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Worldwar: In the Balance

by Harry Turtledove

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Tosev Timeline (1), Worldwar (1)

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1,3091610,059 (3.51)22
War seethed across the planet. Machines soared through the air, churned through the seas, crawled across the surface, pushing ever forward, carrying death. Earth was engaged in titanic struggle. Germany, Russia, France, China, Japan: the maps were changing day by day. The hostilities spread in ever-widening ripples of destruction: Britain, Italy, Africa...the fate of the world hung in the balance. Then the real enemy came. Out of the dark of night, out of the soft glow of dawn, out of the clear blue sky came an invasion force the likes of which Earth had never known--and worldwar was truly joined. The invaders were inhuman and they were unstoppable. Their technology was far beyond our reach, and their goal was simple: Fleetlord Atvar had arrived to claim Earth for the Empire. Never before had Earth's people been more divided. Never had the need for unity been greater. And grudgingly, inexpertly, humanity took up the challenge. In this epic novel of alternate history, Harry Turtledove takes us around the globe. We roll with German panzers, watch the coast of Britain with the RAF, and welcome alien-liberators to the Warsaw ghetto. In tiny planes we skim the vast Russian steppe, and we push the envelope of technology in secret labs at the University of Chicago. Turtledove's saga covers all the Earth, and beyond, as mankind--in all its folly and glory--faces the ultimate threat; and a turning point in history shows us a past that never was and a future that could yet come to be.… (more)
  1. 20
    Out of the Dark by David Weber (tottman)
    tottman: Both are excellent stories of an alien invasion and the human resistance that follows. Out of the Dark is self-contained but with the possibility of sequels. Worldwar is the first of a 4 part series, all well worth reading.
  2. 01
    Into the Darkness by Harry Turtledove (romula)

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» See also 22 mentions

English (15)  French (1)  All languages (16)
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
A doorstop-sized novel - the first of a series - wherein World War II is rudely interrupted by an alien invasion. Former enemies have to join forces to combat the greater foe. The history is fairly well done, though it's not entirely clear from the internal narrative exactly what year it is, and the passage of time tends to go a little by the board; about three-quarters of the way through the book, the Luftwaffe turns up with jet aircraft, which is a little bit of a surprise because we've been down and dirty with the action most of the time and haven't had time to relate the story back to "our" history. But this is a minor criticism.

The human characters take a little time to get into their stride, but they are well enough drawn. Turtledove's historical background shows, and apart from a couple of minor slips (British characters referring to the season as 'Fall' instead of 'Autumn', and an RAF crewman with the surname Whyte who, for some unknowable reason, has not been nicknamed "Chalkie" by his colleagues) the technical and historical details are reasonably solid. Some of the major viewpoint characters have their preconceptions well and truly challenged; and one plot strand deals with the experience of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto and their reaction to the aliens' attack on the Germans; the main Jewish character, a rabbi, only realises almost too late that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" is only ever a temporary situation.

The aliens are quite sympathetically written. They are reptilian, and come from a long-established race that has held control over their world for many tens of thousands of years. They have done this by careful forward planning and maintaining strict adherance to protocol and precedence; they have already conquered two other worlds and so consider themselves masters of the universe. Unfortunately for them, their only reconnaissance of Earth was carried out in medieval times, and the shock of finding out that some races progress far more rapidly than they expected is well put over, to the extent that the reader can easily find themselves having some sympathy with the invaders. By the end of this first novel, they have been fighting - and slowly losing - an asymmetrical war and beginning to reach the end of their resources as they never anticipated needing to actually fight to hold the world - and a colonisation fleet is only a few years behind...

I found this novel far less of a slog than its length of some 650 pages suggested, though I do wonder how the story will be sustained over the next three volumes. ( )
2 vote RobertDay | Feb 21, 2019 |
This is an interesting book that explores one of the major themes in Science fiction: can the human race co-operate when faced with an alien threat. Turtledove's choice of WWII as a setting is good, and he does seem to have done his research. He does a good job setting out a fine choice of human divisions to be sealed before we can all get the nasty aliens and the books are a fine sustained effort. His constant exposure of the pre-WWII level of anti-Semitism may be jarring to some readers, but it was that bad, honest! So this major series starts well. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Sep 15, 2013 |
My reactions to reading this novel in 1994. Spoilers follow.

Turtledove sets the novel in 1942 when the free nations of the world are struggling against the totalitarian systems of Nazism and Communism. At that time – in June 1942 to be precise – aliens show up. They are intent on conquering all of Earth.

