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    Review of THE GLADIATOR by Harry Turtledove


    TOR, May 2007

    Annarita is a star student, excelling in everything from math to Russian. Her neighbor, Gianfranco doesn't have much interest in school--instead he's fascinated by the games in a weird shop called The Gladiator--especially a game about railroads. But when a math problem asks about trains, all of a sudden, Gianfranco starts to understand. Unfortunately for him, the State Police have discovered that The Gladiator is spreading subversive material and the next thing Gianfranco knows, one of the shop's employees is asking for his help.

    In a world where the Soviet Union won the cold war, and where Peoples Republics form the basis of every nation, getting into trouble with the State Police is serious--and potentially fatal. The only thing going for Gianfranco and Annarita is that nobody would believe the truth--that Eduardo from the shop actually comes from a different timeline, a timeline where the US won the cold war and then discovered cross-time travel. But with the State Police occupying his shop, his chances of getting back seem to be close to zero.

    Author Harry Turtledove (see more reviews of novels by Turtledove) continues his Crosstime Traffic series with a look at a world where typewriters and mimeograph machines are registered as dangerous weapons, where saying the wrong thing can lead to a midnight knock on the door, and where the state is doing everything but withering despite having won in its battle against capitalism. With its teenaged protagonists, THE GLADIATOR should appeal to young adult as well as adult SF readers.

    As with the other Crosstime Traffic stories, Turtledove creates an interesting and plausible future. While I think the best opportunity for Soviet Communism to win in the west probably took place earlier than the Cuban Missile Crisis (the inflection point in this story), strong Communist parties in Italy, France, and Greece could have resulted in a very different outcome than we experienced in our timeline, isolating the US and gradually making us irrelevant. It's certainly instructive to consider how this could have happened and what would have been the likely result.

    THE GLADIATOR has its flaws. The discovery that Annarita's cousin was a criminal should have put Annarita and her father--as well as Gianfranco's family at more risk in a world where secret police have no limits and where correct thinking is essential. And the coincidence of just the right elevator repairmen making the repair and having just the right conversation seemed a bit forced. Then there's Turtledove's frequent use of repetitive phrasing (she wished she could, wished it, but she couldn't) which slows down exposition. It would be a great quirk for a single character but it makes dialogue and interior dialogue seem unnatural when applied to everyone. Still, THE GLADIATOR is an interesting read about an plausible alternate world. It just might also be Turtledove's answer to reviewer accusations that he's some sort of leftist--he certainly didn't make leftists the heroes of this story.

    Three Stars

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