Wednesday, September 2, 2015

What Happens Next: Harry Turtledove's Worldwar & Colonization

Last week I shared What Happens Next: SM Stirling's Nantucket Trilogy again on my social media pages. Randal White commented on it and said he would like to hear my thoughts on Turtledove's Worldwar series. At first I wasn't interested because Turtledove already did that himself with Homeward Bound and other alternate historians, like Bruce Munro, have already done pretty good speculations of their oen. Nevertheless, I couldn't stop thinking about it, so I decided to fast forward to 2100 after humans have enjoyed seven decades of FTL starships and see what happened next...

The dawn of the 22nd century has taught the Race a dirty world: decolonization. Yes, the cost of maintaining their colonies on Earth have finally outweighed any benefits. The current Emperor is trying to reform the Empire's society by forcing the Race to adopt a faster rate of technological process and he believes that antagonizing the Tosevites (or Humans/Big Uglies) will only prevent the major changes to the extremely conservative Race society necessary to accomplish this goal. Troublesome regions (like China [1], Turkey, Sunni-majority Iraq, Persia, the Congo, Morocco, Mexico, Venezuela, Peru, Korea and Tasmania) are being given independence, while more loyal areas are finding themselves with increased autonomy whether they like it or not.

While the Empire may be in decline, it is still a force to be reckoned with. They remain an interstellar empire with a vast nuclear arsenal (which has grown larger as more Tosevite colonies spring up around their stellar neighborhood). Although they lack FTL starships, they should be reaching a breakthrough soon and they have deals with some Human factions to "lease" their ships, with the understanding that no member of Race is allowed in the engine room. The current Emperor is also determined to catch up with Big Uglies, even if he has to drag his own people kicking and screaming (or whatever Race metaphor is more appropriate). They also aren't without friends on Earth/Tosev. They maintain their alliances with France [2], Finland, Poland and other states, who find the Race a better ally than some of the other human powers.

We should also not forget about the areas of Earth that are inhabited primarily by the Race. Regions including northern Mexico, the Sahara, the Arabian peninsula and Australia, are heavily developed and well defended by large and well-trained armies ever since the original Colonization Fleet crew was required to take up arms in case war with the Big Uglies ever happened again. That being said, the Empire finds these subjects...rather weird. They have adopted many Tosevite customs and ideas. Some even wear clothes and wigs, much like human teenagers covered themselves in body paint in the 1960s. On top of that, monogamy is a common practice and this has not gone over well when some of these couples have come to Home, Rabotev 2 or Halless 1 in the middle of mating season. The Race legal system, which to be honest gets little work in the highly conformist and law-abiding society of the Race, suddenly finds themselves forced to tackle such alien (literally and figuratively) concepts as "rape". Nevertheless, they are big supporters of the current Emperor's policies and reforms and see any further advancement as a guarantee of their protection from the Big Uglies.

Enough about the Race, lets look at the Big Five or the five human powers that withstood the Race's invasion in the 1940s. The most powerful and largest (if you count their off-world colonies) is the United States of America. As the Race retreats from Earth, the Americans gleefully fill the power vacuum they left behind, creating new democracies that are more than happy to look the other way when American corporations set up shop. Today Little Rock is the center of human civilization and the President commands the respect of everyone, even from the Emperor of the Race. The US Navy (the only branch with experience in getting people to work together in metal cans cruising through a hostile environment) commands a vast fleet of FTL starships that patrol the known universe and keep an eye on anything that can threaten the American hegemony.

The USA was the first power in the known universe to develop FTL travel and have made the most of it, exploring new star systems and planting colonies whenever they find anything interesting. Most of these colonies are still governed as territories, but there has been talks of carving states out them eventually. No one is in a rush, however, since even with FTL starships, communication between Little Rock and the colonies is slow. The colonies are satisfied with the "benign indifference" they receive from Little Rock and have no interest in changing the status quo since they are practically self-governing. The same can't be said about some of the "involuntary settler" colonies. These communities are formed from people the government has found "troublesome", a precedent sadly established when picking the crew for the Admiral Peary in 1997 [3]. Most of these colonies have a station in orbit staffed with Marines just in case there is any trouble.

