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Turtledove, Harry

Entry updated 8 January 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1949-    ) US author and academic who has made use of his field of scholarship (his PhD was in Byzantine history) to create all his best-known work, including several associational historical novels as by H N Turteltaub. The fantasy Videssos CycleThe Misplaced Legion (1987), An Emperor for the Legion (1987), The Legion of Videssos (1987) and Swords of the Legion (1987), with the Krispos sequence, Krispos Rising (1991), Krispos of Videssos (1991) and Krispos the Emperor (1994), serving as a prequel – follows the exploits of a Roman legion translated to the empire of Videssos, situated in a world where Magic works and Byzantine history is recapitulated. The Basil Argyros stories (1985-1987), set in an Alternate History in which Mahomet became a Christian saint – assembled as Agent of Byzantium (coll of linked stories 1987) – follows the exploits of a medieval secret agent who tends to cause scientific innovations against both his brief and his intentions. Though these books focus on their various charismatic and canny protagonists, Turtledove's thorough understanding of his source material gracefully infiltrates the fun and fantastication.

He began writing work of genre interest with two Sword-and-Sorcery tales as by Eric G Iverson, Wereblood (1979) and its sequel Werenight (1979), which initiate the Gerin the Fox sequence of fantasies ending with Fox and Empire (1998) for details see Checklist; and was soon publishing sf and fantasy with some frequency, sometimes as by Eric G Iverson, some of his better non-series work being assembled as Kaleidoscope (coll 1990). Noninterference (fixup 1988) – in which a galactic survey team runs across Aliens – and Earthgrip (fixup 1991) – in which a reader of sf uses the expertise so gained to save alien races – are, unusually for Turtledove, straight sf books not set in alternate worlds, and were assembled with Kaleidoscope as 3 X T (omni 2004). A Different Flesh (fixup 1988) places hominid survivors (see Apes as Human) in an alternate USA, and A World of Difference (fixup 1989) confronts rival Soviet and US missions (see Cold War) on an alternate Mars – here called Minerva – populated by warring Minervans. Certainly his most important singleton, and perhaps his finest sustained narrative, is The Guns of the South: A Novel of the Civil War (1992), in which the South wins through the aid of Afrikaners who Time Travel with advanced Technologies which are used to defeat the North. After the publication of this dramatic and sustained tale, Turtledove came into his own as the most famous and most prolific authors of Alternate History sequences; though some of the later series come dangerously close to repeating the techniques and motifs of earlier work, two long-running multi-section multi-volume narratives do stand out. Both are remarkable for their ingenuity, and for their almost unremitting (and sometimes savagely melodramatic) focus on War.

The Worldwar sequence is perhaps the more appealing of the two, in that much of the internecine intensity of Turtledove's treatment of purely planetary issues is here partially escaped. The first series within the overall sequence – Worldwar: In the Balance (1994), Worldwar: Tilting the Balance (1995), Worldwar: Upsetting the Balance (1996) and Worldwar: Striking the Balance (1996) – features a World War Two very similar to our own, until the Invasion of an Alien fleet (see Colonization of Other Worlds; Imperialism) changes everything. Before an ultimate stalemate can be painfully achieved, Germany becomes an ally of America (with consequences close to those encountered in many Hitler Wins tales), nuclear conflict devastates the planet, and the aliens come to occupy most of the world beyond the realm of the beleaguered allies, dominant among them being America, Germany and Russia. The second series – the Worldwar: Colonization tales comprising Colonization: Book One: Second Contact (1999), Colonization: Down to Earth (2000) and Aftershocks (2001) – takes place in the 1960s, with the two races occupying the planet vying constantly for supremacy, a conflict in which advances in Technology tend to turn the tables fairly often. Homo sapiens, in line with a deep-rooted American Genre SF assumption, is much quicker-witted and adaptive than the alien foe, who are comfortingly obtuse and very clearly described in accordance with the traditional view that invading alien armies would necessarily be commanded by hidebound, reptile-thick bureaucrats – though in this series individual aliens do show an alarming ability to take on human characteristics, including a passion for Baseball. In the midst of all this, a continuing human campaign to develop a slower-than-light Starship points readers to the final volume of the overall sequence, Homeward Bound (1999), in which human forces arrive on the alien planet, Home, a threat to the balance of power that almost leads to a mutually destructive final war, though the arrival of a second human force in a Faster Than Light ship tips that balance in our favour.

