Colonisation: Down To Earth by Harry Turtledove

New English Library, 2000

Weekend cover

I found this one a bit of a slog. A move from the sublime (The Execution Channel) to the cor blimey.
The set up is that extraterrestrial lizards interrupted World War 2 in 1941/2 and 18 years or so later are established across the warmer parts of the Earth and also occupy China, Australia and Poland. See my review of the previous volume in this series, Colonisation: Second Contact, for further details of this background.

I know new entrants to Turtledove’s scenario require some infill from previous volumes but we surely don’t need so many reminders of lizard (and human characters’) behaviour – or is it just the author keeping track? It’s as if Turtledove relies on cue cards for each of his dramatis personae (et saura) and so (forgetting we know this stuff already?) reminds us of that character’s particular tic each time we encounter them again. This gets wearing after a while. And would new readers start here? Surely they would go to Colonisation: Second Contact first; or even World War:In The Balance.

The new slants to the story arc in Down To Earth are the introduction to Earth, from the lizard’s world, of crops and both domestic and food varieties of animals, with the likelihood this presents of concomitant destructive effects on Earth’s ecosystems, and the attempt by humans to raise two lizard hatchlings from eggs to adulthood. But not much actually happens. There is a real sense of marking time here. Relationships are extended or made but the plot doesn’t advance far, if at all. It is the second in a trilogy after all.

I was trying to work out why the Colonisation series doesn’t work even in the limited way that Turtledove’s World War/Balance books did. It’s not just that the lizards appear too thick, too hidebound, to be technological spacefarers. It’s also that the war aspects are largely missing; until nearly the end of Down To Earth there is no actual combat in the Colonisation series, and even then we only get two scenes of fighting from the latest war (between the Third Reich and the lizards) with the earlier humans’ rebellion in China not described in terms of fire fights. As a result there is little by way of tension.

Turtledove’s writing remains functional but rarely rises above it. The breaks between chapters appear to be placed arbitrarily or maybe just come after a set number of words – there is no structuring to the chaptering as such. The characters are there only to string the story along. They rarely if ever come to life, resolutely refusing to fill anything other than plot functions.

Also in Down To Earth the emphasis on Jewish experiences finally does come over too strongly.

Though the prose reads smoothly enough there is no real meat to it. I realise Turtledove’s concerns are elsewhere but this is a missed opportunity to speculate on what such an alien invasion could have meant for mid, and late, 20th century Earth.

However there were still enough teasers for me to want to know where the story is going, especially as I wish my suspicions to be confirmed.

Part 3 of Colonisation over Easter, then.

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