Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Index

DOWN TO EARTH

A novel by Harry Turtledove (2000, Del Rey Books)
Book 2 in the Colonization Trilogy.

Tensions rise as Germany threatens the Race; several research projects grow more intense.

 

 

2+ stars+

Read May 29th to June 7th, 2002  
    A little more interesting than the last book, especially near the end, when the tension gets notched up. But it is more like reading journals written by these people, as we are going through their lives- and not just the interesting parts of their lives.

Most of this book leads up to the war with Germany, on several different fronts. The other storylines deal with their own private little wars. Under almost all circumstances, none of the people in the sixteen different storylines meet at all. All these stories show a good cross-section of the population of the world, from people living in America, the Soviet Union, Germany, in occupied France, Britain, Canada, South Africa, and China, not to mention the ships and colonies of the Race. But while their lives may be interesting at times, they are not interesting at all times.

What's good about this book is that it makes everything that happens feel real. As I said concerning Second Contact, it really looks like the author did a lot of research. I don't know if any of it is true, if the cities are (or were) laid out the way he tells it, or if the "real" people he has borrowed from history would have behaved like this. But what's important, from my point of view, because I don't know any better, is that it feels real, as real as any alien planet might have been, or the shape of Middle-Earth and its peoples.

Concerning all the detail that the author goes into regarding other cities, I think the Canadian cities get the short shrift! Nothing is said of the layout or culture of Montreal, except for the fact that people can speak English, while Goldfarb expected unilingual French. A couple of streets are mentioned in Ottawa, but nothing significant. And I have to wonder why a firm in Edmonton, Alberta, would call itself Saskatchewan Widget Works. Is that the fault of the author, or is there some history of the company that we don't know? Fortunately, he seems to have the Canadian people down right.

Goldfarb's story is typical of the non-war arc in this book. He doesn't really do anything. He has made enemies in Britain; the ginger smugglers are now out to get him, and they try to blackmail him with his Jewish heritage for as long as they can. But thanks to an old friend, he can resign from the Royal Air Force, and emigrate to Canada. He and his wife are stuck in customs for a long time, because the ginger smugglers have friends there, too. But his friend is powerful enough to get him out of that mess, too! So he goes to work at the above-mentioned company, and gets to help invent kids' books with sound, and among other things, call display, which helps track down the the people who will try to kill him, getting them arrested. I liked the way Canada, because it wasn't involved in the war, but was still independent, started the drive to create human items using Lizard technology. I also like the way the human race has advanced so much, but is still stuck in the 1960s, with big cars, and steel chains on the wheels! The author got the weather right on that front!

Another escapee is Monique Dutourd. Living in France, with an SS man who eventually gets her into bed, while still searching for her ginger-smuggling brother, she wants revenge. After a failed assassination attempt, she decides to move out, away from Dieter Kuhn, but still ends up not being her own person, under her brother's black-market thumb. She tries to gain more independence, but is too late, as the Germans start the war and Marseilles is hit with a nuclear bomb. She survives in the underground shelter, but I wonder if Kuhn did, also -probably. Although Monique was slightly interesting, and it showed how occupied France would have coped under German rule, the events were very isolated from the rest of the book.

Lui Han and her daughter, Liu Mei, are also very isolated in this book. After retaking Peking at the end of the last one, the city is taken away from them by the Race. They hide in a village for the rest of the book until they are captured and put in a prison camp. Their whereabouts were revealed by the villagers when Liu Mei destroyed a Lizard shrine to the Spirits of Emperors Past, which the Race had tried to indoctrinate the humans in their territory with. I can see Liu Mei losing her idealistic approach to the world, and perhaps with Communism, and rather enjoyed her thoughts, but they quickly became repetitive whenever her part of the story came up.

Also repetitive was Molotov, leader of the Soviet Union. He worries about the chief of the military "liquidating" him, and had to pretty much share the power, after being rescued from a failed coup at the end of the last book. He meets several times with the Lizard ambassador, trades insults with several dignitaries, and worries about the German situation. But most of it is repetition, repetition, repetition.

Once again, I was ready to skip the sections with Rance Auerbach and Peggy Summers, this time in South Africa. Once again, they are ready to smuggle ginger to the Lizards, but this time they barely escape alive from their deal. They make enough gold to get to Tahiti, where Free France, a totally black market island state, runs ginger and other supplies. Yawn. It also strikes me as unlikely that Atvar would know their names, even if they are known ginger smugglers, after the failed raid.