The second multi-volume sequence, an Alternate History whose surtitle is Southern Vision, is based as usual in Turtledove on an ingenious Jonbar Point: when the Union does not discover General Lee's plans to invade Maryland (the historical Special Order 191 did fall into Union hands, and arguably turned the course of the American Civil War), the Confederacy wins the war, maintaining a racist hegemony over much of America during the course of the following war-torn decades (see Race in SF), not finally losing to the USA until the 1920s. The sequence begins with an initiatory tale, How Few Remain (1997), set in 1881, featuring the defeated Abraham Lincoln has become a socialist preacher, and Samuel Clemens (see Mark Twain), still in California, as a radical newspaperman. The following volumes – beginning with The Great War: American Front (1998) and ending with In at the Death (2007), see Checklist for breakdown into sub-series – are much darker than Worldwar and depict a reality significantly bleaker than our own. The sequence depicts at great length the century after 1860 as subject to almost constant War, with extended episodes being couched in Military SF terms. In the meanwhile, on the larger scene, World War One begins, though much of Turtledove's attention is focused on the increasingly savage final conflict between the North and the South, which is recounted in terms of the same futile trench-warfare stalemate that marked the European conflict for years. After 1920, Canada, now an American colony under harsh control, suffers through the Governor-Generalship of General Custer. World War Two then breaks out, with the resurgent Confederacy attacking the North; during this war, Germany and other nations develop nuclear power: bombs duly destroy St Petersburg, Paris, London, and many other world cities.

Later sf series, as indicated above, tend to repetition, though it may be that fantasy analogues – such as the Darkness sequence, beginning with Into the Darkness (1999) and ending with Out of the Darkness (2004), where a version of World War Two is fought in a universe where Magic exists – may have moments of genuine freshness; this may also be the case with the War Between the Cronies sequence, beginning with Sentry Peak (2000) and ending with Advance and Retreat (2004), where the Civil War is also fought in a world with magic. The Crosstime Traffic sequence of Young Adult tales set in a variety of Parallel Worlds, beginning with Gunpowder Empire (2003) and ending with The Valley-Westside War (2008), homages H Beam Piper's Paratime books and parallels Charles Stross's Merchant Princes sequence, which began in 2004. The Lost Continent of Atlantis sequence, beginning with Opening Atlantis (2007) and perhaps concluding with Liberating Atlantis (2009), is initiating by a very large-scale Jonbar Point: the calving off of the eastern seaboard of America, millions of years ago, into a separate continent which is discovered in 1492. A late sequence, the War That Came Early series beginning with Hitler's War (2009), is based on the premise that World War Two begins a year early, due to the refusal of France and the UK to appease Hitler; as the series progresses, with the presumed assassination of Winston Churchill in 1941, a Hitler Wins scenario is hinted at, but is unlikely to prevail in the final volumes. Though not connected to this series, one of his relatively rare singletons, The Man With an Iron Heart (2008), depicts a post-1945 continuation of the conflict under the leadership of Reinhardt Heidrich, who has in this universe survived his 1942 assassination; his guerrilla army bamboozles the war-weary Allies, who are foolishly inclined to abandon this difficult conflict. The clear analogies with Iraq (such analogies are rare in Turtledove's work) provide a peculiarly American take on the Middle East since 2003; it might be noted in this context that facile party-political agendas are avoided through the fact that President Truman, who is attempting to continue to fight, was a Democrat, and that his opposition here is Republican. The Hot War sequence, comprising Bombs Away (2015), Fallout (2016) and Armistice (2017), modifies the post-World War Two scenario; the catastrophe this time around is triggered by President Truman's following the advice of General MacArthur to bomb China, abruptly ending a fragile Cold War. The ensuing conflagration has some resemblance – though here there is of course no Near Future element – in earlier adumbrations of World War Three. Though it is set only marginally into the future, Alpha and Omega (2019) evokes Christian Eschatology in its presentation of ancient Biblical prophecies – including the re-arrival of a figure who may be God – about the End of the World. Three Miles Down (2022), set in the Watergate year 1974, confronts an American expedition Under the Sea with a crashed Alien Starship; the implications of this First Contact may transform President Nixon's America.

Turtledove has never failed to be exuberant when he sees the chance; and although it may be argued that he has not yet written any single book that has fully stretched his very considerable intelligence, it may at the same time be suggested that the overall impact of his longer sequences is indeed considerable; some of his later shorter works, like We Haven't Got There Yet (March 2009; 2011 ebook) or Shtetl Days (2011 ebook), are effective partly through their seemingly effortless (but in fact highly polished) concentration. Beneath the graphic clarity of his descriptions of conflict, and a sweet-tooth for the depiction of Realpolitik in action, lies a sadness that perhaps befits our times, and an intermittent sense that we may be better off in our own taxing world, which we know to be true though sometimes nearly unendurable, than in any realistic alternatives we might try to imagine. But that may be an inherent cost of Thought Experiments, the downside of their cognitive power: that the solutions they generate are thinner than the worlds they analyse. Turtledove won a 1994 Best Novella Hugo Award for "Down in the Bottomlands" (January 1993 Analog). [JC]

see also: Astounding Science-Fiction; Eastercon; Holocaust; Prometheus Award; Sidewise Award.

