Friday, January 18, 2008

Daily SAll-Star: Harry Turtledove

Alternate history author Harry Turtledove's real name is, in fact, Harry Norman Turtledove. He has used a number of pseudonyms over the years due to his fear that readers would not believe that a man's real name could possibly be "Harry Turtledove."

What does Mr. Turtledove do for a living? He writes off-the-wall, fucked-up, what-if, Crazy Pants Magoo novels. Most of his works belong to one of several universes that he has created; Videssos, for example, is Turtledove's re-imagining of the Byzantine Empire. The Worldwar tetralogy and Colonization trilogy both take place in an alternate universe in which aliens invade Earth during the events of World War II. His most famous universe is Timeline-191, where Jefferson Davis and his Confederate States of America defeat the heavily favored United States of America in the American Civil War. However, the legacy of this universe is not simply in its rather audacious premise but in the lifespan of the universe in which such victory exists. Turtledove has written the complete history of this alternate timeline all the way through 1945 and concludes it with the public beheading of the United States Attorney General, after which, I guess, everything goes back to normal...? Wow.

Now, while Timeline-191 is Turtledove's boldest series of books, he has written, as a stand-alone novel, without any ties to any alternate universe, the single most ludicrous book ever printed in the history of mankind. Shall I tell you about it? Very well.

The premise of this circus freak of a book, entitled The Guns of the South, is that members of South Africa's Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (a real paramilitary organization) from the year 2014 travel back in time to the winter of 1863 and provide the Confederate Army with a cache of AK-47's so the South can defeat the Union and therefore advance the cause of the white supremacist doctrine of the AWB over a century later. The South wins the war convincingly, establishing a new border between itself and the Union, but the AWB isn't finished. They oust Jefferson Davis from his presidential office and appoint Nathaniel Bedford Forrest, the founder of the Ku Klux Klan, in his place. So General Robert E. Lee becomes the "good guy" of the story and creates his own political party to combat the AWB.

Blah blah blah, stuff happens, and Lee finds a computer that the AWB had brought back with them. On this computer he reads about the overwhelming support for the Union's cause in the future and the abhorrence of slavery. He sees the err of the South's ways and calls for an immediate end to to slavery.

The AWB tries to defend themselves with their machine guns, but old-fashioned wit wins out in the end. Jesus what a weird story.

The funny thing about this story is that apparently, if such technology existed, the AWB would be just crazy enough to try it. All you need to know about the AWB's belief system is that their leader and founder, Eugene Terre'Blanche, once called the apartheid system in South Africa "too liberal."

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