Al Fin Affictionado

A Combination of Original Fiction and Reviews of Fiction Interesting to Al Fin and Contributors All Works Copyright as of publish date, AlFin2100 blog syndicate

Location: North America

Primary interest is seeing that the best of humanity survives long enough to reach the next level.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Harry Turtledove: The Gladiator

Harry Turtledove is best known as the author of a number of "alternate history" science fiction novels. The Gladiator is a 2007 Turtledove novel, the fourth in a series labeled "Crosstime Traffic." It is set in an alternative timeline on Earth, where the Soviet Union won the cold war and is now the global hegemon. Specifically, it is set in Northern Italy, in the Italian People's Republic.

The main characters are Gianfranco--the son of a Communist Party functionary--and the daughter of a Milanese physician, Annarita. Under Italian Communism, life is not quite as bleak as the more efficient Communism of the Germans or the Russians. Not as bleak as Oceania in 1984, or as modern day North Korea or Cuba. But Turtledove's communist Milan is not a happy place.

The secret police rule the streets. Students inform on students, and family members denounce other family members to the authorities. You must watch what you say at all times.

But an aberration appears on the streets of Milan. A game shop (The Gladiator) where even the children of good communists may play capitalist games, and learn to run a society based upon markets, rather than five year plans from the central committee. The main characters become involved with the game shop--Gianfranco as a player and Annarita as a defender of the shop before the Young Communists at school.

When the shop is raided by the Security Police, all of the workers at the shop escape across Timelines except for the front clerk Eduardo, who is stuck in the world communism timeline. The rest of the story is about the efforts of Gianfranco and Annarita to assist Eduardo in returning to his home timeline.

The first half of the book is fairly entertaining, with teenage characters providing the energy and a hint of romance. As the issue of alternate timelines enters the plot, the narration becomes less illustrative and more expositive. That is generally the sign of a writer rushing through an assignment, or the sign of a writer who has not learned any better. Turtledove knows better.

A major plot flaw involved Eduardo being "stuck" in the dismal timeline, with no way of communicating with other crosstimers. If one is to assume the technology advantage of the capitalist crosstimers in terms of computing and timeline crossing, one should assume advantages in communication technologies that would allow stranded crosstimers to request extraction.

This is one of my largest pet peeves in fiction writing. An author who intentionally leaves a glaring plot loophole, or forces a character to behave stupidly out of character, just to create the proper plot twist.

I enjoyed Turtledove's "Guns of the South," which had a more entertaining narrative than "The Gladiator." I suspect that once an author starts down the road of writing "series fiction," she is tempted to cut corners. It has been many years since I have read a Turtledove novel. It will likely be years more before my next.


Harry Turtledove: The Gladiator


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