Harry Norman Turtledove

born Los Angeles, California: 14 June 1949



Gerin the Fox

  • Wereblood (New York: Belmont/Tower, 1979) as by Eric Iverson [title page gives "Erik Iverson" in error: Gerin the Fox: pb/Boris Vallejo]
  • Werenight (New York: Belmont Books, 1979) as by Eric Iverson [Gerin the Fox: pb/Boris Vallejo]
  • Prince of the North (New York: Baen Books, 1994) [Gerin the Fox: pb/Larry Elmore]
    • Wisdom of the Fox (New York: Baen Books, 1999) [omni of the above two, Werenight having been revised: Gerin the Fox: pb/Bob Eggleton]
  • King of the North (New York: Baen Books, 1994) [Gerin the Fox: pb/Ken Tunell]
  • Fox and Empire (New York: Baen Books, 1994) [Gerin the Fox: pb/Ken Tunell]


Videssos: Videssos Cycle

Videssos: Time of Troubles

Videssos: Krispos



Worldwar: Colonization

Worldwar Universe

Southern Vision

  • How Few Remain (New York: Random House Value Publishing, 1997) [How Few Remain: hb/]

Southern Vision: The Great War

Southern Vision: The American Empire

  • Blood and Iron (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 2001) [Southern Vision: The American Empire: hb/Big Dot Design]
  • The Center Cannot Hold (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 2002) [Southern Vision: The American Empire: hb/Big Dot Design]
  • The Victorious Opposition (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 2003) [Southern Vision: The American Empire: hb/Big Dot Design]

Southern Vision: Settling Accounts

  • Return Engagement (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 2004) [Southern Vision: Settling Accounts: hb/Big Dot Design]
  • Drive to the East (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 2005) [Southern Vision: Settling Accounts: hb/Big Dot Design]
  • The Grapple (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 2006) [Southern Vision: Settling Accounts: hb/Big Dot Design]
  • In at the Death (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 2007) [Southern Vision: Settling Accounts: hb/Big Dot Design]

Hellenic Traders

  • Over the Wine Dark Sea (New York: St Martin's Press, 2001) as by H N Turteltaub [Hellenic Traders: hb/Andrew Burward-Hoy]
    • Over the Wine Dark Sea (Rockville, Maryland: Arc Manor (Phoenix Pick), 2013) as by Harry Turtledove [Hellenic Traders: pb/]
  • The Gryphon's Skull (New York: St Martin's Press, 2002) as by H N Turteltaub [Hellenic Traders: hb/Richard B Farrell]
    • The Gryphon's Skull (Rockville, Maryland: Arc Manor (Phoenix Pick), 2014) as by Harry Turtledove [Hellenic Traders: pb/]
  • The Sacred Land (New York: St Martin's Press, 2003) as by H N Turteltaub [Hellenic Traders: hb/John Blackford]
    • The Sacred Land (Rockville, Maryland: Arc Manor (Phoenix Pick), 2014) as by Harry Turtledove [Hellenic Traders: pb/]
  • Owls to Athens (New York: St Martin's Press, 2004) as by H N Turteltaub [Hellenic Traders: hb/Big Dot Design]
    • Owls to Athens (Rockville, Maryland: Arc Manor (Phoenix Pick), 2015) as by Harry Turtledove [Hellenic Traders: pb/]
  • Salamis (Rockville, Maryland: Arc Manor/CAEZIK SF & Fantasy, 2020) [Hellenic Traders: pb/]

The Darkness

The War Between the Cronies

The Scepter of Mercy

Crosstime Traffic

Days of Infamy

Lost Continent of Atlantis

Opening of the World

The War That Came Early


Hot War

  • Bombs Away (New York: Del Rey, 2015) [Hot War: hb/David G Stevenson]
  • Fallout (New York: Del Rey, 2016) [Hot War: hb/David G Stevenson]
  • Armistice (New York: Del Rey, 2017) [Hot War: hb/Susan Schultz]

individual titles

collections and stories

works as editor


Alternate Generals

Best 20th Century Stories

On the Train

  • On the Train (Rockville, Maryland: Arc Manor (Phoenix Pick), 2012) with Rachel Turtledove [anth: in the publisher's The Stellar Guild series: pb/]

individual titles as editor

about the author

  • Warren Rochelle. "The Patriotic Rhetoric of Harry Turtledove's Alternate America" (Summer 2005 Foundation #94) [pp75-86: mag/]


previous versions of this entry

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