Gunpowder Empire by Harry Turtledove.

Tor, 2003

At this time of the year I’m knackered and not up to reading anything demanding. I wasn’t going to post about this one as I only read it to see how Turtledove dealt with a juvenile. However, I was amused to note that he gets rid of the parents by the end of chapter four. Classic children’s tale scenario.

It isn’t quite an Altered History story. The book’s young heroes are part of a culture that can travel to parallel worlds (known as Crosstime Traffic) to exchange trade goods slightly technologically advanced of those in the market world in return for grain which their own society processes into oil substitutes. They of course find themselves stranded in one of these worlds – a heavily bureaucratised descendant of an altered Roman Empire – and caught up in a siege. Turtledove is careful not to place them in too great danger, however.

In many ways Turtledove’s style is ideally suited to this sort of book as the prose is functional and undemanding but to my mind, even taking account of the target market, information is still repeated too often and his elaborations of the differences between the cultures are heavy handed. There was, though, a delightful explanation of the declension of nouns in Classical Latin plus a mention of the Ablative Absolute.

Though set in the late 21st century, the Crosstime Traffic culture appears not all that different from the present US – it still has Home Depots and WalMarts, for example – with no hint of other countries in its world. Despite knowledge of resource depletion in its own timeline its attitude to the other worlds is merely exploitative – although the characters do think they’re lucky they haven’t yet met a parallel world more advanced than their own.

I hope Turtledove’s young readers aren’t superstitious. The book has thirteen chapters.

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