New English Library, 2000
After The Fanatic I felt like reading something lighter. Colonisation: Second Contact is certainly that but I ought first to have checked the page count (694!!!) and saved it up for a holiday.
The book is set 17 years after the events of Turtledove’s World War In The Balance series (WWIB) where an invasion of Earth by lizard-like creatures – expecting opposition only from leather clad horsemen – interrupted Earth’s internal squabblings in the Second World War. Not a serious premise, then, but diverting enough.
In this first of a new series, the lizard colonisation fleet has arrived to follow up the invasion and the equilibrium established between the lizards and what remains of Earth’s 1940s power structure stands to be disturbed. The major players are a strong USA and USSR, plus a still-Nazi Germany which dominates mainland Europe, with Britain and Japan much lesser powers. The stimulus the lizards have provided for humans in this scenario has led to space flight and Moon landings much earlier than in the real world.
The novel is episodic, with each segment told from the viewpoint of one of the many characters Turtledove uses to illustrate this world – some of whom are familiar from WWIB. This device, as in other Turtledove books, does tend to lend the story a disjointed feel, though given the world-wide scope involved here this is perhaps inevitable. It did, however, work much better in his Great War, American Empire and Settling Accounts series where the focus was much more narrowly American.
Given the setting and Turtledove’s background it is not surprising that he gives a lot of space to Jewish protagonists and affairs. However this does not unbalance the book as a whole even if it sometimes seems Turtledove is ticking off all the possible variations one by one.
Like a lot of Americans Turtledove’s feel for British idiom is uncertain but he does recognise there is a different UK dimension. One of his Jewish characters is accosted on the streets of Belfast with the question, “Protestant or Catholic?” His potential attackers are thrown by his laughter, only mutter darkly, and he escapes harm. (Yet in this scenario perhaps the follow up would more likely have been the question, “But are you a Protestant Jew or a Catholic Jew?”)
The lizards, who, for members of a technological society, are a bit too bemused by human behaviour, are nevertheless treated sympathetically, several being granted viewpoint status.
There are some moments of low comedy when lizard females – none of whom were part of the earlier invasion fleet – are sent into heat by ingesting the Earth spice, ginger, which is also addictive to the males. All the lizards are apparently disgusted by the permanent nature of human sexuality but succumb to incontrollable – and indiscriminate – sexual urges under the influence of the pheromones which abound when their females come into heat. There is a bit of a logical flaw with this aspect of the novel as some of the lizards begin to show human sexual aptitudes, and vices, far too rapidly. The humans are of course not above using the lizards’ susceptibility to ginger to their advantage.
A bigger failing is that the plot, involving the building of a US space station which may be something more, fails to motor up until well past the halfway stage.
Yet while the writing rarely gets above the functional there is enough in the setting and the treatment to keep the reader going; especially those with an interest in history.
I will be reading the next in the series; but I’ll save it for the Christmas fortnight or something similar.