THE VALLEY-WESTSIDE WAR BY HARRY TURTLEDOVE

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Copyright 2008.

Liz Mendoza is an 18-year-old who accompanied her parents to an alternate that destroyed itself in a nuclear war in 1967. Her parents got a grant from UCLA to study why this war started. They live in the Westside which is its own little country. The Westside gets into a war with its neighbor the Valley over blocking the Sepulveda Pass. The Valley wins because they were able to find a working .50 cal. machine gun. Now Liz has to deal with one of the Valley soldiers who has taken an interest in her. The family has to deal with spies from the Westside government in exile and the occupation soldiers of the Westside.

The final book in the Crosstime series is my favorite. For one thing it deals with a post-nuclear apocalypse which is my favorite type of books. This one has plenty of action that the others lacked. I love that everyone still talks like hippies such as “far out” and “groovy”. The society is a realistic portrayal of a post-nuclear world. It is on a level of the medieval times with its various petty little kingdoms. Technology is lacking as everyone scrounges for leftovers in the ruins.

I enjoyed this series. It had some weird stuff like Turtledove’s thing for portraying that everyone in the future has a serious aversion to fur. Granted fur is a dead industry nowadays but I don’t think the young even today give fur any thought. Just one of the things he decided was something hip. I also wonder if it appealed to the target teen audience or just older alternate history buffs like me. The series was solid with some plausible alternate histories that were portrayed realistically. If you like Turtledove or alternate history this is a good series for you.

CURIOUS NOTIONS BY HARRY TURTLEDOVE

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Copyright 2004.

Paul Gomes has graduated High School and works with this father for Crosstime Traffic. His assignment is an alternate where Germany won WWI. They eventually went on to develop the atom bomb and conquer America in 1956. Now 140 some years later they rule America and the world with an iron fist. Crosstime Traffic runs a shop called Curious Notions in San Francisco. They sell electronic record players and games. The devices are just slightly better than what is available, and they use the money to buy much needed food for the home timeline.

The Germans in this alternate have similar advanced technology but keep it from others to hold them back. The Imperial German occupation authorities start to take an interest in these more advanced items. They want to know where they come from. The father says China and randomly picks a merchant in Chinatown out as the supplier. Lucy Woo a sixteen-year-old who works at a sweatshop gets involved when her father is arrested by the Germans. She joins forces with Paul Gomes to help their fathers and also have to deal with the Tongs. The Tongs are also interested in Curious Notions and hope to get technology that can help China to a more prominent level.

The second in the Crosstime Traffic YA series gives us a look at what the world would look like if the Germans won WWI. This is a much more plausible world if the Schlieffen Plan worked as it should have. A world without Hitler but one that is still pretty grim. America a defeated nation with 12 cities destroyed by atomic bombs. It is stuck in the 1950’s economically, culturally and technologically. Turtledove does a good job of giving us a look at the world with child labor and 65-hour six-day work weeks. As with the standard format it gives us a teenage boy and girl. This time ones that have a romantic involvement. This one deals with the added tension of keeping alternate travel out of the hands of a society that is technologically advanced enough to understand and use it. I found this an interesting and tension filled book. Different from the first book but no less interesting.

BLACK STAR RISING BY FREDERIK POHL

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Copyright 1985.

It is 100 years after a nuclear war destroyed the United States and the Soviet Union. This left the populous nations of China and India in charge. They divided the world up. Castor is a 22-year-old worker at the Heavenly Rice Collective Farm in Biloxi Mississippi. He dreams of going into space but that is highly unlikely for an American in a country reduced to a Chinese colony. One day he finds a head of a murdered Han Chinese while working the rice field. This starts a series of events that introduce him to Manyface. A high party Chinese cadre that has implanted parts of the brains of eleven people. One of these is the mother of his divorced wife. She gets Manyface to take Castor as a houseboy and eventually he gets admitted to the university.

Then a spaceship comes with an ultimatum. They demand to speak to the President of the United States. They destroy all life on a Pacific Island to show they are serious. The problem is there hasn’t been a President or United States for over a century. Castor gets elected to the job and embarks on a journey to the alien’s home world. He finds that the Erks have joined forces with descendants of American astronauts to free America. Only problem is the Erks have a tendency to destroy all life on the worlds that they help. Now with his companions he has to prevent the Erks from helping the planet Earth out of existence.

