26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Present in Turtledove's alternative past
There is a good deal to like in Turtledove's latest installment of his ongoing alternative history saga of a divided America. The second volume of the "Settling Accounts" series picks up right where the last one left off, with the United States and the Confederate States at war once again. The American president is dead and the Confederate drive through Ohio has split...
Published on August 10, 2005 by Mark Klobas
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Drive to the East? More like a crawl...
Harry Turtledove just drives me crazy sometimes. He can come up with some really interesting plots and characters, but his writing just makes me climb the walls sometimes. The plot itself has to be very interesting in order to grab me (which is why I only read one of his series). Settling Accounts: Drive to the East is just like Return Engagement with one exception:...
Published on October 17, 2005 by David Roy
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Drive to the East? More like a crawl...,
Harry Turtledove just drives me crazy sometimes. He can come up with some really interesting plots and characters, but his writing just makes me climb the walls sometimes. The plot itself has to be very interesting in order to grab me (which is why I only read one of his series). Settling Accounts: Drive to the East is just like Return Engagement with one exception: my annoyance meter shot through the roof. Turtledove is known for his excessive repetition, but this book just took that repetition to a new level. Add to that the clunky prose and bad dialogue, and you get a book where you really want to know what happens but really have to struggle to get there.
As I have said before about this series, the plotting is wonderful. There are a few too many obvious choices, like having another "Stalingrad" and having Featherston act too much like Hitler in all respects. Overall, though, I like what Turtledove has done with it. There are some little things that bothered me, such as why the there doesn't appear to be any US troops west of Ohio other than in the extreme southwest and fighting in Utah. The Confederates split the country in two, but in reading about what happens, they don't seem concerned at all about anything west of Ohio. The "drive to the east" from the title of the book takes up everything. The US is attacking in Virginia, but that's stalled. What about Illinois and Iowa? Overall, though, Turtledove gives us enough viewpoint characters that we get to see most of what's going on in North America, and that's a good thing. There is one area that we don't get to see, however, and I think that's a shame. I won't reveal it, because it will reveal a character death, but I will say that this character's death happens at just the perfect time to rob us of getting a viewpoint of what's happening in a certain segment of the war. I'm sure Turtledove had his reasons, but it disappointed me.
Especially chilling is that we see the "Final Solution" from the point of view of two characters that we have grown to know over a period of 8 books, characters that we may not love, but we do know. We've seen their prejudices, but having become familiar with them, it's hard to swallow them buying into all of this (not to mention that one of them actually is the idea-man behind it!). It's easier to look at monsters like that when we don't know anything about them, and I found those scenes uncomfortable, but in a good way. I like it when an author can do that to me.
Everything above was great, and it made me really want to read the next book. He left a couple of characters on cliffhangers, killed off a couple of other characters, and gave us a new viewpoint character. I liked how we got the black experience with two men who are in the thick of all the fear that this atmosphere brings.
Yet this book was a struggle to get through. First, Turtledove's style, at least in this series, is a "down home country bumpkin" kind of style, even in the narration. The dialogue is the same way, and it was extremely irritating. Too many "I'd like to say you are wrong, but I can't, because you're right" type of statements. Most of the prose just grated on me. But this is par for the course with Turtledove, at least for me.
Also par for the course is the amount of repetition, both in dialogue and narration. However, Turtledove must have hit the "overdrive" button on this one, as it is almost everywhere in this book. I can't count the number of times he mentions men looking around for a ditch to hide in when airplanes are above. I wish I could tell you how many times, when we're either looking at Featherston or Potter (the spymaster), that we hear the wrestling metaphor for the current situation. Ideally, the Confederate surprise attack would have knocked the US out of the war immediately, but since the US has refused to give in despite being divided, the Confederacy is now wrestling the US in a match it can't win without a knockout blow. Turtledove teases us by mentioning, yet again, Sam Carstens' need for zinc oxide to avoid sunburn, but then he only mentions it one more time in the book. I thought we were saved, but instead, he decides to repeat everything else in the book. At almost 600 pages now, this book could have been a bit shorter and less padded without all of this.
