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    Review of DRIVE TO THE EAST by Harry Turtledove


    Del Rey, August 2005

    The south has cut the United States in half, blitzkrieging to Lake Erie, but the US fights on. Recognizing that the Confederate States lacks the manpower or industrial resources of the north, Confederate President Jake Featherston and his generals come up with an ambitious plan to cripple the US's industrial capacity by striking at the heart of her steel industry--Pittsburg. With new barrel (tank) designs, the south rips another dramatic offensive--before getting bogged down in house-to-house fighting in Pittsburg. In the meantime, the US is filled with other frustrations. Japan has captured Midway and is striking at the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), Utah is in rebellion as the Mormon community attempts to create an independent country in the heart of the American west, and occupied Canada, the only route connecting the east coast with the west, is in revolt.

    In the south, Featherstone has embarked on an ambitious plan to eliminate the black population entirely, replacing black workers with machinery and with Mexican guest workers. Although the US protests against Confederate genocide, few are that sympathetic. The plight of the black community is seen as an internal Confederate problem.

    As with most Harry Turtledove alternate history (see more reviews of novels by Turtledove), the story is told from multiple viewpoint characters. Civilians, enlisted soldiers on both sides, politicians, generals, terrorist bombers, concentration camp guards, and black workers make up the cast. When this system works, it provides a kaleidoscope view of an entire world--and it works quite well in DRIVE TO THE EAST. Turtledove has reigned in his cast to a manageable number, killed off some of the more annoying, and narrowed the focus of his work.

    Students of history will enjoy Turtledove's continued exploration of a world where the south won the Civil War, allied with France and England, and in turn created an alliance between the US and Germany/Austria-Hungary. Turtledove doesn't hesitate to use history from our own timetrack to reflect back on his alternate. The Pittsburg offensive closely parallels Hitler's Stalingrad offensive during World War II, and Featherstone's genocide parallels Hitler's 'final solution' attempt to wipe out Europe's Jewish population.

    Turtledove is no bright-eyed utopian. Although the U.S. is clearly the more sympathetic side here, Turtledove's technique of focussing on multiple viewpoint characters lets us see the war from multiple sides. From their standpoint, the actions of terrorist bombers, genocidal maniacs, and ordinary soldiers on every side in the war make sense--seem almost inevitable.

    A few flaws marr Turtledove's work. Featherstone's decision to continue the Pittsburg offensive against the advice of his generals seemed inconsistent with the character Turtledove has created--although being necessary to exactly parallel the Stalingrad operation. One of Turtledove's style techniques--the repeated use of phrasology along the lines of 'The bed might have been more comfortable than if he'd been sleeping on wood slats. Might have, but might not have,' gets repetitious and tends to draw the reader from the story. Similarly, repeated information about both sides shooting up Red Cross ambulances, about the peculiar gurgle of poison gas shells, and the discomfort of the rubber protective suits used to protect against nerve gas helped bloat the book.

    Fortunately, however, these flaws don't detract from the overall power and scope of Turtledove's DRIVE TO THE EAST. DRIVE was the best Turtledove alternate history I've read in years.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 10/04/05

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