyed orders to develop a highly effective method of tank warfare.  The capitol of the USA became Philadelphia - Washington, DC became relegated to ceremonies only.

And speaking of WWI.  In Turtledove's universe, the United States did not send any troops to Europe during that war - they were too busy fighting the confederates in North America.  Also, the USA became bitter enemies of the British & French because of what had happened decades earlier, and allied themselves with Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany.  When WWI ended, The USA possessed Kentucky, what is now West Virginia and large parts of Northern Virginia.   In Europe, the British and French didn't win, but weren't quite defeated either.  Kaiser Wilhelm remained in power.

After WWI, slowly but surely a fascist system begins to take over in the Confederacy.  Turtledove mimics the rise of fascism in Germany here.   The fascists take full power sometime in the 1930's,  basically subvert the constitutional institutions, and through force and terror establish a dictatorship.  They begin secretly, then not-so-secretly rearming themselves, in violation of treaties.   They force a peblecite in Kentucky, and Kentucky votes to rejoin the CSA.   In the mean time, WW II breaks out, and the United States are still enemies of the British & French (& Canadians - because they were strongly allied to the British), and are allies of the Kaiser.   In North America, the confederates attack with a blitzkrieg of sorts - with a goal of establishing a line all the way up toward Cleveland and Lake Erie - dividing the country in half.  They manage to do that - and now supplies in the USA cannot move from East to West.  Canada is British, so they can't move around the lakes either.  And the British have a very strong force on the Great Lakes themselves, so they are also not a good alternative.  So, the Confederacy offers peace terms, sure that the United States will accept.  The United States refuses, and for the first time, the Confederacy realizes it is in trouble.

I glossed over a lot here.  Many of these books are complete war stories, but some are not.   I found some characters very interesting - I especially liked following Scipio (aka Xerxes), and his reluctant involvement with the Congaree Socialist Republic uprising in South Carolina during WWI.  I followed him for several books, from the time he was young, until he was old and in an prison camp in Texas.

The series has a lot of searing detail, and lot of broad sweep type stuff.  As a unit, it is a great history of something that never happened.

Next time:  Aliens Invade.



Ivanhoe said...

Oh my goodness, that's a lot of fiction. But definitely quite interesting. I'm not sure that 11 volumes could keep my full attention :o) More power to you for doing it!

A Valdese Blogger said...

Thanks. Perhaps I was a bit obsessive with it.....