It's a really good thing I care about most of the characters (now that Turtledove has killed off most of the annoying ones), or I wouldn't have been able to finish the book. As it was, Drive to the East was a slog, like walking through the mud of No-Man's Land in the Great War (which he also continually references). I'm in this story to the end, as I really want to see how it turns out (and whether Atlanta or Charleston is going to get nuked). But my head may be horribly bruised by the time I'm done with it, from banging my head against the wall too much.
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Present in Turtledove's alternative past,
There is a good deal to like in Turtledove's latest installment of his ongoing alternative history saga of a divided America. The second volume of the "Settling Accounts" series picks up right where the last one left off, with the United States and the Confederate States at war once again. The American president is dead and the Confederate drive through Ohio has split the U.S. in two. Yet with a new president the war continues, and Turtledove entertains with his own version of the Second World War, following a number of characters from the previous volumes as they fight and live through the conflict.
There is an interesting new note to this volume. The Mormon revolt in Utah - an ongoing subplot that dates back to the initial volume in the series - produces a new weapon that is more familiar to readers from today's headlines than from histories of World War II. It seems that Turtledove has decided to introduce an element of 21st century warfare to his 1940s battlefield as a way of commenting on current events, suggesting his own attitudes to today's violence. It will be interesting as well to see if he develops this idea further in the next volume.
Yet as enjoyable as the novel is, it suffers from a degree of sloppiness. Some of the sloppiness is error borne of too little research - I doubt that his alternate U.S. would name a destroyer escort after a Southerner, for example - while some seems to be of exhaustion. Compared to the initial volumes of the series there seems to be a growing degree of repetitiveness in this book, not just of the last installment (a little understandable due to the need to refresh readers from what happened previously) but within the book itself. Observations and even plot developments are recycled and rehashed almost as if Turtledove is simply trying to fill space. While I'm as eager for the next volume as any other fan of the series, I would be willing to wait a little longer if it led to a novel of the caliber of "How Few Remain." Though this book may develop the tale he started with that work, it seems to be a little hollow by comparison.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pretty good, but not as good as it could have been,
I've been reading this entire series with pleasure. Unfortunately, there are a few things in this particular book that jar me.
I'm a retired U.S. Navy Chief so I know how warships operate. Turtledove emphasizes that the mustang Lieutenant, Sam Carsten, doesn't know shiphandling. Apparently, Turtledove thinks that shiphandling means standing at the wheel and steering the ship. Officers don't do that. In the U.S. Navy, helmsmen are junior seamen. The Officer of the Deck (OOD) directs them. That's because shiphandling involves a whole lot more than just steering. Navigation, ship's speed, and general shipboard routine are controlled by the OOD. He (nowadays, or she) cannot get distracted by the full-time job of keeping the bow pointed in the right direction.
Turtledove seems to think that his readers can't remember details. Believe me, Harry, we don't have to be told every 20 pages that Northern tobacco tastes like horse droppings and Southern tobacco is ambrosial. We don't have to told time after time that Yossel Reissen's aunt is Congresswoman Blackford but he doesn't use that connection because it wouldn't be right. We only have to be told once that Sam Carsten sunburns easily. We can actually recall that stuff all on our own.
I'd love to know what is happening in the rest of the world. There's a war going on in Europe that's barely mentioned. For that matter, we don't really know what's happening in Canada.
Now that I've got my whines done, I must say that I enjoyed "Drive to the East" and I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very frustrating book,
This book, like the rest of the series, is extremely frustrating because the story is so interesting and the writing is so bad. It seems like an unlikely combination, and one would think someone with as many published novels as Turtledove would be a better writer, but sadly this is not the case. Here are the main reasons why I say this:
1. The dialogue takes one of three forms. A) A stupid character (most of them seem to be) says something ignorant and another, wiser character says something sarcastic in response. B) A character says something sarcastic and another character agrees with him by saying something like, "I wish I thought you're wrong, but you ain't." C) A character says something that's not the least bit funny and everyone laughs. You may think I'm exaggerating, but all of the dialogue is exactly like this.
