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The Great War: American Front by Harry Turtledove
Published by Del Ray Books
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
The Great War: American Front is the first volume in the tetralogy of an alternate World War I to which How Few Remain is the prelude. In our own timeline, we were very lucky in the World Wars, sheltered by wide oceans from the brutal realities of modern military conflict. Only some of our outlying territories (Hawaii, Alaska, the Phillipines) actually experienced attack or occupation.
In a world where the South successfully secceded, the North American continent faces a far uglier reality. Both the United States and the Confederate States are now linked to the European powers by various treaties that only exacerbate their natural enmity. When a terrorist outrage against Austria-Hungary's heir-apparent sparks war in Europe, both countries hurry to war against one another. To complicate matters, Teddy Roosevelt, the President of the United States, also hungers for revenge against Canada. Thus he sends troops into Canada as well as the Confederacy. Soon they are bogged down in the horrors of trench warfare on two long fronts.
To complicate matters, Socialism has taken root in America in a way it never did in this timeline. A large proportion of the working poor have embraced this philosophy, and furthermore, someone has been smuggling it into the hands of the nominally-emancipated (but heavily restricted) Negro population of the South. Furthermore, the Mormons are far more hostile to the government in that timeline, and will gladly sieze any opportunity to follow the example of the Southern states and leave the Union to practice the tenents of their religion in peace (they have not forgotten General Pope's burning of the homes of polygamists during the Second Mexican War).
Turtledove develops all this in the same grim detail of its prelude, never sparing or prettifying the effects of war on its perpetrators and victims alike. The reader meets a large number of people on both sides, and gets to know each of them so well these creatures of his imagination seem as real as our own friends and neighbors. Thus we really care about what happens to them as the maelstrom of total war blows them about like so much paper. Everything builds right up to the cliffhanger that ends the book.
The story continues inWalk in Hell.
Click to buy The Great War: American Front in hardback.
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Review posted January 30, 1999
Information updated November 23, 1999