Monday, August 31, 2015

We Install - Harry Turtledove

Over the years I've given some thought to reading some of Harry Turtledove's Alternate History novels, but they're all so long I've never tackled one. They tend to run in series, too, and four or five or more books of that length...Nah, that's too much of a commitment for me. However, I recall reading some of Turtledove's short fiction in ANALOG and other magazines years ago and enjoying it, so when a new collection of his stories called WE INSTALL came out, I figured I'd give it a try.

As always in such a collection, the brief introductions to the stories that talk about how Turtledove came to write them were of great interest to me. I always find such things fascinating. So were the articles about writing, specifically about writing Alternate History, which is something I want to do more of.

The stories themselves are a mixed bag. Several of them are humorous, including the title story, and while they're well-written and clever, they didn't really connect much with me. I think that says more about me than the stories, since comedy tends to be very hit-or-miss with me, especially in genre fiction. I don't often find a mystery, SF, or Western comedy story that really appeals to me. A straight genre story with touches of humor is fine, I consistently enjoy those, but one in which the comedy is the main focus...I usually don't care for them.

However, the more traditional stories in WE INSTALL are pretty good. "Drang von Osten" is an Alternate History tale about a very different Russian front during World War II. "Under St. Peter's" is a Secret History story, rather than Alternate History (and Turtledove discusses the difference in the story's intro). It's a rather disturbing yarn, but well-written. "The End of the World as We Know It" is a far future tale, as the title implies, and quite entertaining, if a little bleak.

The centerpiece of this volume, and by far the best story, is the multiple-award-winning novella "Down in the Bottomlands", which is one of those ANALOG stories I mentioned above that I remember fondly from its original appearance. It really holds up well on rereading. This one is Alternate History at its most basic. In it, the earth developed differently geologically, and so everything else is different, too. The Bottomlands of the title are an arid, sunken wasteland where the Mediterranean Sea is in our world, cut off from the ocean to the west by a range of barrier mountains. It's a tourist destination, much like our Grand Canyon, and the protagonist is a tour guide who finds himself trying to solve a murder when a member of the group he's leading turns up dead. There's also a lot of political intrigue going on, which makes "Down in the Bottomlands" read like a contemporary thriller. Turtledove packs a lot into this story, and it's very well done. I don't know if he ever used this setting again, but if he did, I'd certainly be interested to read it.

In fact, I enjoyed this collection enough that I may have to break down and read one of his novels, even though they're too long. But not right now. Just not enough time.

1 comment:

Keith West said...

I read some of his early novels, but they've gotten too long for my current time constraints. I really enjoy his sbort fiction, so I'm going to have to get this one.