2. The book is excruciatingly repetitive. It's not good enough that we are told something by one character; every single character needs to tell us the same thing. And if they haven't said it in awhile, they'll say it again just so you don't forget. Every single time he mentions the Red Cross going to get the wounded, he has to throw in there that while they normally were not attacked, it did happen at times. Every time!
Those are the problems, but surprisingly there is a lot of good here too. First of all, the reader needs to start with book 1 of the first series. If this is your first Turtledove novel, put it aside for now and read the others because it won't make sense. The story is engrossing though, and if you know your history it is fascinating to see how the same sort of events can come about in different situations. I find myself rooting for my "country" even though none of the nations in the book really look like the countries of today. I care what happens to them and I get frustrated when they are losing or do something stupid. It's a good book and you don't really know what's going to happen next.
I think Turtledove is far too prolific to write well. Every time I go to the bookstore I see a new book of his. Maybe if he would slow down and take his time he could turn these good books into great ones.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Turtledove's vision has taken on a life of its own,
"Drive to the East" continues Harry Tutledove's "what if the South had won the Civil War" saga, probably the longest alternate history series ever written. In this installment, Jake Featherston, the Confederate Hitler, has not only continued his own Operation Barbarossa against the North, but launched his own "final solution" as well.
On one level, this is an entertaining war story, filled with real life characters in unfamiliar roles (George Patton as the Confederate Guderian, Douglas MacArthur renamed Daniel MacArthur, an offstage Winston Churchill as an ally of Oswald Mosley). Turtledove also sets up predictable alternate universe counterparts of OUR World War II. Without reading the book, can you guess which World War II battle inspires the fight for Pittsburgh? Too obvious for words, but still well written and well thought out.
But this is also Turtledove's darkest book yet. The moral squalor on which Confederate society rests deepens, and familiar characters descend into the "banality of evil" in ways that Hannah Arendt never managed to describe.
Perhaps that is the reason I have stuck with this series since the beginning. I want to understand how an entire society of men and women who love each other and dote on their children can also be homicidally psychotic.
In many respects, Turtledove's Southerners are worse than their German counterparts in our universe. True, Confederate spymaster Clarence Potter is being set up to play Canaris, about to join a bomb plot. But there is no White Rose here, no individual or group of heroic moral dissenters willing to pay with their lives to say "We are being lied to. We are becoming a nation of criminals. We must stop this or lose our souls."
With staggeringly few exceptions, these "decent white folk" know and know full well what is being done in their name, and either enthusiastically participate, just as enthusiatically applaud, or look away with utter indifference. No one in the South hides a black family in their attic.
As a Jew, I at first found the character of Saul Goldman, who stands in for Josef Goebbels, offensive and disturbing. But Turtledove is using Goldman to make an ugly, effective point about the culture of racial hatred that infected ALL of White America (including the North) until recently (and still infects part of it). As someone has observed, racism is White America's original sin.
In our universe, some Southern whites DID do what those in Turtledove's universe do not. Reading this book and all those that have led up to it forces us to consider the catastrophic possibilities we avoided in the 1860s.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strongest Turtledove Alt. History in years,
The south has cut the United States in half, blitzkrieging to Lake Erie, but the US fights on. Recognizing that the Confederate States lacks the manpower or industrial resources of the north, Confederate President Jake Featherston and his generals come up with an ambitious plan to cripple the US's industrial capacity by striking at the heart of her steel industry--Pittsburg. With new barrel (tank) designs, the south rips another dramatic offensive--before getting bogged down in house-to-house fighting in Pittsburg. In the meantime, the US is filled with other frustrations. Japan has captured Midway and is striking at the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), Utah is in rebellion as the Mormon community attempts to create an independent country in the heart of the American west, and occupied Canada, the only route connecting the east coast with the west, is in revolt.
In the south, Featherstone has embarked on an ambitious plan to eliminate the black population entirely, replacing black workers with machinery and with Mexican guest workers. Although the US protests against Confederate genocide, few are that sympathetic. The plight of the black community is seen as an internal Confederate problem.