The central theme of this book is the same question that Britain and America faced in allying with Russia against fascism: Is the devil you know better than the devil you don’t? For a peasant in the Ukraine, can aliens be worse than the German armies’ path of murder and destruction? Should Russia actually help Nazi Germany develop the A-Bomb? Should America work with the Japanese? And, most heart-wrenching of all (and the most powerful conflict in the book) should the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto actually help their Nazi oppressors against the “Lizards?”

This is a long, but never dull, novel that features a large cast of both real and fictional characters through whose eyes we see the various political and military theaters of the war. Oddly, most of the real characters appear on stage briefly and aren’t terribly interesting in themselves. The exceptions are Otto Skorzeny and George Patton. All the military action in this book is well-done, and Skorzeny leads a daring commando raid to retrieve spilled weapons grade uranium from a destroyed alien “Race” ship. This marks at least the second appearance in sf of Skorzeny. He was in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Inferno.) The ship was destroyed by the huge Nazi artillery piece Dora – Turtledove doesn’t give an adequate impression of exactly how many men were needed to operate and support Dora. Another bit of WWII esoterica from our own history involves the Russian ploy of using bomb carrying bombs to destroy tanks. Here it works. In our history, the project was a complete failure since the dogs were accidentally conditioned to home in on the shape of Russian tanks and the smell of Russian fuel and not Nazi tanks. The winter battle at novel’s end where Patton defeats a large alien army on the plains of Illinois was well done, and a sense of Patton the man is conveyed. Another real character is a man I’d never heard of before – Mordechai Anielewicz. He’s a chemical engineer who turns out to be a clever guerilla leader during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw.

In addition to the fictional characters providing a viewpoint for the war, most of them are shown learning something about themselves, the world, and confronting their hatreds and prejudices. Panzer Major Heinrich Jäger finds himself falling in love with Russian Air Force pilot Ludmila Gorbunova. The Jewish guerillas he works with in recovering alien uranium force him to think about the Nazi atrocities he’s turned a blind eye to. A Chinese peasant woman is a victim of not only Japanese attacks (there aren’t any really sympathetic Japanese characters in this novel) but is also exploited by a native man and captured by aliens. Yet, she discovers she can be as smart and as adaptable as any man, and finds love (after being widowed and her child killed by the Japanese) with Bobby Fiore, an American minor league baseball player who surprises himself by falling in love with her and being excited about the prospect of having a child with her. (Indeed, I thought having so many American characters as members of a baseball team was a nice, original touch – not many baseball players in sf stories – as well as playing on Turtledove’s love of baseball.) His teammate, Sam Yeager, begins to think about the place of America’s blacks as he evacuates Chicago through black slums and sees how blacks react – and are reacted to – by troops fighting the Lizards. He also has a lot of fun helping out in the early stages of the Manhattan Project as well as being guard/caretaker/liaison/sort of friend to two captured Lizards. His years (and I liked this touch, another homage of Turtledove’s to the genre he loves) of reading sf pulps – especially those atomic stories (though he quickly realizes sf pulps are no substitute for real science education) – have equipped for this and for thinking about the consequences of an alien invasion. He is the book’s most engaging character along with Moishe Russie.

Russie is an ex-medical student in Warsaw who is revered by the Jews in the ghetto since the alien invasion seems to be an answer to his prayer for deliverance. Understandably, the Jews cooperate with the aliens against the Nazis. However, as time goes by, they realize that their radio broadcasts detailing Nazi atrocities are not widely believed in the rest of the world where the struggle goes on to avoid the alien yoke. Indeed, they are seen as collaborators by most. Russie also comes to realize that he is just a pawn for the Lizards. He learns that humanity, like the other two intelligent races conquered by the Race in their history, will never be an equal in the Lizard empire. In the most agonizing and powerful section of the book, Russie decides to sacrifice himself, his family, his neighbors, and co-religionist and refuse to acquiesce to Lizard demands. It’s better, he decides, that the Jews suffer rather than all humanity end up as slaves. (The Lizards are unwilling/unable to carry out their threats against his family. However, they edit his recording of defiance into another propaganda broadcast). David Goldfarb, an RAF radarman, dwells on his Jewish heritage and the pleasures of life sweetened by the prospect of death as he flies what are, in effect, AWACS missions against the Lizards. (They are necessary because the Lizards, of course, fly jets. Most of the military tech of the Lizards is about equivalent to modern weapons and munitions.) However, he’s mostly there to give a view of the Lizard-Human war on the Western European front (and the developments in the Axis-Allied war there). There are also many other characters, all interesting if minor. I especially liked the American soldiers (many WWI vets or members of that baseball team) battling aliens in America in well done scenes which capture the emotions I suspect men seeing combat for the first time feel. The combat scenes where Jäger and his fellow tankers exploit the rigid tactics of the Lizards to defeat them (at least on a small level in a few engagements) even with inferior equipment.

