Cover illustration by Lee Moyer
For more than forty years, Harry Turtledove has been the acknowledged master of one of science fiction’s most durable sub-genres: the tale of alternate history. In the course of an incredibly prolific career, Turtledove has created a host of brilliantly imagined revisionist histories on subjects ranging from the American Civil War to the Byzantine Empire to the Second World War (in which an alien invasion plays an unexpected role.) His work includes standalone novels and multi-volume epics, along with an impressive array of short fiction, the best of which has been gathered in this generous, irreplaceable volume.
The Best of Harry Turtledove opens with “The Visitor From the East,” the first of three stories featuring Bill Williamson, the nine-foot-tall Sasquatch who serves as governor of the fictional state of Jefferson, a place where “everyone gets along, regardless of race or size.” Or species.
“Bonehunters” posits a world in which the extinction event that ended the reign of the dinosaurs never took place. Two subsequent stories, “Junior and Me” and the Melville-inspired novella, “The Quest for the Great Gray Mossy,” continue to develop this scenario. “The Eighth-Grade History Class Visits the Hebrew Home for the Aging” imagines a world in which Anne Frank survived and emigrated to the United States, where she recounts her experiences to a visiting middle school class. “But It Does Move” is the account of a fictional confrontation between Galileo and a leader of the Holy Inquisition.
These are only a few of the people, places, and historical epochs you will encounter in this magisterial collection. The twenty-four stories in The Best of Harry Turtledove constitute a master class both in the technique of alternate history and in the art of narrative itself. Longtime Turtledove readers will take this book to their hearts. Newcomers will find themselves searching for more of the author’s inimitable—and highly addictive—fiction. They have a lot to look forward to.
From Publishers Weekly:
“This imaginative collection from Hugo Award winner Turtledove (Down in the Bottomlands) brings together 24 ‘what if’ stories set in surprisingly altered Earths… Readers willing to entertain such diverse speculations—or relax with a wacky, pun-saturated yarn about ‘a muppetoid heroine in chainmail and her clunky sidekicks’ (‘The Mammyth’)—are sure to be entertained by this massive collection.”
From Paul di Filippo, at Locus Online:
“Exiting this volume, one notes an absence of space operas, robot tales, climate apocalypses, Faustian Frankenstein fables, and several other traditional themes of the field. Except for an occasional alien or dino, Turtledove likes to work with history and humanity as our records have immortalized them. Using our acknowledged crooked timber, he twists, teases, and tampers with consensual reality, titillating us with funhouse-mirror versions of our loves and hatred, follies and victories, like the cosmic jester that he resembles.”
Table of Contents:
- Visitor from the East
- Peace is Better
- Junior & Me
- The Quest for the Great Gray Mossy
- The Mammyth
- The Eighth-Grade History Class Visits the Hebrew Home for the Aging
- Shtetl Days
- News from the Front
- The Maltese Elephant
- Must and Shall
- Islands in the Sea
- Deconstruction Gang
- The Genetics Lecture
- And so to Bed
- The Weather’s Fine
- The Castle of the Sparrowhawk
- The Last Article
- The Girl Who Took Lessons
- But it Does Move
Peace is Better
"Here we go again, Barbara,” Bill Williamson said. “Ready to roll?”
Barbara Rasmussen nodded. From the left rear seat of the Mighty Mo, the sasquatch Governor of Jefferson watched his publicist’s blond curls bob up and down above the back of the right front seat. “I sure am,” she said. PR people never lacked for enthusiasm. That sometimes made them scary, but they needed it.
Junior & Me
Listen, you yellow-bellied son of a green-yolked egg, this is how it happened. And if you don’t like it, well, we can just step outside and Junior and me’ll chew your snout off for you.
This here was down in the Red River bottoms, sixteen—no, seventeen—years ago now. I was down on my luck. I guess you could say so. The dancing girl in Dodge I’d got sweet on, she laughed in my face. She was after somebody who’d keep her in the style she wanted to get used to. She had somebody in mind, too, and it wasn’t me.
I could have killed him. Not, I wanted to kill him. I could have killed him, easy as you please. He was fresh out of the shell, practically—a kid from the East who kept books at the bank and for the grocery store. He didn’t know what she was, any more’n he knew about knives and eight-shooters. All he knew was, he liked the curve of her haunches.
If I did kill him, I might’ve done him a favor. Caught up in her web, he’d have had a demon of a time biting free. He wouldn’t be the same afterwards, neither. You never are.
