Ironic that after my complaints about the editing of Nuklear Age, the next book I should read (well, sort of next) would be an advance uncorrected proof. (Also ironic that despite being “advance”, it’s actually for a book that’s two years old.) Most ironic of all, though, is how very few incorrect edits were present in Homeward Bound, the (as far as I know) last book in Turtledove’s alternate history series where aliens attacked the Earth just as World War II was picking up steam. How very few when compared to the purportedly completed and publishable Nuklear Age, that is.
But enough about that unpleasantness. There’s plenty enough unpleasantness to be had here. Which is odd, because I was looking forward to the book, and throughout it I was eager to know what was going to happen. It’s not like I can say that there was no ultimate resolution in the ongoing cultural (and sometimes military) struggle between humans and the Race. I mean, there wasn’t, but in the acceptable ‘I’ve shown you enough that you can draw your own conclusions’ sense. The same is true for many of the individual character story arcs. So you’d think I’d be happy.
I guess my complaints are all about the execution. There’s a fairly large spoiler on the inside cover that meant my perceptions of the first part of the book were colored by waiting for the other shoe to drop. Since it didn’t until three-quarters through (which is what makes me call it a large spoiler instead of a small one), it seemed like I was killing time waiting for the climax. But then, after the big event, it seemed like I was killing time waiting for the fallout to become apparent. Since it did become apparent but only over an accumulation of data, I’m willing to call that my own fault for being impatient.
Even leaving aside my pacing complaints, though, there were still other issues. There weren’t enough character viewpoints to spread the story around, although I think that ties into pacing too. I came back to characters so quickly (relative to Turtledove’s same formula in his other books I’ve read) that I expected more to have happened by the time I got back. But it wasn’t really a Things Happen kind of book, so much as an exploration of the culture clash between two alien species. Which is also not what I was expecting.
Another unexpected thing is how I keep forgiving the book and blaming myself for its shortcomings. So, I’ll close on a note that I know wasn’t my bad. Among the aliens, there’s a fairly amusing Colombo rip-off who’s trying to get to the bottom of an illicit drug trade. Except for the amusingness, the subplot went absolutely nowhere and seemed to have no consequences for any individual character nor for the story as a whole. The amusing part would have been enough to forgive that if it had only appeared once and faded back, but it was still an issue through the penultimate chapter of the book, and then, nothing. So, that’s lame. And the pacing problems were too, even if they were directly caused by my expectations. Because books should entertain me correctly, dammit.
I’ll certainly keep reading Turtledove, as I have no reason to expect this to be a new direction for everything he writes. But I’m glad this was the last of this series, because I’m not sure I’d read the next one, if there were going to be more. And now I don’t have to wonder what I’m missing or (more likely) cave and read it anyway, despite expecting not to enjoy myself. So you see.
If I had to guess, I’d say the failure of the book is that it was an alternate future, which is to say science fiction. What makes him so good at alternate history is his understanding of actual history. In this case, he had to wing it, and that’s probably what kept the story so static compared to the other ones, where he knew what had to happen next simply because it would make the most historical sense.
Or maybe it mostly was just me after all. But probably it’s the other thing.