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Colonization: Down to Earth by Harry Turtledove

Cover art by Tim O'Brien

Published by Del Rey Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

When Harry Turtledove first began the WorldWar tetralogy, the generally accepted wisdom in the science fiction industry was that the alien invasion story had been done to death. Maybe you could get a little more milage out of it with a humorous take, sending up the hoary old clichés, but there wasn't anything left to base a serious approach upon. In fact, "alien invasion" was one of those things that beginning writers were told to do once "to get it out of your system" and immediately trunk.

However, the WorldWar tetralogy had a brand new twist -- instead of being set Twenty Minutes into the Future, it happened in a past that never was. It was June of 1942, one of the most critical tipping points of World War II, when a new combatant entered the fray. Not any human nation-state, but technologically advanced aliens from a planet circling the star human astronomers call Tau Ceti, who have come to conquer Earth and its inhabitants for the Emperor they worship as a living deity, just as they worship his predecessors as lords over the unseen world.

As a result, nations who only days earlier had been fighting to the death now must find some way to trust each other enough to co-operate in the fight against the alien invaders. In many places, the formerly oppressed minorities initially viewed the reptilian aliens as liberators, but in the case of Moishe Russie, a Jewish physician and rabbinical student in the Warsaw Ghetto, he soon realized that while at least the Lizards weren't trying to exterminate his people for existing as the Nazis had been, neither were they there to establish freedom for the Jewish people of Poland.

Over the course of the four volumes, the most powerful human nations were able to tilt things in their favor, forcing the Lizards to accept a negotiated peace rather than the unconditional surrender that the reptilian sophonts had presupposed when they first arrived in the solar system. However, it was immediately obvious at the conclusion of WorldWar: Striking the Balance that this was not a long-term stable situation. Because the Lizards had based their planning on data eight centuries old and had assumed the fight would be a walkover against horse cavalry with iron swords, not Industrial nation-states with technology only a generation or so behind their own, the colonization fleet was sent out to arrive twenty years after the conquest fleet. Already en route, it could not be recalled, which meant that in two decades humanity would have to deal with a new influx of Lizards, civilians who would be astonished to discover their new home wasn't neatly pacified, its inhabitants trained to respect their reptilian overlords and give reverence to the spirits of emperors past.

Thus it was no surprise that Turtledove should follow the success of the Worldwar tetralogy with a new series dealing with the arrival of the colonization fleet. In Colonization: Second Contact, the Colonization fleet had no more than entered Earth orbit when it was attacked by nuclear-tipped rockets by an unknown assailant, killing untold thousands of civilian Lizards still in cold-sleep. The Lizards are furious, all the more so because nobody will claim responsibility, and decide to punish all the independent human nations to make sure they understand that such actions will not be tolerated.

The rest of that volume is the maneuvering between the Lizards and the various human polities, both independent and subjugated. Humans being primates, and Machiavellian in their social interactions, there is the constant temptation for all the various human polities to betray a weaker human polity in order to gain an advantage, however temporary. However, in a world in which significant landmass is being held by an alien invader, such infighting can be deadly to the interests of all humanity, so the more responsible nations try to hold down the temptation.

However, some nations have some truly cutthroat internal politics. Because of the necessity of the human Great Powers to work together, this is a world in which Adolf Hitler died in his bed and Nazi racial doctrine was never discredited in the marketplace of ideas, which means that they are still devoting a significant amount of time and treasure to seeking and rooting out supposed Jewish influence. Thus the suggestion that a loved one has a Jewish ancestor can be a very serious weapon in political infighting, as space pilot Johannes Drucker found out the hard way -- with the result that he began to seriously question the racial doctrine he'd been told for the greater part of his life.

However, this habit of scapegoating also means the Greater German Reich is more prone to look for external enemies to distract attention from domestic troubles. And Heinrich Himmler, Hitler's successor as Fuehrer, is becoming increasingly frail as age and ill-health gain on him, Like most tyrannies, the Reich doesn't have clearly established lines of succession, since no strongman can fully trust his ambitious subordinates enough to hand over power while he still lives. As a result, several rival claimants are circling one another like wary tomcats, all looking for the break that will enable them to grab the top position.

As a result, the Nazis are taking to goading the Lizards over Poland, from which they were driven during the initial invasion. Because this is a world in which the worst of the Final Solution was never implemented, Poland remains the home of substantial Jewish communities living alongside but not in harmony with the Catholic Polish communities. And both the Jewish and the ethnically Polish communities have every reason to detest their neighbor to the west and to be happy at every opportunity to do the Nazis a bad turn. The result is a situation that is full of opportunities to seize upon one or another incident as a cause for war, as if the relatively small (although technologically sophisticated) Reich could match the resource base of the Lizards, who have conquered much of what in our timeline is the Third World.

