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The WorldWar Tetralogy by Harry Turtledove
Published by Del Ray Books
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
Strictly speaking, the WorldWar Tetralogy is a novel in four volumes rather than four separate novels. The individual volumes do not stand alone, but rather form an overall story arc. The volumes each end on cliffhangers that leave you salivating for the next volume. At least it is now possible to read all four books together -- I read them as they came out, and thus I was kept on pins and needles for almost a year at a time between instalments.
WorldWar: In the Balance is the first of four volumes in this substantial alternate history of what happens when alien invaders gatecrash World War II. "The Alternate History of Alien Invasion" is the subtitle, and that just barely does justice to this fascinating book. Just when you thought that alien invasion stories had been done to death and are suitable only for cheap B-grade knockoffs, a master of the art writes the book that proves everyone wrong.
This novel opens in the early months of 1942, with World War II going strong. Then what should arrive but the spacefleet of the Race, a saurian or dinosaurian species (I suggest dinosaurian because they seem to be warm-blooded, although they are scaly and lay eggs) with heads that resemble those of chameleons. Their eyes can move independently (the picture on the back is misleading, since it shows them as being iguanid), and they have several idioms that reflect this. They intend to conquor Earth and make humans a subject race of their Empire, as they have to two other planets in the past.
When they descend with their superior weaponry, they throw the various nations of Earth in wild disarray. The Warsaw Jews and the Chinese throw in their lot with the saurians, whom the humans nickname "Lizards." Former enemies, including America, England, the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and Japan, find themselves having to set aside their own conflicts in order to join forces and in hopes of forcing the alien invaders off the planet.
There is literally so much going on in this book that it's impossible to adequately summarize it. If it hadn't been for my job, I would've taken an entire day and read it straight through without stopping, that was how great it was. And when I came to the end of this volume, I knew that I was going to be eagerly awaiting the next one.
World War: Tilting the Balance continues to develop the situation and the characters, putting some of them in very uncomfortable positions. A patriotic Russian woman pilot falls in love with a German panzer officer who is beginning to ask himself uncomfortable questions about just what his nation was doing before the Lizards' invasion. Another character, believing that her husband is dead, marries another man only to have her first husband make it through the lines successfully.
All the time several factions of humanity are racing to develop their own atomic weapons and counter the Lizards' technical edge. This volume ends with a nuclear weapon exploding just outside of Moscow and the Lizard high commander wondering what to do now (which implies that Stalin has succeeded in his Bomb project).
Worldwar: Upsetting the Balance picks up where the second left off, with the revelation that the bomb in front of Moscow was indeed of Soviet manufacture, built with the plutonium they got from the Lizards' destroyed stockpile. Not long afterward the Germans follow with their own bomb, which they use to destroy a troop concentration near Breslau, and in retaliation the Lizards destroy Munich, setting up a policy that they will destroy a human city for every bomb humans use against them. Shortly thereafter the Americans destroy a troop concentration in Chicago, and in retaliation the city of Seattle is destroyed (although the Lizards briefly consider and then disregard Denver, not realizing that the secret bomb project is being carried out there).
All the plotlines that were established in the first two volumes continue to be developed and woven together in a manner that is really too complex to recount in a brief review. Some people have complained that the action sags in this book, but I found it so compelling that I stayed up until 2AM reading it, forgetting entirely about working on my thesis or anything else.
WorldWar: Striking the Balance ties up the conflict between humanity and the Lizards. Many of the individual fictional characters work out happy ends for themselves -- for instance, Liu Han rescues her daughter from the Lizard scientist and is able to teach the girl to be a human instead of a little Lizard.
However, on the macro scale there is something that is not entirely satisfactory about the solution -- it seems to come too quickly for all the buildup we've gone through, and it leaves too many things hanging. For instance, where are the surviving members of the Lizard invasion force going when they give up the invasion? I didn't get the impression that they were going to pile back into their remaining spaceships and head back to Home, but neither did I get to find out where they might be taking refuge on Earth (perhaps in Africa or one of the other areas that failed to successfully resist them?). And perhaps most important, what is going to happen when the colonization fleet arrives, expecting to find a pacified world ready for settlement, and instead finds an Earth ready and waiting for them?
Those questions are now being answered in a new trilogy, Colonization. The first installment, Second Contact is out now.
Click to buy WorldWar: In the Balance
Click to buy World War: Tilting the Balance
Click to buy WorldWar: Upsetting the Balance
Click to buy WorldWar: Striking the Balance
Click to buy Colonization: Second Contact
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Review posted December 16, 1998
Updated March 20, 1999