As with most Harry Turtledove alternate history, the story is told from multiple viewpoint characters. Civilians, enlisted soldiers on both sides, politicians, generals, terrorist bombers, concentration camp guards, and black workers make up the cast. When this system works, it provides a kaleidoscope view of an entire world--and it works quite well in DRIVE TO THE EAST. Turtledove has reigned in his cast to a manageable number, killed off some of the more annoying, and narrowed the focus of his work.
Students of history will enjoy Turtledove's continued exploration of a world where the south won the Civil War, allied with France and England, and in turn created an alliance between the US and Germany/Austria-Hungary. Turtledove doesn't hesitate to use history from our own timetrack to reflect back on his alternate. The Pittsburg offensive closely parallels Hitler's Stalingrad offensive during World War II, and Featherstone's genocide parallels Hitler's 'final solution' attempt to wipe out Europe's Jewish population.
Turtledove is no bright-eyed utopian. Although the U.S. is clearly the more sympathetic side here, Turtledove's technique of focussing on multiple viewpoint characters lets us see the war from multiple sides. From their standpoint, the actions of terrorist bombers, genocidal maniacs, and ordinary soldiers on every side in the war make sense--seem almost inevitable.
A few flaws marr Turtledove's work. Featherstone's decision to continue the Pittsburg offensive against the advice of his generals seemed inconsistent with the character Turtledove has created--although being necessary to exactly parallel the Stalingrad operation. One of Turtledove's style techniques--the repeated use of phrasology along the lines of 'The bed might have been more comfortable than if he'd been sleeping on wood slats. Might have, but might not have,' gets repetitious and tends to draw the reader from the story. Similarly, repeated information about both sides shooting up Red Cross ambulances, about the peculiar gurgle of poison gas shells, and the discomfort of the rubber protective suits used to protect against nerve gas helped bloat the book.
Fortunately, however, these flaws don't detract from the overall power and scope of Turtledove's DRIVE TO THE EAST. DRIVE was the best Turtledove alternate history I've read in years.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slogging through the saga...but back-sliding,
There are many of us who started this journey with Harry back in 1997 with HOW FEW REMAIN and, like many of the other readers who commented, I must also agree that the series is rapidly sinking into predictability and repetition.
Harry is also attempting to cull out some of the characters and streamline the story. But in doing so, he reduced the tale to a parochial one. The story doesn't have the "world view" feeling it once did. There is no longer a global perspective.
With the death of Mary McGregor Pomeroy, the link to the Canadian story is dead, and he makes only passing references to the "simmering rebellion". A perfect opportunity to create new characters is squandered.
Sam Carsten, a colorful character up to this point, seems to have been relegated to obscurity.
The repetition of dialogue and descriptive text is almost maddening. Harry...your readers already know that:
1. There isn't a pane of glass left in Richmond
2. The USA is bigger than the CSA
3. It isn't safe for negroes to walk the streets
4. Featherstone Fizzes start barrels on fire by leaking into the engine compartments
5. It is hot in Andersonville
6. The gas shells make a gurgling sound as they fly through the air
7. Pinkard hates getting calls from Richmond
8. etc, etc, etc.
On the plus side, Armstrong Grimes is very interesting and the horrifying "Final Solution" story of Scipio has me biting my nails.
It is a good book, but the quality we have come to expect is clearly not there. Let's hope that SETTLING ACCOUNTS: THE GRAPPLE takes a turn for the better and we see a bigger perspective, MUCH better dialogue, and less repeat words.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Catastrophe Upon Disaster,
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Harry Turtledove's alternative history continues to intrigue, inspire, and sometimes fatigue me. In this world, the South won the Civil War and then defeated the US again in the Second Mexican War in the early 1880s. In World War I the CSA joined Britain, France, and Russia in a war against the USA, Germany, and Austria-Hungary. After the CSA and its allies were defeated in 1917, they slid into fascist style dictatorships and began to prepare for a war of revenge. World War II began in 1941 and now rages across the globe.