Thus one of the most significant storylines of this volume is development of that tension toward an inevitable military confrontation, particularly as the new Fuehrer, Kaltenbrunner, has to establish his credentials as a strongman his rivals have to respect. However, the Greater German Reich isn't the only tyranny in which the strongman has to maintain his hold against an ever-circle of ambitious rivals who may well use those tricky primate stratagems such as "let's you and him fight." to dislodge him.

In the Soviet Union, General Secretary Vyacheslav Molotov has just survived an attempt by his secret police chief to unseat him. Although Molotov was briefly overcome and imprisoned, Defense Minister Georgy Zhukhov had bodyguards who shot quicker and straighter than Lavrenty Beria's NKVD goons. As a result, Molotov has his position back, but owes Zhukhov bigtime, which means less latitude to act, not to mention the need to pay back through various small favors to the military.

However, he is first and foremost a Communist, dedicated to the Marxist tenets of dialectical materialism and the class struggle. And that means giving material aid to the Communist rebels in Lizard-occupied China, albeit always with an eye toward plausible deniability. Unlike the Nazis, Molotov is not one to go double-or-nothing. Maybe the Communist tradition of collective leadership is a moderating element that just can't be found in a nation run on the Fuehrerprinzip, or Leader Principle, which idealizes the Leader as hero.

And even the traditionally democratic nations aren't necessarily doing so well. The United Kingdom, humiliated after being shorn of its Empire by the Lizards, is slip-sliding into its own brand of fascism, which while not as aggressive or virulent as outright Naziism, still has its xenophobia and anti-Semitism. As a result, David Goldfarb has decided that it's advantageous to his health and that of his family to remove them to Canada, where US influence is moderating the sense of resentment that breeds a desire to blame the Other for one's problems.

However, that should not be taken to mean that everything is all rainbows and unicorns in the United States. After all, this is a nation which only twenty years earlier endured the horrors of war on its own soil for the first time in almost a century, as the Lizards landed in the heartland and proceeded to fight their way across the country, stopped and forced to withdraw only when the US developed its own nuclear weapons. Although much has been rebuilt, the scars still remain, particularly in the cities that were attacked with nuclear weapons. Washington DC has never been restored, and the nation continues to be governed from its temporary capital well inland. But America is not a cowed or broken land, not by anybody's imagination.

And it's looking toward the long-term future of co-existence with the Lizards, rather than simple survival or irrational attempts to bluster them away. In particular, they're doing a parallel psychology experiment to the one the Lizard scientist Ttomalss had sought to do with Liu Han's daughter, before Liu Han forced him to return her. Namely, they've acquired two Lizard eggs so that the resultant hatchlings may be raised as humans, to see if Lizards can adapt to life among humans rather than trying to force humanity into their model.

This job has fallen upon Sam Yeager, the minor-league baseball player turned intelligence officer who now resides in Los Angeles with his family. He's not too sure about this job, particularly when Mickey and Donald turn out to be not only far more active and precocial than a human infant, but downright feral. Despairing, he gets back on the Lizard computer network under a new assumed name in hopes of getting some information on how to deal with baby Lizards. In the process he runs across Kassquit, a young human female who has been the subject of a similar experiment among humans. At first she's suspicious of him, but in time they begin to build a bridge, particularly as he begins to provide answers to some biological elements of her psychology that Ttomalss has been unable to provide. Meanwhile, Yeager continues to be a thorn in the side of certain of his own countryfolk by inquiring into things that they don't want him to know.

The Lizards, still determined to assimilate humanity into their Empire, decide to force humanity to abandon its traditional religion in favor of worshipping the spirits of Lizard Emperors past. In many of the areas under their dominion they meet with fierce resistance, even violence. For instance, in the Middle East the standard-issue shrines are often attacked by vandals, even suicide bombers, and when the entire communities are punished, it seems to only stiffen their resolve to stay loyal to their own faith traditions. Trying to persuade their educated elite by making worship a condition of continued study only results in the deeply devout Jewish and Muslim scholars leaving university degree programs rather than offer worship to foreign deities.

However, the one nation which invites them to bring shrines proves to be the otherwise fiercely independent United States, leaving the Lizards to puzzle out the concept of freedom of religion. In most of the US, the shrines are regarded by the local populace as something provided for the convenience of visiting Lizards, or the growing population of Lizard exiles, some of whom have even sought naturalization as US citizens. But in California some humans have even experimented with Emperor worship in search of enlightenment, which shows that even in this very changed world, some things aren't that different than they were in our own timeline.

Turtledove masterfully weaves together the multiple storylines of this novel, showing us events all over the world, from human and Lizard perspectives alike. Many of the Lizards, particularly the underlings, are astonishingly sympathetic, being not that dissimilar from humans in like situations, yet at the same time being astonishingly alien in unexpected ways.

Review posted February 1, 2013.

Buy Down to Earth (Colonization, Book 2) from Amazon.com

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