Last month J.K.Rowling unleashed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to great public excitement. This was book seven (7) of her series about teenage witches and wizards, and made her the wealthiest woman in the United Kingdom.
Harry Turtledove released a similar concluding book last month, but to less fanfare-but a book that will keep the thoughtful pondering life its ownself. Turtledove’s book, In at the Death, is the conclusion of an alternative history series that encompassed eleven (11) books dating back to 1997.
Turtledove’s series began with How Few Remain, a book looking at the second War of Secession. The pivot point for this story is that Robert E. Lee’s General Order 191 was not lost in 1862. In reality, that order was lost and found by federal soldiers, who turned it over to General McLellan who used the knowledge gained to stop Lee’s first invasion of the North at Antietam in September 1862. In Turtledove’s universe (known to afficianados as Time Line 191) the order was not lost, Lee defeats McLellan at Camp Hill and captures Washington, DC. The Confederacy is recognized by France and Great Britain, and achieves independence.
How Few Remain sets the tone for the series. The USA declares was on the CSA when the Confederacy purchases the provinces of Sonoma and Chihuahua from Mexico, and the European allies assist the CSA to another victory on the condition that slavery is ended. The USA becomes allies with Imperial Germany, and ultimately go on to defeat the CSA, GB, French, Russian alliance in both World War I and World War II. Turtledove shows history waxing and waning, with some events not taking place but with human emotion and drive taking other forms. For instance, National Socialism never occurs in Germany, Hitler becomes a moderately successful artist, with the Jewish Holocaust does not occur.
In Turtledove’s world, a fanatical southern artillery sergeant named Jake Featherstone, convinced that a Socialist revolt by blacks in the CSA during WWI helped defeat the South and also deprived him of promotion leads him into politics. He takes over the Freedom Party in the South and sets off on a path that leads to the “population reduction” of blacks in the CSA. In the meantime the USA has conquered Canada and set up Quebec as a puppet republic.
Both sides end up with the atomic bomb in WWII, which is begun by the South with a blitzkrieg toward the great lakes to try to cut off Yankee industry in the east from raw materials in the west. By the end of the war, Newport News, VA, Charleston, SC, Hamburg, Petrograd, London, Norwich, and Brighton and the western half of Philadelphia are vaporized and Featherston has been shot by a young black man whose father, mother, and sister all died at Camp Determination, the TL-191 version of Auschwitz.
It is a long list of things that Turtledove has occur in his story that did happen in real life, typically done by someone else. he twists facts, events, and thoughts, even grabbing real life language for his own purposes-such as suggesting that after a particularly vicious bombing raid it was as if Atlanta was “gone with the wind”.
But what really sticks out is how the entire series is plausible. Little things, little events, little actions do change things. For want of a nail a kingdom can fall.
The point? Don’t ever underestimate the importance of what you do. Minor kindnesses can yield major results, and minor flaws can have major reprecussions.
Seize chances to do a kindness. Make an effort to be nice, and avoid gratuitous indignities. We never know for certain what reprecussions will come from what we do…and while they might not lead to a world war, we know they can have reprecussions we do not anticipate.
So, as Phil Esterhaus used to say, “Let’s be careful out there”…
Now back to my regular collection of posts about politicians, politicos, and others who find their way through each day by ignoring the advice I just offered…