Posted by

Allen Adams Allen Adams
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

edge staff writer


In Joe Steele' we trust

Rate this item
(0 votes)

Turtledove's latest foray into alternate history

My affinity for the sub-genre of science fiction that I affectionately refer to as what-if lit is well-documented at this point. Alternate history allows authors to revisit a tipping point in the past not to explain what happened, but rather to extrapolate what could have happened.

Harry Turtledove has stakes his claim as the master of alternate history, meticulously constructing new timelines atop the foundations of these newly-changed events. Filled with recognizable people and places from the annals of the past, these books offer engaging glimpses of possibility.

While he's known for ongoing series, Turtledove's latest 'Joe Steele' (Roc, $27.95) is more of a standalone novel, based on a shorter story of the same name published a little more than a decade ago. The self-contained nature of the story makes it a good choice as an introduction to Turtledove, while its overall quality will prove welcome to the author's extant fans.

As far as Turtledove what-ifs, this one is a doozy. To put it simply: what if Joseph Stalin had been born in America?

Joe Steele is a Congressman from Fresno, a friend of the common man with aspirations for higher office. At the 1932 Democratic Convention, there's a fierce battle for the party's Presidential nomination between Steele and New York governor Franklin D. Roosevelt. But when a mansion fire claims the life of the man known as FDR, Democrats have no choice but to make Joe Steele their man.

After a landslide victory over incumbent Herbert Hoover, Steele ascends to the seat of power a power he wields without compunction. He forces numerous reforms through Congress and rapidly starts remaking the country. It soon becomes clear that any opposition to the new chief executive will come with dire consequences, yet the American people are happy to embrace a strong hand in the Oval Office after the struggles of the Great Depression.

The story unfolds through the eyes of the Sullivan brothers, newspaper writers who have very different experiences with the Steele administration. Charlie's coverage of Steele leads to him slowly being drawn into the inner circle of Steele and his closest aides. Meanwhile, Mike's vocal criticism of the President leads him to become one of the dissident voices that institutional policy is intended to silence.

Through their conflicting viewpoints, the Sullivans paint a wide-ranging picture of America under the rule of Joe Steele a rule that winds up extending farther (both geographically and chronologically) than any Presidency this country has ever seen.

Turtledove unfailingly brings great questions to his work. What if the South had won the Civil War? What if Atlantis was 'The New World?' What if first contact happened during World War II? Great questions, all, but this one is as good as any of them. The notion of Stalin working his way into political power in this country isn't so far-fetched Americans were in dire straits in the 1930s and would likely have been willing to forgive and forgo a lot in exchange for safety and security.

As always, Turtledove seamlessly blends the factual and fictional, with familiar figures whisked down surprisingly sometimes shockingly different paths. It's that blending that makes 'Joe Steele' so wonderfully readable; the author's meticulous research gives the tale that undeniable sense of plausibility that marks the very best of alternate history. He has always been a great builder of worlds; this book is no different.

Ultimately, 'Joe Steele' is one more example of a simple truth - when it comes to what might have been, few can do it better than Harry Turtledove.

Last modified on Tuesday, 14 April 2015 22:24


The Maine Edge. All rights reserved. Privacy policy. Terms & Conditions.

Website CMS and Development by Links Online Marketing, LLC, Bangor Maine