Review of THE VALLEY-WESTSIDE WAR by Harry Turtledove (see his website)
CROSSTIME TRAFFIC #6
Tor, July 2008
It wasn't a particularly beautiful world. In this timeline, nuclear war had broken out between the US and the Soviet Union during 1967, destroying both nations. Now, the residents of Los Angeles struggle to survive, and squabble--while historians from Crosstime Traffic try to determine what actually went wrong--what made this timeline veer into war rather than follow the many paths leading to peace. Along with two adult historians is their daughter, Liz. Liz hopes to get a leg up on her fellow college students with some field experience but when war breaks out between The Valley and Westside (where she and her parents live, near the UCLA campus), Liz gets more closely involved in actual history than she ever wanted.
As far as Dan is concerned, the Westsiders were asking for it. According to treaty, the passes between the Valley and Westside were to remain open, but Westside closed them and demanded a toll. When the Valley is able to bring a pre-nuclear heavy machine gun into the fight, the Valley's armies quickly drive Westside's further south. Dan can't help being fascinated by Liz--for one thing, she's a very pretty girl. The longer he spends with her, though, the more he thinks she's more than just pretty. There's something strange about her, something that doesn't quite fit into the world as he knows it. What Dan doesn't know is that his curiosity just might cause big troubles for both Liz and himself.
Author Harry Turtledove (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Turtledove) continues his CROSSTIME TRAFFIC series with another look at the many paths that time could have taken--and perhaps did in one timeline or another. 1967 was a period of crisis in the United States and in the cold war. American bombers raided North Viet Nam, bombing ships and harbor facilities that surely contained Russian and other foreign sailors. Czechoslovakia lurched toward its famous 'Prague Spring,' and young Americans, radicalized by the apparently pointless war, marched the streets and plotted both non-violent and violent resistance. It's certainly plausible that something could have pushed that America, or that USSR, over the edge.
Turtledove uses the microcosms of a San Fernando Valley-based city-state waring with a Westwood Village city-state (in turn supported by a San Pedro city-state) to point out the silliness of much faux-patrotism, and also raise a warning flag about the fragility of the veneer of science, democracy and reason that sustains US society. By doing so in the context of a young adult-oriented story, Turtledove provides a welcome counter to the gingoism-heavy SF that seems to fill every shelf.
I would have liked to see a bit more of a resolution of some kind to the story. We know Dan's life is changed, but we don't know how much, or what he's really going to do about it. Liz, in contrast, seems content to move along, recognizing that people forced to survive in war-damaged universes, will do a lot of suffering for the sins of their ancestors.
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