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After the Downfall
by Harry Turtledove
Night Shade Books, $24.95, 324pp
Published: June 2009

I’m not a really big fan of alternate history but when I do get interested, I don’t think there’s many better than Mr. Turtledove.  But this is not necessarily that; this is more of a “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” type of story. 

A German Wehrmacht Captain is fighting in Berlin in the last days of WWII, defending a museum, when he notices a carved block which promises to be a “joining place between worlds”.  Joking with a comrade about any world being better than where they were at the moment, he plants his butt on the stone.  The next thing he knows he’s falling into a bog.  The very next thing that gets his attention is a spectacularly beautiful blonde woman running for her life pursued by three short, dark and swarthy men who seem hell-bent on catching and killing her.  His next action was almost instinctive as he mowed down the three with his machine gun.  But the woman’s reaction was far from what he might have expected…she stripped off the rags she was wearing and immediately made it abundantly clear that she expected to reward him – right then and there.  She even looked like she’d take offense if he failed to take advantage.  Thus began an unlikely love story.

Hasso Pemsel had never in his wildest imagination imagined a woman like Velona; but then again, neither he nor anyone he’d ever known had ever met a goddess-incarnate.  Velona and her people were recent invaders to the land they were in which was populated by a native race quite different from Velona’s people.  Where Velona and hers were tall and blonde, the natives were short and dark.  And while Velona’s people, the Lenelli, had wizards able to wield true magic, the Grenye could not.  The Lenelli appeared to be at a medieval technology stage while the Grenye were still playing catch-up to the invaders.  The only advantage the Grenye seemed to have was that the invaders would lose their magical ability the closer they got to the Grenye capital.  So when Hasso fell into the mix, his more advanced combat strategies seemed to be just what the Lenelli needed to get this job done soonest.  Truthfully, Hasso’s sympathies and loyalty were easily given to the Lenelli since they felt more similar to Aryans.  And it was easy to transfer hate and contempt to the short, dark untermenschen who seemed so similar to Jews.

His growing love for Velona and his growing respect for her King cement his loyalty to his new country.  His more advanced combat strategies are of particular value to the King since the ammo for his machine gun was never going to last long.

But, when you belong to a vain, entitled race it becomes a particular weakness to underestimate the capabilities of those regarded as less than human.  The Lenelli bear more than a passing resemblance to Nazis in that regard and Hasso begins to see that.  His instincts for wartime security protocols fall on disbelieving and deaf ears; no Lenelli believes his slave would use information they heard or saw, or even betray their masters.  And while the natives may use more primitive weapons, they aren’t stupid.  Hasso knows, that having used new methods on the battlefield once or even twice, to expect the natives to counter.  But when they did, he wasn’t really prepared at all and ended up wounded and captured.

Even before his capture, he had been starting to question the Lenelli’s motives and methods; but bedding a goddess tended to drive those concerns away. Trapped within the Grenye’s lines, he is astonished at their treatment of him.  Recognizing his value, they treat him with respect and care; something he did not expect from primitive natives.  Forced to reconsider his assumptions, he also has to question his easy acceptance of the Lenelli’s genocidal war.  He finds he has reasons to sympathize with both sides and wavers between his vow of loyalty to the Lenelli King and his own desire for self-preservation.

The big question in the story is why magic quits working in the Grenye capital; neither the Lenelli nor the Grenye have a clue.  But if Hasso can figure it out, he has to decide whether to use the knowledge for the Lenelli or the Grenye.

Hasso spends almost every moment comparing his own experience in Hitler’s Germany to his new reality.  He is constantly reevaluating his previously unquestioned beliefs of race.  I recognize that this is natural and anyone in such a position would have to do so just to make sense of an unbelievable situation; but, I did tire of it after a while.  It became a foregone conclusion just which way Hasso would jump but the author felt it necessary to prod him – which I didn’t really like.  The plot was a bit dull and predictable.  Not the worst I’ve read, but not the quality I was hoping for. ~~  Catherine Book

For more titles by Harry Turtledove click here

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