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After the Downfall Hardcover – June 1, 2008
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1945: Russian troops have entered Berlin, and are engaged in a violent orgy of robbery, rape, and revenge! Wehrmacht officer Hasso Pemsel, a career soldier on the losing end of the greatest war in history, flees from a sniper's bullet, finding himself hurled into a mysterious, fantastic world of wizards, dragons, and unicorns!
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"After the Downfall" tells the story of a German officer during the waning days of World War II. As the Russian hordes are about to assault his position he touches a magical stone (just go with it), and winds up transported into a fantasy realm.
Fans of the "Legion of Videssos" books will recognize the notion of a magical artifact in this world transporting someone into a magical world. It's not exactly an uncommon theme, and though Turtledove's used it before, I'm willing to let him slide on it this time.
The German officer, one Hasso Pemsel, a name so odd I find myself wondering if it's another of Turtledove's puns, arrives in this brave new world and falls in with a group of people who are the Aryan wet dream. Tall, athletic, blonde and utterly convinced they are better than their short, dark, swarthy neighbors who aren't really people, after all, and have no rights to exist beyond those the blondes give them.
Seeing what the blondes do to the darker folk makes Pemsel start to look at his own conscience. Remembering what the Russians did on the Eastern Front, he realizes that these are people, just ones that look quite different. Eventually he's given a choice of switching sides, and spends a great deal more time deciding what to do than he might've expected.
The story is a little more sex-filled than most of Turtledove's books. Unlike most people I don't have a problem with his depictions of sex (which tend to be less graphic than those of violence, and if you want to show the scope of human existence, you really do need both), but there do seem to be quite a few that come off as wish fulfillment. One doesn't want to think a Jewish writer would have a German WWII officer as a Gary Stu, but I do start to wonder at times.
Ignoring that, the story itself is quite good and sets itself up well for a sequel. It is, at the very least, more entertaining and original (well, in some ways, anyhow), than the Atlantis series Turtledove is working on nowadays. I look forward to seeing the next book and what he does with it!
He of course, reappears in an alternate reality...sort of a cross between Andre Norton's first Witch World novel and A Connecticut Yankee, with gorgeous Goddess priestess, who literally throws herself on her back and spreads her legs for him.
The story is an allegory about the Nazis and the way their beliefs about "untermenschen" made them vulnerable to the Russians, and by extension, to the Jews they were so busy exterminating.
Pemsel first works for King Bottero, whose tall, blonde people have invaded and subjugated the smaller, darker Grenye. All except for the nation of Bucovin. Bucovin is Russia without the communism...and its leader, Lord Zgomat, is a dead ringer for Lev Trotsky had he lived to run Russia.
Pemsel teaches the Lenelli what they are willing to learn about new tactics, and they initially have success in invading Bucovin. Then Pemsel is captured.
His Nazi nose is rubbed into the fact that the Lenelli are not kindly conquerors, and that the Bucovins are fighting to save their lives and their homes-- and are just as much people as the Lenelli, or as Pemsel himself, is...or, he reflects, as the Jews in his vanished home world must be.
There's lots of action to cloak the allegory, and Turtledove is at his best in his characters... King Bottero is Mussolini in a big blonde way, for example. There are the two noncoms...one Lenello, Orosei, and one Bucovin, Rautat, who are really well drawn three-dimensional characters.
This is one of Turtledove's best books in a while.
I strongly recommend it.
Jim Baen's Universe magazine