My first Pohl book and I found it an interesting read. A very strange book. The alien Erks are actually pets from a more advanced species that genetically engineered them. So, some are smart, and others are dumb. This race which they refer to as the Living Gods destroyed themselves in a biological war. Now the Erks are obsessed with helping to liberate the oppressed of the galaxy. They treat war as a game and always get out of hand and destroy the entire planet. The astronauts’ decedents have a society they formed by harvesting all the eggs and artificially bringing them to term. They currently have a population of 8,500 with 8,450 being women.

I liked this book. It starts out a more traditional one in the first half. Then with the alien’s society it gets really weird. It has some funny moments. Like the Chinese have a remake the movie High Noon. In it the high party cadre comes to a village and confronts the anti-party elements. He forces them to self-criticize themselves before getting them sent off to a reeducation camp. An interesting book that had a unique premise. Worth your time if you want something different to read.

TRAVELER #13 GHOST DANCERS BY D.B. DRUMM

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Copyright 1987.

Reports are coming of strange things going on. The dead are returning, and people are committing mass suicides. There are also reports that the Russians have rebuilt themselves and are prowling around with nuclear submarines. Traveler gets a visit from an old friend that he has to go back to the pueblo. So, he burns his home and the Meat Wagon and heads to the southwest. Along the way he stops at New Washington and finds out that a fundamentalist Christian who is defense secretary wants to start a nuclear war with Russia so the rapture will occur. Traveler finds that baby Alexander who he saved in Mexico has now grown into a teen. Alexander has great wisdom and is putting people through some quantum portal to escape the coming nuclear war. Traveler isn’t interested in starting life over in an alternate dimension so opts to go back in time. He will kill President Frayling and stop the first nuclear war. Only he ends up in the Veteran’s hospital just before Christmas Eve 1989. He has to get to Washington but naturally everyone thinks he is nuts and drug and put him in a strait jacket. A psychologist finally believes him, but it is too late. WWIII starts and Traveler finds himself back at the beginning.

The final book in the series was a fairly big nothing. Not much happens. People see visions and kill themselves. A fanatic takes over the government and starts WWIV. Endless conversations on quantum physics. Must have recently read Stephen Hawkings. Traveler travels back and ends up at the place he started from in the first book. The book ends with literally the first chapter of the first book. It ends with ” Traveler had a problem with time. He would always have a problem with time”

I read a review that stated this was both a daring move and stupid at the same time. Possibly but I liked this ending. It has Traveler stuck in some never-ending time loop. Doomed to forever go through the events of the series. Somehow that appealed to me when I first read it and still does. Ed Naha wrote a very pessimistic book. I suppose for a radical leftist the eighties were a very pessimistic time.

My final thoughts on this series. I loved it. This has to be the best of the road warrior type books to come out. It was pure pulpy cheezy fun. Of the two writers I would have to say that John Shirley was the better. He wrote the first half and delivered a coherent storyline with a beginning, middle and end. Ed Naha is a good writer but uneven. He started out strong with the first book. After he took over, some were brilliant, and some weren’t. He tried new stuff which was hit or miss. Part of his problem is taking the series into something else it wasn’t meant to be. He also has a tendency to go into left wing rants. Still, I have fond memories of this series and reread it a number of times. After all these years it still remains a fun read.

TRAVELER #12 THE PREY BY D.B. DRUMM

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Copyright 1987.

Traveler gets news that he has a brain tumor and little time to live. He gets a call from his old pal Orwell who now heads up the rebuilt CIA that he has a job for Traveler. Going to New Washington which is just outside Las Vegas, he gets recruited for a mission. Young couples are being kidnapped from an oil rig turned into a gambling casino out in the Gulf of Mexico. Going under cover with a female agent and posing as a couple they head down. They do get kidnapped, and Traveler finds himself part of some mad scientist’s experiment. He has genetically created an ultimate predator that he will take over the world with. He puts Traveler in an island wilderness to survive for 24 hours to save his wife and his life. Thus begins a deadly game of cat and mouse with a fearsome creature.

This entry in the series is somewhat of a dud. Obviously, it is an adaptation of The Most Dangerous Game which I always considered a mediocre story. This was a fairly mediocre story also. The kooky scientist is the son of the guy who developed the neurotoxin that Traveler was dosed with before the war. He finds out that he doesn’t have a brain tumor but is evolving to a higher stage of evolution.