Although the Americans have found worlds that can support life, most are of the Home variety, meaning they are hot, arid worlds with few bodies of water. Some more intelligent life has been discovered as well, but again they resemble the Race and their subject peoples. This has caused some scientists to believe that lizard-esque species like the Race are the norm in the universe and that humans are an aberration caused by the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. Without that meteor that killed the dinosaurs, its likely that an intelligent lizard-like species would have arose on Earth and have fallen quickly to the Race invasion [4]. Then again, nothing good ever came out of counterfactual thinking like that. Am I right?

While the United States is certainly the top dog, its not without its rivals among the other Big Five...or should I say Big Four since Britain really isn't a major power anymore. The United Kingdom is the only victorious human power to come out of the Race Invasion to not develop an FTL drive on their own, instead being given it by the United States. They do have a few off-world colonies of their own and are close allies of the Americans, but they find this relationship grating at times, especially since the Americans won't let them forget the time they were nominal allies of Germany in the 1960s [5]. Frankly the British elite haven't forgotten about the time when they were the most powerful country on Earth and would love for the chance to return to the glory days, but aren't sure how to do that just yet.

Then you have Japan. Although an FTL capable nation with a large space fleet and many off-world colonies, they have always remained one-step behind the Americans. Although the US was supported by Japan throughout much of the late 20th century, this relationship has fallen apart, party because the US objected to the Japanese use of chemical and biological weapons on their rebellious subjects. The Japanese have extensive mining operations in the Asteroid Belt and elsewhere, having shown little interest in finding life bearing worlds like the Americans, but making up for it by hauling valuable and rare minerals. Their goal is to knock America down a peg and take their place as the premier human power...and some of the Japanese high command think its time for a little "out of the box" thinking. For example, the Japanese have a lot in common with the Race culturally. They both respect their Emperors and have very conservative societies. Perhaps its time to let bygones be bygone and begin a new era of cooperation [6].

Then there is the Soviet Union, which is just...strange. They are hardly communist these days, having adopted a radical technocratic society that has made great strides in catching up with the Americans and Japanese by their complete disregard for human life and their enthusiastic embrace of super-advanced artificial intelligence that manage the Soviet economy and spearhead their scientific advancements. Cybernetic enhancements are becoming increasingly popular [7] as is the practice of naming children after numbers. The current General Secretary herself is obsessed with uploading her mind into a computer, thus allowing her to govern the state until the end of time. As can be expected the Soviets freak the fudge out of their neighbors, more so than even...

Nazi Germany! Although to be fair modern Germany follows the ideals of National Socialism as well as the modern Soviets follow Marxism. For a brief period in the mid-21st century Germany ruled a small, but significant interstellar empire, but to accomplish this goal they had to squeeze every last resource out of Europe and stole the rest through espionage. Eventually this became unbearable for even the most loyal Aryan and when reformers began espousing about the democratic ideas found in the first edition of Mein Kampf, this led to a coup, a counter coup and a short civil war. Today the German government is more like a one-party dictatorship with trappings of democracy instead of being a dystopic nightmare society. They have even begun to suggest that the racial ideologies of the past were a little off-base (which is easy since there is no one left to kill).

As the Germans turn inward they have pulled their troops out of their former Europeans territories. New states have emerged on the continent which now have to find their place in the world. Having found the Americans too liberal and the Soviet too weird, these Europeans oddly enough have found themselves growing closer to the Race government in Cairo. Some of the more devious minded members of the Race even think the Empire could benefit by sponsoring their own Tosevite not-empire in Europe, perhaps led by Britain, that would unite the Race-friendly states with the former client states and territories of the Third Reich. This would give the Empire a friendly not-empire on Tosev to combat the other not-empires. This union of the European states may even end the Race's retreat from Earth, without upsetting the Emperor's reforms.

There is still the question of what to do about the Reich's off-world colonies. The majority of them are now controlled by hard-lined SS forces, who have threaten to unleash their nuclear arsenal on anyone who tries to take them down [8]. These colonies (sometimes called the Fourth Reich) represent probably the first non-Earth, human nation, but they aren't something to be proud. If rumors are true, they make the Soviet Union look like Pleasantville, what with their bizarre genetic experiments, their penchant for building castles and worship of pagan deities who don't seem to correspond with anything from human mythology. Exactly what is going on in the Fourth Reich remains mostly hearsay since they have surprisingly good counter-espionage, but whatever is happening, the Race and Humanity agree that something needs to be done sooner rather than later.

