Saturday, November 22, 2008

Colonization: Second Contact

Colonization: Second Contact
© 1999 Harry Turtledove
598 pages

A few weeks ago I read the Worldwar series by Harry Turtledove, which depicts what happens when lizard-like aliens who call themselves the Race invade Earth. While they expected to face humans armed with swords and spears, they found instead tanks, machine guns, jet aircraft, and atomic weaponry. Unprepared for this, their planned conquest quickly stalled as they found themselves running short on supplies and constantly stymied by the ever-changing tactics of their human foes. At series' end, the two sides -- human and Race -- agreed to a truce of sorts, wherin the Lizards maintained control of most of the southern hemisphere and China.

Second Contact is set twenty years in the future -- in a world where humans and Lizards have grown used to living beside one another. Driven by Mother Necessity, technological progress has surpassed the progress of the real 1960s. Humanity has left the warm and safe confines of Earth to explore parts of the solar system. We're told Nazis landed on the moon -- "Das ist one small step for a man, one giant leap for the Deutsche Volk!", I'm guessing -- and Americans have landed men on Mars. (I'm not altogether sure why: our main reason for exploring Mars is to see if there was ever life there, to settle of the question of 'Are we alone'. The precense of the Lizards seems as if it would have made that a moot point.)

There are three major spacefaring nations -- the United States, the Greater German Reich, and the Soviet Union. Britain and Japan have also poked around, but they are not major contenders. Hitler and Stalin have both died -- in their places are Himmler (head of the SS, which maintained the Nazis' death camps) and General Secretary Molotov. Earl Warren -- who presided over the "Who Shot JFK?" commission in real life -- is the president of the United States. Now that they are no longer fighting Lizards, the various nation-states are once more subjected to friction. Britain is slowly becoming a client state of the Reich, and the Nazis and Soviets still despise one another. The Lizards, meanwhile, have been fighting problems of their own. The Chinese Civil War never concluded with a Communist victory here (1949 was the year China became "Communist" in real life), but Mao's fighters have not given up -- and they are being supplied by the Soviet Union.

Tensions between humanity and the Lizards increase when their colonization fleet arrives. The fleet of the 1940s was purely for conquest: it was male-only, and contained no supplies for making Earth theirs. The colonization fleet carries building materials and females, however -- the tools for reshaping the Earth the way the lizards want to see it. Interestingly, females do not seem to be relegated to breeding stock: they hold rank in the Race's hierachy. This first book focuses on how Earth has changed in the last twenty years with the precense of the Race, exploring how human cultures and the Race have impacted one another. It also provides plenty of political intrigue: a mainstay throughout the book is the question of what the United States intends to do with the large space station it is building in deep space. Also, an un-named power keeps attacking the Race, which annoys them greatly.

This first book in the Colonization series was extremely interesting. What I like about Turtledove is that his books often employ political and cultural stories -- not just military. I'm not too much interested in military matters, with the exception of looking into how wars shape society. (There are other exceptions: I've written several papers on early air warfare, for instance.) I look forward to continuing the series.

Tosevite males wore robes and headpeices of cloth to shield themselves from the sun the males of the Race found so friendly, while the females swaddled themselves even more thoroughly. The Argentine Big Uglies, who lived in a harsher climate, wrapped fewer cloths around themselves. Fotsev had trouble understanding the reasons behind the difference.

When he remarked on that, Gorppet answered "Religion," and kept on walking, as if he'd said something wise.

Fotsev didn't think he had. Religion and Emperor-worship were the same word in the language of the Race. They weren't the same here on Tosev 3. The Big Uglies, not having had the benfefit of thousands of years of imperial rule, foolishly imagined powerful beigns made in their image, and then further imagined that those powerful beigns had created them in their image rather than the other way around.

It would have been laughable, had the Big Uglies not taken it so seriously. As far as Fotsev was concerned, it remained laughable, but he did not laugh. [...] If [the local Tosevites] thought they had to bow down five times a day to revere the Big Ugly they had writ large in the sky, easier to let them than to try to talk them out of it. [...]

Gorppet must have been thinking along related lines, for he said, "If they are going to have these absurd notions, why do they not have the same ones, instead of arguing about who is right and who is wrong?"

(The Race's relationship with middle-eastMuslims, especially after the rise of militant fundamentalism led by Khomeini, is funny.)

1 comment:

  1. Well alright, I'm interested. Sounds a bit Vonnegut-ish!


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