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'In the Presence of Mine Enemies' review

Coiler

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This is one of Turtledove's short-story-to-novel expansions that I think works better as a short story.
Turtledove is almost always better at individual set-pieces than he is at whole novels. This book is a great example-the short story is good, the "August Coup" set piece is good[1], but I found the rest just really obvious (and worse, uninteresting to my eyes) parallelism and, worse, aimless stumbling which includes the infamous games of bridge.

[1]Turtledove could have gone for the fluffy happy route, but instead gave the failure a sinister edge by having it come undone not due to sparkles and rainbows but by anti-Semitism. Which I liked.
 

Alexander Rooksmoor

Active member
One interesting thing about it is that people tend to assume that totalitarian states are strong and enduring. It seems unlikely that a Nazi state would have persisted as long as 2009. Unlike the Soviet system, especially under Stalin, the Nazi Empire was always a confederation of competing agencies. Hitler was an ailing man when he took his own life and may not have survived into the 1950s, let alone longer. Consequently a fragmentation of Nazi Germany is likely to have started whenever the war ground to a halt, even as Robert Harris shows it in 1964, with continuing guerilla warfare on its eastern border. I certainly think it lasting as long as the Eastern Bloc is not feasible. More probable is that there would have been a series of successor states, some probably run by the SS. Various national groups certainly would have taken the opportunity to rise up, probably backed by Britain and the USA and indeed the USSR supporting Communist resistance groups who were often the best organised. As it was the Germans had effectively been expelled from Yugoslavia before the war ended.
 

Alexander Rooksmoor

Active member
I know people here rail against parallelism. However, it often seems forgotten that authors like Turtledove are seeking to attract as many readers as possible. It is a challenge for even an averagely well-informed reader to make a jump into reading a book set in a historical period in which all the names are different. It seems instead to be fantasy or science fiction, so a lot of the 'what if?' considerations are lost from reading the book. The parallel characters and indeed events, are an important 'bridge' to bring the ordinary reader over into a different world and have them focus on the differences, which surely are at the heart of alternate history writing, rather than having also to get to grips with the backgrounds and personalities of a whole range of individuals that are new to them.

Please have some more sympathy for authors writing alternate history, because parallelism is essential if they are going to get the kind of numbers of readers which can keep them working as full-time authors.

Also remember that authors are not omnipotent gods with their novels. Anyone who has had their work professionally edited, sought to get an agent or publish in a traditional way, will know how much power editors, agents and publishers have in shaping the 'product' to what they feel will sell best, often moving the book well away from what the author intended. This may be why Turtledove has also self-published with 'Shtetl Days' (2011), though it sits under Tor's umbrella, the author had far more autonomy with that book. That allowed him to address a similar theme but in a way that perhaps hard-core alternate history fans would find more to their taste but would be challenging to Turtledove's wider, usual audience.
 

Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Published by SLP
Location
Nu Yawk
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One interesting thing about it is that people tend to assume that totalitarian states are strong and enduring. It seems unlikely that a Nazi state would have persisted as long as 2009. Unlike the Soviet system, especially under Stalin, the Nazi Empire was always a confederation of competing agencies.
There's actually a part of the real August Coup that I don't think Turtledove even knew about, but would have perfectly fit the over-factionalized Nazi government. The plan to actually finish off the protesters was a Rube Goldberg one involving multiple units that planned to blame the others for the inevitable collateral damage. Of course, when one unit commander got cold feet, then another did, and so on...

So it would be both parallelism and accurate and literarily effective to have something like that happen in In The Presence of Mine Enemies as well.

Please have some more sympathy for authors writing alternate history, because parallelism is essential if they are going to get the kind of numbers of readers which can keep them working as full-time authors.
This as well. Like I've said many times and seen personally, the market for "hard" AH just isn't very big.
 
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