The aliens are also well done (if you accept, like all of Turtledove’s aliens, they only deviate from human psychology on one or two points), sympathetic, and interesting. We see the war from the point of view of some alien tankers, an alien captured and tortured by the Japanese, an alien intelligence analyst, and the commander of the expedition. The aliens two defining characteristics are an extreme conservatism and an extreme rigidity which makes them incapable of imagining scenarios that deviate from past experience and very slow to adapt to them. After conquering two other races with no problem, the aliens expect to walk over us in no time. They last reconnoitered Earth in the twelfth century and fully expect it to be unchanged. Of course, they get a rude awakening. There are shades of Vietnam here as the Lizard forces rapidly become demoralized after facing an opponent much better armed, much more adaptable, and much more stubborn than thought. Not only are the Lizards slow to change their rigid, predictable tactics, but they face strange new weapons that, in their technological state, they never considered. Specifically, they find the concept of artillery an unexpected alternative to missiles – though Germany is developing the latter. Coming from worlds of much less water, the concept of a navy is totally alien to them, and they never really do catch on to the military and logistical value of sea transportation. Further adding to the Afghanistan/Vietnam analogy is the Lizard addiction to ginger first fostered by a Chinese collaborator who eventually pays for this with his life when the intelligence analyst alien, Drefsab, kills him. At first I thought this was a cliched touch – aliens conveniently addicted to common Earth substances – but I think Turtledove is simply building on the above analogy. Some lizards eventually began to question whether they should even have tried to invade. Others suggest nuking Earth – the aliens have lots of nukes – but the commander refuses. The colony ships are close behind, and he’s not about to be the first commander of a conquest expedition to not be able to carry out his orders.

However, the novel is subtitled “In the Balance” and the aliens start to understand important things about humans. Drefsab speculates Earth’s oceans and mountain ranges fueled a technological arms race among Earth empires which couldn’t easily conqueror their neighbors. (I suspect historian Turtledove got this idea from historian William McNeill’s The Pursuit of Power.). He correctly reasons that human sexuality and families are the basis of our societies and politics. (Lizard males do everything in their Empire with anonymous mothers – Lizards only mate in season – being reserved for reproduction. There is an ominous implication that the Lizards will start to effectively terrorize man. At novel’s end, the humans are making progress on an A-Bomb and Patton gives the Lizards a major defeat in America, but the Lizards have discovered the importance of petrochemicals to man’s war machine and begin to effectively target refineries. Still, the aliens aren’t all bad. The alien commander is genuinely horrified by Treblinka and sees man as needing saving from his own savagery. He can’t understand why the Jews would aid their old oppressors rather than submit to the Lizards. This is an exciting, well told book despite a lot of characters. It gets a lot of strength from its inherent conflict. But Turtledove also is good at bringing his world to life with details and well-realized characters. I think his talent and this story could sustain a series of good books not only on the war but its effects on human psychology, politics, and technology after (presumably) the aliens are defeated. ( )
1 vote RandyStafford | Mar 25, 2013 |
I was looking for a new series to start and I had read reviews of the books in LT. The Martha Canfield Library had the first book of this series in the stacks so I check it out. I found the book to be well written and the premise of the story interesting. In many science fiction books only one or two characters are not two dimensional, this tale has many and I find this fascinating. Can't wait to read the nex book in the series. ( )
  BobVTReader | Sep 21, 2012 |
The Worldwar series is a great example of how suspension of disbelief should happen. It is about reptilian aliens invading Earth during World War 2, but despite that, it's very realistic in nearly every other aspect. The author quite obviously spent countless hours researching every aspect of WWII and fitting them into a story that makes historical sense, but manages to be entertaining. The tanks and guns work like they should, the war, at least at the beginning, was going like it really did, and the people seemed historically accurate. The incongruity between that realism and evil alien conquerors is what makes the books interesting to me.
The book switches between the perspectives of six or so main characters as they go through world war 2. Among them are Americans, a Russian, a Nazi that really isn't that bad of a guy, a chinese peasant girl, a pair of polish jews, and the leader of the alien invasion fleet. They all have their own perspectives and problems, but the events that happen in the war tie the stories together, and each character is so different that it is only slightly confusing. The "point of view" characters all act like real people most of the time, especially in light of the important decisions they often have to make. The worst complaint that I have is that the human characters have sex every forty or fifty pages whether or not they are in a situation where it's appropriate or sane. --Joe C-J
  FolkeB | Mar 28, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Harry Turtledoveprimary authorall editionscalculated
Eggleton, BobCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Watts, StanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Fleetlord Atvar strode briskly into the command station of the invasion fleet bannership 127th Emperor Hetto.
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