Junior and me, we got up into the Black Hills country and the Badlands not far away. Yes, thank you, I know that’s not the kind of place where you want to end up. What do you mean, how come I’m looking at you like you’re some kind of natural-hatched fool? How else am I supposed to look at somebody who’s a natural-hatched fool?
Tell you what you can do, though. You can buy me a drink, and you can buy one for Junior, too. That’ll go some ways to makin’ amends. Or you can try the two of us out in the alley and see how you fancy that. Maybe you’ll have more sense after we bite some chunks out of you so it can get in.
The Quest for the Great Gray Mossy
Call me Milvil. It is not my name, but it will serve. And let me begin my tale with my tail, and the rest of me, in a boat bound for Faraway Island. The wind, at our backs, filled the sail and made the canvas thrum. So also my thoughts thrummed with excitement and the hope of gain, for from Faraway Town I purposed putting to sea to hunt and try the great monsters that dwell subaqueously.
When I turned my head into the wind to survey the other passengers, a tiny bit of grit—or maybe it was smoke from an old fellow’s pipe—made my eye sting. My nictitating membrane flicked across it, wiping away whatever the trouble was. Would that all my woes might so easily be swept away!
The President of the United States looked out of an Oval Office window at Grand Junction, Colorado. The Oval Office was square, but the President’s workplace kept its traditional name. Harris Moffatt III sighed and bent to his paperwork again. Even in Grand Junction, that never disappeared.
Washington, D.C., remained the de jure capital of the United States. Harris Moffatt III had never been there. Neither had his father, President Harris Moffatt II. His grandfather, President Harris Moffatt I, got out of Washington one jump ahead of the Krolp. That the USA was still any kind of going concern came from his ever-so-narrow escape.
Harris Moffatt III was also Prime Minister of Canada, or of that small and mountainous chunk of Canada the Krolp didn’t control. The two countries had amalgamated early on, the better to resist the invading aliens. That, of course, was before they realized how far out of their weight they were fighting.
The Eighth-Grade History Class Visits the Hebrew Home for the Aging
A sunbeam slipped between the slats of the Venetian blinds. Anne Berkowitz opened one eye. The clock on the nightstand by the bed had digits big and bright enough to let her read them without her glasses—6:47. She muttered and rolled away from the sneaky sunbeam. She didn’t want to get up so early.
But she was awake. And she was having trouble breathing—not bad trouble, but the kind she had almost every morning after she’d stayed too flat for too long. She reached for the nasal cannula and put it in place. Clear plastic tubing connected it to the green-painted oxygen tank that sat on a wheeled cart by the other side of the bed.
Wrinkled skin hung loose on her arm as she reached out to turn the valve at the top of the tank. She’d never been fat, not once in her eighty-four years. She’d hardly ever been as skinny as she was now, though. If she kept going this way, pretty soon there’d be nothing left of her.
She nodded to herself as oxygen softly hissed through the tubing. Pretty soon there would be nothing left of her. The doctors said she had maybe a year left, maybe two, three at the outside. She worried about it less than she would have dreamt possible even ten years before. As long as it didn’t hurt too much, she was about ready to die.
Hauptsturmführer Joseph Stieglitz looked up into the gloomy gray late-October sky. Drizzle speckled the lenses of the SS officer’s steel-framed spectacles. It wasn’t really raining, but it also wasn’t really not raining. Muttering, he pulled a handkerchief from the right front pocket of his Feldgrau trousers and got his glasses as clean as he could.
He peered across the town square, then nodded to himself. Yes, the Kübelwagens and the trucks were ready. Everything here in Zalaegerszeg seemed peaceful enough. Yes, the town lay in Hungary, but on the west side of the Platten-See (on Magyar maps, it was Lake Balaton). Off in the eastern part of the country, the Wehrmachtand the Waffen-SS and the Hungarian Honvéd were fighting thunderous panzer battles to try to halt or at least slow the onrushing Red Army.
Better not to dwell on that too much. Better to hope the Germans could use their now-shorter supply lines to advantage. Better to hope the Honvéd would fight hard now that it was defending its homeland. Better to hope Ferenc Szalasi and his Arrow Cross Fascists would make the Honvéd fight harder than Admiral Horthy had. Horthy the trimmer, Horthy the traitor, Horthy who’d tried to fix up a separate peace with Russia till the Führer got wind of it and overthrew him before he could make it stick.