The story is competently written and keeps your interest. What I didn’t care for was that it just gets rid of the post-nuclear world. Everything is now back to normal. This could have been a story in a Mack Bolan or Destroyer book. Set in contemporary times or any point in the past or future. The cool post-nuke world filled with roadrats and mutants is gone. When you take that away you basically take the reason for this series to exist. Which with the next book we will see brings an end to Traveler’s travels.

TRAVELER #11 THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE BY D.B. DRUMM

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Copyright 1987.

The country is starting to get back on its feet. Traveler finds out that people now want nothing to do with mercenaries. After being run out of a town he decides to head over to the California coast and spend some time at the beach. In the small community of Bay City, Traveler gets involved with some teen kids that discovered the police chief is up to something. Traveler manages to infiltrate the corrupt police chief’s organization and save the mayor. Along the way he has to deal with some bratty kids, a shrew of a mother and a ruthless mercenary. He finds out that the evil President Frayling is behind the takeover of Bay City. He has gathered an army with neurotoxin and nuclear bombs to take out the fledgling new government and install himself as ruler. Thanks to the kids with Traveler, they are able to destroy his base and Traveler contemplates going after Frayling who said he was going to China.

This book was the beginning of the end for this series. Kind of like a Mad Max meets the Goonies. While technically not a bad book. It was interesting and well written, it just seemed to be losing its road warrior vibe. The country is getting back to normal. There is electricity, telephones and canned beer. Teen kids now have time to solve mysteries like the Scooby gang. There is a lot of left-wing rants about how bad America is. It was hinted that Traveler might start traveling to China. Sort of take this series to other parts of the world and explore that. I cool idea but nothing came of it.

TRAVELER #10 HELL ON EARTH BY D.B. DRUMM

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Copyright 1986.

Traveler is living at an Indian Pueblo as the storyteller. He tells stories to the mutant outcast children. He had a bit of a nervous breakdown after seeing a roadrat massacre and tried to kill himself. Only the village shaman saved him and took him back to the pueblo. One day his old friend Link is found wandering in the desert. He tells of being a prisoner in literally a hell of Earth. Before disintegrating he tells Traveler that his old girlfriend Jan is also a prisoner. Traveler quits being storyteller and goes back to being Traveler to rescue his girl.

He meets up with an old man in a trailer who claims to be the Archangel Michael. He tells Traveler that Satan is building his Hell on Earth. Traveler thinks the guy is some government scientist gone nuts and his archenemy Frayling is behind this Hell. He joins forces with St. Michael, and they do find a Hell being built on Earth. It is patterned after Dante’s Inferno with all the various levels. All being reached by escalators. They make their way to the final level and confront the evil that is responsible for this Hell on Earth.

Naha decided to take the classic story of Dante’s and make it into a Traveler story. I loved this book. It is probably my favorite of the series. A real modern updating of this story with the first level for the virtuous pagans being some sort of fifties version of Leave it to Beaver. Throughout this story the reader is left to wonder if this is really Hell or just some demented creation of the evil Frayling. I know that Niven/Pournelle did a modern update and that is the only one of their books I so far never got around to reading. I did buy it last year and hope to rectify this oversight.

I won’t give away the ending, but it was a very satisfying conclusion. Sadly, this was the pinnacle for this series. After this book it started to go downhill.

TRAVELER #9 THE STALKING TIME BY D.B. DRUMM

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Copyright 1986.

Traveler decides to go on an exploration expedition on behalf of President Jefferson. He takes the Meat Wagon across the Mississippi to see what’s left of the eastern half of the country. He comes on a community that was a large underground shopping mall. They protect themselves by hiring out bounty hunters to take care of the riffraff. Traveler kills one of the best bounty hunters in a dispute and gets recruited to take his place. He has to stop Dragon a former pimp who is named from a mutant dragon he killed and mounted the head on his hood. He teams up with a mysterious bounty hunter named Angel Eyes. A guy who wears a metal helmet covering his head. Angel Eyes has a personal score to settle with Dragon. Traveler infiltrates Dragon’s gang and with the help of Angel Eyes manages to put an end to Dragon.

