Four Stars out of Five
Outstanding alternate history. In short stories Turtledove creates an alternative history populated by believable characters and events which also examine historic and current practices in our culture. The titular characters are Homo Erectus-like subhumans who inhabit the New World instead of the native humans actually found there. The altered natural and cultural impacts are explored.
Samuel Pepys is so well drawn that he was recognized, by one who’d read his diary, before revealed. His development of the transformational theory of life exemplifies ideas and technologies accelerated by the different conditions found in North America than in our timeline.
The reader is challenged (in a good way) to unravel Turtledove’s alternate names for North America cities and governmental titles. (Example, the Federated Commonwealths adopted Roman forms of governance and naming, resulting in Via LXVI.)
Having all critical plot points fall favorably gives the book a Mary Sue or Gary Stu quality. The short stories repeat much information because most were first published independently.
A more serious critique might be lodged against his uneven accelerated technology. For example, steam locomotives debut in 1782, but flintlock, smooth bore muskets are still used for hunting in 1812. Removing the flints render the muskets unusable. Percussion caps debuted in the 1820s. Of course, the acceleration would be uneven, but more accurate rifled muskets were already employed in late-seventeenth century hunting and warfare in North America.
Written in 1988, but reads better after thirty years than some contemporary alternate histories.
Well conceived and well written.