Book Review: Agent of Byzantium by Harry Turtledove (Three Stars)

Book Review: Agent of Byzantium by Harry Turtledove (Three Stars)

“An oath is only the man behind it, and you suit me well enough without one.”

James Bond does ancient Constantinople.One of Turtledove’s better alternate histories. Apparently a series of short stories gathered into one collection, revealed by the repetition of background elements in each chapter. Didn’t disrupt the flow too much.

“Had they not been taken ill, I never would have stumbled across the truth that will save so many more from a like fate. Truly I am but an instrument of His will.” “Oh, hogwash,” the doctor said. “What of all the others who got sick and died in the epidemic? If God killed all of them just so two would draw your attention, He strikes me as bloody wasteful.”

Turtledove at his best: playing “what if” with a key element of history, in this case the impact of the conversion of Muhammad to Christianity rather than founding a new religion. The characters, beliefs, events are all enjoyably believable. The increased rate of invention, and the role of the protagonist in many of those advances, is independent of the background thread.

“After the hippodrome, theology has always been Constantinoples favorite sport.”

Interesting that a major author could write of religious controversies and history in the late 1980s with the hope of engaging his audience. Few authors today would dare.

Not much room for divine intervention in any of that.” “Wasn’t it you who said we’d have to help the Holy Spirit along? God works through men; that is why He created them, to unfold His scheme for the world. You were also the one who pointed out that God had to become a man to save mankind.” Both men crossed themselves. “Yes, but that was a miracle,” Argyros persisted. “Must all your miracles be showy?”

Book Review: Rocket’s Red Glare by Cy Stein (Two Stars)


Book Review: Rocket’s Red Glare (A WWII Era Alternative History Novel) by Cy Stein

(Two Stars)

“Sid’s brain ached. As a physicist, it was easy to view daily life as a series of math problems to be solved; everything was potentially doable, wasn’t it? But sometimes, the data had holes. Big holes. Dark holes.”

I don’t normally post reviews for books that rate this poorly. I’m making an exception because I was given an advanced reader copy and asked to review it. Also because there’s the embryo of a really good alternative history story amid the wreckage that is currently Rocket’s Red Glare.

“The thrill of meeting Einstein, coupled with the wonderful half-day spent with Julia, still clung to him like the fragrance of newly blossoming flowers.”

Excellent concept: what if FDR died in the late 1930s and Charles Lindbergh Continue reading

Book Review: A Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale (Four Stars)


Book Review: A Clash of Eagles (Clash of Eagles #1) by Alan Smale

(Four Stars)

“Heading west in as straight a line as they could manage. Which, being Romans, was pretty d—d straight.”

Excellent alternate history. Imperial Rome invades thirteenth-century North America in search of gold. Smale drops the reader into the story and supplies details as the Romans march west. Good character and plot development.

“Even when you were younger. Would you have spoiled her?” “You don’t have daughters, do you?” “No.” “Ask me again when you do.”

Lacks a believable antagonist after the opening scenes. Marcellinus is his own worst enemy, of course, but someone to butt heads with would add to the fun. Sintikala is that and more, but Continue reading

Book Review: Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear (Three Stars)


Book Review: Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

(Three Stars)

“Friends don’t keep score.”

Well-developed steampunk with engaging characters. It’s as much parallel universe as alternate timeline, but it mostly works. Good weaving of historic and imagined elements. Good storytelling.

“Don’t tell me I’m better off for being an orphan.” “No more so that I’m better off for having been a slave.”
Most of the primary characters are social outcast for no reason of their own. Their bonding works, if a bit idyllic.

“These feelings ain’t nohow sensible. They just is.”

The narrator and main character has twisted syntax in order to contrast her native wit with Continue reading

Book Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (Five Stars)


Book Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Five Stars

“I want to comprehend. I have to. But he knew he never would. Just be glad and keep moving.”

An early alternative history, it is among the best. Dick not only alters history and politics, but also culture and scientific achievement, consistent with what precedes his story. The result in an incredibly rich, engaging tale of what might have been. Manages to include major philosophic and religious issues. Very close telling of internal conflicts and aspirations.

“Nobody was hurt … until the day of reckoning and then everyone, equally, would be ruined.”

I can’t believe this was written in 1962. Dick displays a depth of understanding which many lacked. I can’t believe I missed it then.

“He should have that cold but enthusiastic look, as if Continue reading

Book Review: A Different Flesh by Harry Turtledove (Four Stars)

25691869Book Review: A Different Flesh by Harry Turtledove

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 Continue reading