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Colonization: Aftershocks by Harry Turtledove

Cover art by Viktor Koen

Published by Del Rey Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

In this volume Harrry Turtledove concludes the second series of his imagined world in which World War II was disrupted by an unexpected alien invasion. In the original tetralogy, humanity was able to fight the Lizards to a standstill, and as a result several human polities -- the US, the USSR, Great Britain, the German Reich and Japan -- were able to maintain their independence. But it wasn't a stable situation, particularly with the colonization fleet twenty years away and expecting a fully pacified world ready for them to make their home.

Thus the Colonization trilogy took up with the arrival of that fleet and the disruption it caused. No sooner than it moved into Earth orbit, it was attacked by an unknown assailant and ten starships full of civilian Lizards in cold-sleep were destroyed. As a result, tensions between the Lizards and Earth's remaining sovereign governments increased exponentially, needing only a spark to set them off. There was a close call when Lavrenti Beria staged a coup in the USSR, but Red Army leader Georgi Zhukhov proved the cannier and restored Vyacheslav Molotov to power, averting the crisis.

But in the middle book the sudden death of Heinrich Himmler triggered a political shift in the German Reich, and specifically in the Nazi Party's political enforcement arm, the SS, and thus to a military confrontation with the Lizards over Poland, which had been Lizard-occupied territory (and a haven for the Jewish survivors of Europe) since the end of the war, when neither Germany nor the Soviet Union would allow it to fall into the hands of the other. The adventurist element within the SS thought they had just enough of an advantage that they could go toe-to-to with the Lizards in a slugging match and win. And truth be told, they did manage to do significant damage to the Lizards' newly-built infrastructure in the colonized areas. But it wasn't enough, and their own lack of depth meant the Lizards could take those losses and still pound the Reich into the pavement.

Thus this novel begins with the aftermath of that conflict. Much of Central Europe is in radioactive ruins, both sides have used a large number of nuclear weapons. Untold millions are dead -- but Jewish resistance fighter Mordechai Anielewicz finds he cannot gloat over the actuality of the long-imagined humiliation of the anti-Semitic Reich. Not just because of the abstract wrongness of Schadenfreude, but because his own wife and chidden have vanished into the chaos, having been taken by German soldiers in the early maneuvers of the war. So he begins his quest to find them and reunite his family, hopefully back in Lizard-held Poland, which has enjoyed a sort of quasi-independence complete with its own monetary system (the zloty, the same unit Poland uses here in the Primary World).

In the course of searching for them, he crosses paths with Oberstlieutnant Johannes Drucker of the Reich Rocket Force, who was in orbit during the war and was taken prisoner by the Lizards. Returned to Earth at Nuremburg, he's made a long trek across the ruined Reich to Peenemunde, whee his family lived. But they too seem to be missing, and queries to former neighbors who escaped the destruction of the city produce only the most tenuous clues. Worse, in teaming up with Anielewicz to find the Jewish man's family, he's opened himself up to the enmity of the doctrinaire wing of the Nazi Party, who've become radicalized by this defeat.

Meanwhile, Sam and Jonathan Yeager's visit to Kassquit aboard the Lizards' flagship in orbit has had serious consequences for all of them. After having experienced human-style sex, Kassquit knows that she can no longer try to imitate the Lizards in all things. Instead she must find a way to reconcile her biology and her upbringing -- and that in time she will want to mate again, and will desire a human male to mate with, which will inevitably mean another Wild Big Ugly, now that Jonathan is entering into a permanent mating contract with a female Wild Big Ugly.

Worse, Sam's found some very uncomfortable things in his ongoing process of asking hard questions about just what the US government is doing in its ongoing cold war with the Lizards. Unlike a lot of Americans, he's no longer certain that the biological alienness of the Race means that they are morally less than humans. And this means that the morality of his country's acts against them have to be judged by the same standards we would use in judging acts of war against a human opponent -- which means that the sneak attack on the colonization fleet was nothing short of mass murder of civilian non-combatants. However, he's not sure if he wants to go public right away, so he decides to tuck the information away as a sort of insurance policy and leave the keys with a Lizard he trusts, the former Shiplord Straha who was first to defect to the human side and does seem to be sympathetic to the human cause.

However, he's made a major calculation -- he assumed that if he were to drop out of sight for an extended period of time, it would be the result of someone in the government silencing him. Instead, while he's out in the high desert examining invasive species brought by the Lizards which are disrupting the ecology of Nevada and Arizona, he's suddenly arrested and held for questioning. During the misunderstanding, he's gone long enough that Straha concludes his human friend has been killed, and takes the information to Fleetlord Atvar.

It's an ugly revelation -- no, the attackers weren't the Nazis or the Soviets. Instead, it was launched by orders of US President Earl Warren, and carried out by some of the more militant leaders of the US Air and Space Force, including General Curtis LeMay. The Lizards demand that the US either disarms and abandons its space assets, or it allows the Lizards to nuke a US city (with no opportunity to evacuate the inhabitants, even the innocent children who had no voice in their government).

That incident a storm of controversy on the USEnet newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written over the morality of using unconsenting civilians as levers to punish wrongdoing heads of state. A lot of people really don't like the idea that the high and powerful should be able to treat ordinary people as disposable pawns to be sacrificed in order to make sorry to another sovereignty -- and I'll admit that I'm one of them. I lost a big chunk of trust in government when I read Fail Safe and came to the ending where the unconsenting citizens of New York City were expended at a word from the President to make sorry for the accidental destruction of Moscow. You can talk all you want about heads of state being special, about the actualization of the metaphor of the body politic, but I still don't like the idea of elites being able to use up ordinary people in order to avoid the penalties for misdeeds being carried out on their own flesh and blood, as if they're somehow better than us.

Yet another interpretation is possible -- that the US was following something similar to Liu Han's concept of the strong peasant who is beaten by the stronger peasant not trying to fight back, but instead spreading ill will about the aggressor. And what better way to spread ill will than to put the aggressor in the position of doing something that will arouse a lot of broad-based hatred and resentment, and maybe even questioning of the aggressor's policies among those of his followers who are coming to see the targets as people, rather than aliens needing subjugation. And to be true, it's a process that's going on in both camps at the same time.

On the other hand, the novel's not all unrelenting grimness and horror. There are quite a few comic touches, whether the struggles of the two Lizards who were best friends on Home and as ginger addicts started mating all the time and now want to be married (which seems oddly prescient as we are struggling over the issues of marriage equality for LGBT people), or the antics of the Lizards' native pets amusing human children to the point they'd even adopt a stray befell. Unfortunately one of the elements -- the development of an electronic plush toy they call a Furry -- isn't quite as funny as it was at the time the book came out, right when the Furby craze was at its height. But for someone who remembers how crazy everyone was about Furbies at that time, it can still get a chuckle.

A number of personal storylines achieve a form of resolution in this volume. However, the ending of it is not a true conclusion to this series, but only a stopping place. It is clear that, although the story of the arrival of the colonization fleet has reached its end, the macro-arc cannot truly end until humans go to Home and deal with the Lizards as equals on their own territory..

Review posted June 4, 2012

Buy Aftershocks (Colonization Book 3) from Amazon.com

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