Turtledove once again portrays a host of characters from both the US and the CS, jumping from one storyline to another several times in each chapter. The CS has invaded the US and cut the North in two, but its charismatic President (dictator) Jake Featherston seems oblivious to warnings from his generals about overreaching. Meanwhile, Featherston's Freedom Party is systematically carrying out a black Holocaust in a camp in Western Texas. The US struggles to continue fighting, its leadership bolstered by the knowledge that a secret super weapon is under construction in the west.
One of my favorite aspects of this Turtledove series is the way he interweaves imaginary and historic characters. Thus Flora Hamburger Blackford, former US First Lady and now Socialist Congresswoman in Philadelphia (and my favorite character in the series), has many dealings with Robert Taft and Franklin Roosevelt. Jimmy Carter also makes a brief appearance.
Turtledove tries to carry on too many storylines and has too many characters who have little to no development. Some segments, particularly battle scenes, seem to drag on too long (although Turtledove does us a service by emphasizing the blood and violence of war).
I feel these weaknesses are outweighed by the imaginative sweep of the series and the insights we are given into our modern world with its suicide bombings and advocates of "preventive war". Anyone with more than a cursory knowledge of World War II's actual history will be able to figure out what lies in wait for the US and the CS in the next volume, but the ultimate fate of Turtledove's many characters, both imaginary and historic, is still up in the air.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If The South Had Won the Civil War, Then ...,
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This the 9th installment of the massive alternative history epic by Harry Turtledove. The series spans from 1862 in "How Few Remain" to the early 1940's in the current volume.
Mr. Turtledove assumes that Lee wins a decisive victory in 1862 and America splits into two separate nations. The Confederates win the rematch war in the 1880's (with the help of England and France) while the USA defeats the South in World War I (with the aid of the German Empire). Now the series takes a turn and Mr. Turtledove clearly has the racist South standing in for Nazi Germany in his current trilogy.
This new volume opens in the midst of World War II, start by the CSA launching a surprise invasion of the North in the previous volume ("Return Engagement"). The enjoyment of these books is to see how Mr. Turtledove's imagination works on the changes if America was two nations: as a Southerner, General Patton splits the USA in half with his drive to Lake Erie, Al Smith and Charles LaFollette are the Socialist President/Vice-President of the USA, concentration camps are hidden deep in Texas and so forth.
Mr. Turtledove is not a wordsmith but he is a good storyteller and the map showing the American continent divided into two countries will set the reader thinking. Because this novel opens without any of the vast history of the previous 80 years and only alludes to it, I recommend that the reader start at the begining with "How Few Remain" before reading this book. One can read this novel on its own merits, but the reader would miss the layers of richness that has gone before it.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you are reading this review, then you probably already ...,
...know what Harry Turtledove's USA/CSA books are all about. If you do not know, then I encourage you to run, not walk to a bookstore and pick-up at the beginning of the series with How Few Remain. Turtledove has create the best, most plausible alternate history written with his series, now going on 9 books.
The stories assume that the CSA defeated the USA in the Civil War. One of the most plausible outcomes of that result is that blacks were much worse off in both countries as a result. Another plausible, and difficult to read, aspect is that socialism took a much deeper root in the defeated North than it really did. The descent of the CSA into fascism is telegraphed a mile off and a near blatant rip-off of how Hitler rose to power. But I forgive that because the lesson is too important to forget and it is important to realise, that with the right conditions, we too can descend into tryanny.
Turtledoves posits make me squirm and think. But they also make me appreciate our own history and outcome, flawed though it may still be, even more. Truly for small events, our lives could be much worse.
If I have any criticisms of the series, it is this: I get really tired of the serial approach to the different characters after a while. After about the third book, I was happy when some of the protagonists (not to mention the antagonists) started dying. I am tempted to ask Harry for timeline and a set of maps and be done with it. But these are minor complaints.
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Drive to the East (Settling Accounts, Book 2) by Harry Turtledove (Paperback - May 30, 2006)