Because if you did dwell on that, if you looked at where the Red Army was and at how far it had come since the start of summer, what could you do but realize the war was lost? Like almost all German officers in the autumn of 1944, Joseph Stieglitz made the effort of will he needed not to realize that.
Must and Shall
12 July 1864—Fort Stevens, north of Washington, D.C.
General Horatio Wright stood up on the earthen parapet to watch the men of the Sixth Corps, hastily recalled from Petersburg, drive Jubal Early’s Confederates away from the capital of the United States. Down below the parapet, a tall, thin man in black frock coat and stovepipe hat asked, “How do we fare, General?”
“Splendidly.” Wright’s voice was full of relief. Had Early chosen to attack the line of forts around Washington the day before, he’d have faced only militiamen and clerks with muskets, and might well have broken through to the city. But Early had been late, and now the veterans from the Sixth Corps were pushing his troopers back. Washington City was surely saved. Perhaps because he was so relieved, Wright said, “Would you care to come up with me and see how we drive them?”
“I should like that very much, thank you,” Abraham Lincoln said, and climbed the ladder to stand beside him.
And so to Bed
May 4, 1661. A fine bright morning. Small beer and radishes for to break my fast, then into London for this day. The shambles on Newgate Street stinking unto heaven, as is usual, but close to it my destination, the sim marketplace. Our servant Jane with too much for one body to do, and whilst I may not afford the hire of another man or maid, two sims shall go far to ease her burthen.
Success also sure to gladden Elizabeth’s heart, my wife being ever one to follow the dame Fashion, and sims all the go of late, though monstrous ugly. Them formerly not much seen here, but since the success of our Virginia and Plymouth colonies are much more often fetched to these shores from the wildernesses the said colonies front upon. They are also commenced to be bred on English soil, but no hope there for me, as I do require workers full-grown, not cubs or babes in arms or whatsoever the proper term may be.
The sim-seller a vicious lout, near unhandsome as his wares. No, the truth for the diary: such were a slander on any man, as I saw on his conveying me to the creatures.
The Castle of the Sparrowhawk
Sir John Mandeville heard the tale of the castle of the sparrowhawk, but only from afar, and imperfectly. If a man could keep that sparrowhawk, which dwelt in the topmost tower of the castle, awake for seven days and nights, he would win whatever earthly thing might be his heart’s desire. So much Mandeville knew.
But he lied when he put that castle in Armenia. Armenia, surely, was a strange and exotic land to his readers in England or France or Italy, but the castle of the sparrowhawk lay beyond the fields we know. How could it be otherwise, when even Mandeville tells us a lady of Faerie kept that sparrowhawk?
Perhaps we may excuse him after all, though, for the tale as he learned it did involve an Armenian prince—Mandeville calls him a king, to make the story grander, but only the truth here. Natural enough, then, for him to set that castle there. Natural, but wrong.
You might think Prince Rupen of Etchmiadzin had no need to go searching for the castle of the sparrowhawk. He was young. He was strong, in principality and in person. He was brave, and even beginning to be wise. His face, a handsome face in the half-eagle, half-lion way so many Armenians have, was more apt to be seen in a smile than a scowl.
Yet despite his smiles, he was not happy, not lastingly so. He felt that nothing he owned was his by right. His principality he had from his father, and his face and form as well. Even his bravery and the beginnings of wisdom had been inculcated in him.
But It Does Move
Spring in Rome. Mild, mostly sunny days. Pretty women’s smiles, as bright as the sun. Plants putting forth new leaves—a green almost painfully beautiful. A torrent of birdsong. Music in the air along with the birdsong, after it fell silent as well. Monuments of mellowed marble, some close to 2,000 years old.
What heart could know such marvels without rejoicing?
Galileo Galilei’s heart had no trouble at all.
With all that heart, Galileo wished he were back in Florence, where he belonged. Was the sun less brilliant there? Were the pretty women’s smiles? Did the birds not sing there? Had they no musicians, no monuments? Of course not!
Had they no Holy Inquisition in Florence? They did—they did indeed. But Pope Urban VIII was not convinced it had done all it should concerning Galileo. And so the astronomer had been summoned to Rome for interrogation, like any common criminal.
Muttering to himself, Galileo shook his head. Summoned like a criminal? Yes. Like a common criminal? No. The Inquisition didn’t bother with common criminals. He wished with all his heart that it hadn’t bothered with him.
- Lee Moyer
- Harry Turtledove
- 663 pages
- eBook Edition