Slightly closer to the action are Moisse and Reuven Rushie in Jerusalem. Most of the action is from Reuven's point of view, as he tries to get through medical college. Then, after the Race insists that he make reverence to Spirits of Emperors Past, he quits the college and goes to work with his father in a real practice. Reuven gets to realize that real life is not the same as the idealized work that he was studying! He also finally gets to sleep with Jane Archibald, in a theme that continues to develop in this book. There was lots of very descriptive sex between Rance and Peggy, because they had nothing else to do. And here, where the two young people lose their virginity, we get more.

Most of what we hear in the Russie household comes in discussing the Jewish religion, and how they are now forced to pay a tax to enter the synagogue instead of the Lizard's shrine. That tax, and the mass exodus it created on the medical college, makes one of the instructors complain about the policy, stating that "even Moisse Rushie's son", the son of the man for whom the college is named, has quit. Since the Race has a lot of trouble understanding family ties, and sexuality, it doesn't make sense that he would comment on it. For a race that doesn't think about sex, they sure do a lot of thinking about sex!

We hear a lot about what the Muslims feel about being forced to pay to enter a Mosque, as well, through the eyes of Gortepp of the Race. I really liked Gortepp; he was sincere, funny, addicted to ginger, but able to put his own safety ahead of his addiction. And after he captures Kohmeini, an Islamic terrorist (with the author "wink-winking" us), he takes the opportunity to transfer himself out of Muslim territory. I expected the capture to make much more of a difference to the story, and was disappointed not to see the attempts at rescue. But the story focused on Gortepp getting out of there, which was also pretty fun. Gortepp moves to South Africa, where he of course gets into a deal with Rance and Peggy that goes sour. But he isn't caught, and is very happy afterwards, until he gets transferred to Poland when fighting starts again.

The female Lizards Felless and Nesseref don't get much to do here. Felless tries to control her addiction to ginger, but can't and ends up mating with the fleetlord's aides in humiliation. Wouldn't it have made more sense to choose a different humiliation and admit to the addiction than to knowingly go into the situation where the males will be forced to mate with her? She briefly makes her way to Marseilles, where she comes into brief contact with Monique.

Shuttlecraft pilot Nesseref shuttles people back and forth, and even makes a stop in Los Angeles. The most important part she plays is to introduce us to the animals of the Race, both as pets and as pests. She gets the equivalent of a dog, which goes crazy when it can't properly hunt human birds, and gets upset when it can't go for a walk after a nuclear bomb is dropped on a nearby town and the radioactive fallout is too high. The Lizard livestock grazes Earthly lands until they are nearly barren, making the planet look more like Home. It is something that tells me Earth will never be the same, even if the Lizards are somehow pushed off the planet.

But something else tells me that the world will never be the same again, not after Germany decided to attack the Race. The war felt rather rushed to me, coming in the last fifty pages of the book. But they were a dense fifty pages, and at the same time, it made the war feel urgent, as well. I did wonder if the author was trying to make the political landscape more like it was in the '60s at some points. Germany by the end is crushed, with most of its cities going up in mushroom clouds -in fact, most of Europe looks that way, since it was under either German or Lizard control and made for multiple targets.

Like the rest of the book, the war comes about naturally. Fuher Himmler tries to get Russia to join in an attack on Poland, but Molotov declines. When Himmler dies (did the man die in 1965 in actual fact?), a committee takes over, and when a new Fuher eventually comes to the fore, he launches that attack on Poland. Johannes Drucker, who almost lost his wife to the SS because she had a Jewish grandmother in the last book, wonders why the next Fuher, his space program boss, didn't order a complete end to hostilities -but he couldn't. The German people would not have accepted that. He needed to save face -so the end result is not quite the same as the end of the Second World War. Germany has lost its military capability, is subject to inspections, much like Iraq, but it is not carved up, except for losing France. It is not clear whether France will become independent, or Race-controlled. I suspect the latter.

