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    Review of GUNPOWDER EMPIRE by Harry Turtledove (see his website)


    TOR, December 2003

    Jeremy and Amanda Solters thought they'd just be spending summer vacation with their parents in an alternate timeline. In a near-future earth which has discovered cross-timeline travel, this is pretty standard. Our earth needs the food and resources that can be taken from other timelines and it also gives scientists and researchers a chance to really get their hands on history. When the Solters' parents have to return to their home timeline, Jeremy and Amanda are stranded in a Roman Empire where Agripola didn't die on schedule, where Augustus's conquest of Germany was successful, and where Rome still dominates Europe, threatened only by Lithuania in the north and Persia to the east.

    Big and slow-moving empires (Gunpowder Empires) have dominated a significant part of Earth's history as they do in this alternate timeline. In our own history, the breakup of Rome created a number of smaller nation-states whose frequent wars gave rise to the cult of innovation and also allowed free-thinking scholars refuge if they fell out with their current government. In this alternate timeline, Roman tradition slowed scientific development.

    GUNPOWDER EMPIRES follows the largely abandoned tradition of writing serious SF for young-adult readers. Author Harry Turtledove (see more reviews of novels by Turtledove) writes an approachable, almost easy-read alternate history that still manages to touch on significant moral issues (although slavery is the obvious one, it isn't really a lesson that modern readers are likely to find a lot of controversy about. More interesting is his discussion of cultural relativism--as in Jeremy's abhorance of fur coats but unthinking willingness to eat meat).

    Even recognizing that GUNPOWDER EMPIRE is intended for young readers, I found the simplistic dialogue and the frequent repetition condescending. Also, although this is a personal preference, I prefer stories where the characters have more of a story goal. Jeremy and Amanda didn't really have anything they were trying to do, any ticking clock that they needed to work against. Instead, they merely attempted to stay alive while warfare broke out around them, and dealt with their feelings on observing a world that is different from our own, but that has many of the same characteristics.

    GUNPOWDER EMPIRE doesn't stack up well against the great young-adult SF of Andre Norton or Robert Heinlein, but it's a good try and an interesting bit of alternate history.

    Two Stars

    Reviewed 4/04/04

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