Of course, events elsewhere may save the Fourth Reich from destruction. Not everyone is onboard with the Emperor's reforms. Turns out trying to change a civilization who has done things a certain way for tens of thousands of years is harder than it looks. There has been plenty of opposition to the Emperor's reformers and the critics are starting to organize. Its becoming more and more common to see anti-reform activists wearing body paint in the colors of nations that haven't existed for millenniums. Meanwhile, more Hallesites and Rabotvites are beginning to think things would be better off if they had their own emperors instead of listening to the one from Home. The Tosevite colonists still remain loyal to the Emperor, but the cultural divide between them and more traditional members of the Race makes this a mixed blessing. Those few historians who study the ancient past of the Race are rediscovering a term that has not be used in a long time: civil war.

If the Empire were to fall apart, the conflict would inevitably draw the human nations into the conflict and not all on the same side. Cooperation between the powers has broken down and each country has their own reason to support one faction of the Race over the other. Nuclear weapons are plentiful and the fleets that carry them through the cosmos continue to grow. If war on an intergalactic scale were to break out, it could mean the end of civilization as we know it. Perhaps that is why colonization efforts have increased tenfold in recent years [9] (even among the Race). If war were to break out, maybe enough colonists would survive that star-faring civilization could rebuild itself.

Humanity and the Race are hoping for the best, but are preparing for the worst.

* * *

[1]: Which almost immediately fell into civil war between the communists and Kuomintang. There is a small imperialist faction, mostly centered in Manchuria and supported by Japan.

[2]: When the Race liberated France after the Race-German War of 1965, the Free French government in the Pacific quickly declared "independence" from France, lest they have to listen the Lizard stooges in Paris. Nothing really changed at the top, but everyone got a new flag to decorate their buildings with.

[3]: Its not unusual for judges to give criminals the option of jail, the military or off-world colonies.

[4]: Other scientists, meanwhile, find that theory complete hogwash. Dinosaurs were feathered after all and more closely related to birds than modern lizards. In fact, when you come to think of it, the "Lizards" aren't lizards at all because...but that just confuses the masses so the less said about that the better.

[5]: Think "cheese eating surrender monkies" if you want an idea of how bad it is.

[6]: It should be noted most of the FTL ships the Race lease from the Tosevites are Japanese ships.

[7]: In fact, with gulags being so 20th century, the Soviets are forcibly installing these cybernetic implants into dissidents to completely erase any vestiges of individuality so there is nothing left but a completely loyal servant of the state.

[8] Its hard to hit a moving target in space, even something going STL. Thus, missiles with nuclear warheads are used to increase the chance of scoring a hit. For space-to-ground weapons, simple projectiles weighing many tons are preferable since the kinetic force they unleash is equal to if not greater than a nuclear bomb.

[9] They are finding a lot of willing colonists fleeing the ongoing Second Chinese Civil War.

* * *

Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, a blogger on Amazing Stories and a Sidewise Awards for Alternate History judgeWhen not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the day when travel between parallel universes becomes a reality. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and YouTube. Learn how you can support his alternate history projects on Patreon.


  1. Why global warming? They've had cheap nuclear energy (the basis of the Race's economy) since the 1950's, and cars are hydrogen-burners.

    1. know you're right. I think I may have read something about climate change, but it was on the Harry Turtledove Wiki, not the books. I will update that footnote.

  2. Climate change might be the result of the invasive species (flora and fauna) the Race have introduced to Earth. Even in the Colonization series we see the ecosystem of northern Mexico becoming radically altered by Race imports. No doubt the same is happening elsewhere. Also, there have been two limited-scale nuclear wars fought; this also will influence the climate. And the advanced technology of the Race may not have disseminated throughout all human societies just yet: the industrial heartlands of human and Race territories may have access to clean hydrogen and nuclear power, but a less-developed area may still be using hydrocarbons.

  3. Thank you for a very interesting theory.


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