As for Drucker, he comes under the gun again, as an old soldier of his tries to blackmail him about their assassination of an SS man in Striking the Balance. He survives that, but just barely, as his boss orders him into space just as he is supposed to be arrested. I can't figure out why he would launch his missiles at the end, though. It seemed like a contrived way to get him as a Lizard prisoner aboard their spaceship. His homeland was crushed, his family probably dead, so it's true that he had nothing to lose. But he also felt that the war was useless, and didn't blame the Lizards for the mess. Jettisoning his missiles and landing in Germany, where he knew his boss would be sympathetic to him, would have made more sense. And then he could have made sure of the whereabouts of his family.

Mordechai Anielewicz was also close to the action, a Jew in Poland, near the German border. He survives more assassination attempts, his son gets a Lizard pet, and he visits Nesseref in her apartment. He also gets to fight against the Germans when they invade, and watch his home in Lodz turn into a mushroom cloud. Fortunately, he got his family out before that. The next book should see him help to bring things back to a livable state.

Which brings us to the United States. We got a good look at Communism from Molotov's point of view, of Fascism from a couple of viewpoints, and Lizard-held territory from multiple other characters. None of these people understand the American way of doing things. Nobody can figure out why democracy should work, and most of the people in power scorn it -after all, they would certainly not be voted into power if given the chance! But this book, through Sam Yeager, shows that the American way is not as idealistic as its residents think -and isn't so far away from the Soviet or German ways, either. Undoubtedly, Sam finds out that the Americans destroyed the ships of the colonization fleet at the beginning of Second Contact. We don't find out so much, but it is pretty obvious. And I am sure it will come to the attention of Atvar before the series is over. The question is, will Sam survive? He is firmly told by the President that he should butt out, or else... and the threat opens Sam's eyes to what might these days be called "McCarthyism".

Sam speaks about his problems with the Lizard Straha, who helps him with more information, especially that his chauffeur is a spy. But I wonder why the Americans would keep such important, even classified, material on their network at all. Even if the system was guaranteed secure, to have the missile data for the destruction of the colonization fleet stored anywhere seems stupid. Destroy the information -lose the evidence permanently. Why would anybody need to access that information? If anything, anybody who needs to do so should have to show up in person to access it. It only took Yeager a moment to figure out where the archive was, and once he accessed it, only a glance told him what he needed to know. Was it really that clearly spelled out in the archive? I thought he would need months of analysis to figure things out from the date -and at least a math degree. And if the Americans had such thorough data, would the Germans and Soviets have such detailed records, as well? It just seems like a big waste of a mystery.

But the more interesting story involving Sam combines with the story of Kassquit, the human girl being raised on the Lizard starship. They get to meet, and Sam's son Jonathan takes an immediate liking to her, aided by the fact that she doesn't feel the need to wear clothing. He seems to have a pretty good sexual relationship with his girlfriend, readily described by the author, but all that is lost by the proposal of an unimpeded and very willing Kassquit. Jonathan seems to forget completely about Karen, as he and Kassquit make love several times a day, every day through the war with the Germans. That part also felt very rushed, like the author had to get Jonathan up before the war started. And once they actually started having sex, it became a lot less interesting. It was the anticipation, the hormones, and Kassquit's direct manner that was more interesting. The rest felt like a research study- which it was, for Ttomlass.

Sam also takes care of the baby Lizards that he acquired at the end of the last book. They are an interesting research project, also, but make more of a footnote to the story, since Kassquit has existed for twenty years. As he was speaking with Kassquit by email, I wondered why they didn't have instant messaging. The ICQ network existed when this book was written, and the Race has been around long enough for it to make sense. It's not a complaint, but it seems odd that they would have to wait for email to get through every time they wanted to chat.

Finally, another boring part of the book involves Glen Johnson, now a member of the crew of the US spaceship Lewis and Clark. He gets to fly around the asteroid belt, discover that the Lizards are spying on the spaceship, and watch the German spacecraft get destroyed during the war. Another big yawn. I think they are ready to start creating several human colonies, but I don't think they can do it as a complete secret from the Race.

There is not much to say about the book in terms of analysis. There were lots of characters, doing lots of things. But not much of it was all that interesting. Much of the early book seemed to go nowhere. On the other hand, it showed what day-to-day life was like under the "current conditions". The book was very well written, but often extremely repetitive. The novelty of having a world-spanning conflict has definitely worn off. It was so new in the Worldwar saga, but at least there was a goal in that series. Here, I am still not sure what the goal is.

 
   

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