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3 x T

Author: Harry Turtledove
Genre: Sci-fi
Reviewed by Tom Feller

10090405The old Star Trek and Doctor Who TV shows both used the plot device of a law against a technologically advanced civilization interfering in the development of a less advanced one. The conflict between this law and the perceived need to interfere drove the plots of many episodes. The difference was that Captain Kirk always managed to find loopholes in the law, whereas the Doctor simply ignored it when he saw fit and paid the price when the Time Lords finally caught up with him.

The civilization in "Noninterference", the first of two short novels in this collection of stories originally published from 1984 to 1991, also has a law against interference. Naturally, someone violates it. However, Turtledove focuses on the long term consequences of the interference, which those old TV programs rarely examined. Furthermore, there is an attempt to cover up the crime. As any student of political scandals from Watergate to Monica Lewinsky can tell you, the cover-up can cause more problems than the original crime, and that is the case in this story as well.

The second novel is "Earthgrip", which itself consists of three novellas featuring Jennifer Logan. She is a scholar specializing in an obscure branch of literature called 20th Century Science Fiction. Logan applies what she learns from these stories in "real world" situations 1,000 years in the future.

The remainder of this collection consists of thirteen short stories. Although Turtledove is best known for his alternate histories, only two of the stories are in that sub-genre. "And so to Bed" is written in the style of Samuel Pepys and is part of the Sims series in which Turtledove postulates that native Americans never migrated across the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska. Instead, North America is populated with a sub-human species called the "Sims". In "The Last Article", Turtledove imagines what would have happened if Gandhi had met the Nazis.

The others can be classified as fantasy, horror, or science fiction with the exception of "The Girl Who Took Lessons". This rare attempt by Turtledove at mainstream fiction satirizes the concept of self-improvement. Turtledove also rarely attempts horror, but "Crybaby", a story about a demonic baby, and "Gentlemen of the Shade", in which a group of vampires meet Jack the Ripper, show he could work in this genre if he so desired.

The cover illustration was inspired by "The Road Not Taken". The premise of the story is that technological progress is not linear. In other words, it is quite possible for a civilization to be highly advanced in one field and relatively primitive in another, which a group of invading aliens finds out to their misfortune. I especially liked the image of a chamber pot on board a starship. "Hindsight" imagines what would happen if a female science fiction writer traveled back in time to 1953 and used her knowledge of the future to write cautionary tales about Vietnam and Watergate.

In conclusion, I can recommend this book without reservations. There is not a bad story in the collection, and they show off Turtledove's versatility.

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October 28, 2004 in Science Fiction | Permalink

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