Ed Naha wrote this and would write all the subsequent books in the series. He starts with a premise of having Traveler explore what’s left of the eastern part of the country. This is a logic development in the series and has much potential. The story is a fairly typical one of Traveler fighting some evil gang. Only as a surprise twist, Angel Eyes is revealed to be an alien. Trapped on Earth during the nuclear war, he survives by becoming a bounty hunter. He also was the father of the dragon that the main villain killed to get his name. So, he has a revenge motive. Naha did a good job of portraying this alien character as someone you can sympathize with. A strange thing is that they still use old paper money. That doesn’t really make sense as with the federal government gone that money would be worthless.

Sadly, Naha decided not to continue to explore this whole big part of the country. Why is a mystery but as we will see, he went in a totally different direction.

TRAVELER #8 TERMINAL ROAD BY D.B. DRUMM

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Copyright 1986.

Traveler and his buddy Hill are traveling around west Texas. They have a run in with some roadrats and decide to take a job delivering plague serum from Monticello Utah to a settlement in New Mexico. A fairly simple job in post-nuke America yet knowing Traveler stuff happens. They have a run in with a Warmech. A renegade military robot that was used to guard bases but now it on a rampage. They hook up with two girls that save them in ultralights. These girls are from a secret Mormon underground base in the ruins of Salt Lake City. This community had a civil war, and the losing side took all the technical stuff to keep this place going.

Traveler and Hill decide to help them since they saved them from the Warmech. Also, they are hot. Yet they have to face a deadly assassin out for them. Hastur a guy who had an NBA star as a father and Cheyenne mother has been hired to kill Traveler. Vice President Veronica Barlowe wants Traveler dead for all the trouble he has causes her and Frayling. It all comes to a thrilling confrontation.

This is John Shirley’s swan song for the series. He wrote a decent if not a super memorable book in the series. The plot is decent, and it has a good antagonist for Traveler. We find out that the VP is a woman. This character had a lot of potential as a continuing villain. Unfortunately, this was a creation of Shirley’s and he never return. That was too bad since I think of the two writers on this series, he was clearly the superior. His original story arc was what really made this series the success it was. Why he was replaced is an unknown. While Naha had his highs and lows, we will see that he eventually took this series to its downfall.

TRAVELER #7 THE ROAD GHOST BY D.B. DRUMM

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Copyright 1985.

Traveler finds himself alone in the Mexican desert. The yacht he was on was bombed by an unknown assailant. He meets a strange burn victim riding a white buffalo named Rat Du Bois. He tells Traveler where he is and gives a cryptic warning of a big fight ahead. Soon after he meets his friends Hill and Orwell in the Meat Wagon. They sensed that Traveler was in trouble and came to the rescue. They also run into a pregnant woman on the run. A mercenary in South America has established himself as pope of the Right to a Good Life Church. He is after this woman because a prophecy says that the child will defeat him. They also find out that the Glory Boys are active in Mexico and lead by none other than the crazy President Frayling. Frayling survived the nuking of his base in Las Vegas but had half his body burned. Now he goes by the name of Scar and plans to invade the United States.

The three rescue the pregnant woman who gives birth to a son before she dies. Now the group has to fight off both the Glory Boys and this wacky cult to make it to the border and warn President Jefferson of the impending invasion.

They brought back Ed Naha the creator of this series to write the next book. A fairly logical start to have Traveler’s yacht trip brought to an end. He also brings back Frayling. Now John Shirley established him as a drooling senile buffoon. He appeared only twice, and it was assumed killed in the last book. Naha decided to bring this character back. He was obviously a stand in for Ronald Reagan. A B-Movie actor from California that went into politics. Naha had a very different take on this character and wasn’t about to just let him go. He needed to work out his hatred of the President and does it quite well. Frayling is a cartoon evil genius that brags about killing his best friend in a horse-riding accident and other evil things he does.

Now I can buy the guy surviving the nuclear explosion. But that this explosion just snapped this guy mentally back to normal is a bit too hard to buy. I mean this drooling idiot is now sharp as a tack. Granted nobody ever tried the method of flash burning a senile guy with a nuclear explosion to say that it wouldn’t work. I think it is a safe bet that it has no medical basis in reality.

Naha wrote a decent story. It had some fun adventure with the Glory Boys and this kooky cult. He has more mystical elements to his story. The baby named Alexander develops all these powers at the end. He starts to talk and walk which is an amazing accomplishment for a newborn. He brings back our heroes to life and destroys their attackers with lightning before riding off with Rat Du Bois on his buffalo. The guys wake up in a hospital in Arizona wondering if it was all a dream. Which we will find out was not.