Books this Update:
- In the Presence of Mine Enemies, Harry Turtledove
- Only Begotten Daughter, James Morrow
- Sway, Ori and Rom Brafman
I began with a return to Turtledove. While I do plan to return to his Colonization series, I read instead this week a standalone book set in the near future, but one shaped by a past different from ours: a past in which the United States remained neutral during the Second World War. Its lack of economic and military aid to Britain and the Soviet Union led to their respective collapses and the domination of the eastern hemisphere by Nazi German, the Italian Empire, and the Imperial Japan. (Want to guess why they own so much sand? There’s black stuff under it.) The United States was attacked a “generation” later with nuclear missiles and essentially knocked out, although we’re given the impression that it was attacked out of fear of its economic potential, not because its leaders were starry-eyed idealists who wanted to rid the world of tyranny and oppression and so forth.
Turtledove likes to lift stories from the history books and retell them in different contexts. In his “Southern Victory” timeline, for instance, we see military campaigns that were in reality executed in 1864 being perpetuated in 1944. Instead of the Holocaust happening in Europe, it happened in the deep south. Turtledove does this again in In the Presence of Mine Enemies, telling the story of the dramatic political change of the late 1980s in the Soviet Union, changing the years and making the evolving political entity the Greater German Reich instead of the SSSR. Within that context, Turtledove uses his traditional viewpoint method to tell the story of various people as they react to these changes. What is particular about these people is that they are all Jews, their genealogies having been forged. It’s an interesting book and has become one of my favorite Turtledove works.
Next I read a work of fantasy in Only Begotten Daughter. This book begins with the idea that a being resembling the Judeo-Christian god magicked up a kid in 1974. Julie Katz, who refers to herself as Jesus’ half-sister, struggles with her nature, the nature of God, and the question of evil while being pursued by Satan and attacked by Christian fundamentalists as the Antichrist. Along the way, she accidentally creates a religion around empiricism and visits Jesus in Hell, where he is occupied in soothing the pains of the damned. The conversation between he and Julie about his life on Earth and the consequences thereof is one of the most interesting parts of the book. The plot is intriguing and the characterization good, but the book was far too dark for my tastes.
Lastly, I read Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior. In the book, the authors assert that human beings — while pretending to be rational — are really not rational at all, and in fact fall into irrational traps with disturbing ease. They use accounts of seemingly rational people behaving in irrational (and all-too familiar) ways to point out irrational traps. These aren’t obvious things like not questioning beliefs or willfully believing in things with no regard to the evidence, but are rather subtle misdirections, like taking a wrong turn in the house of mirrors. The book is very informal, very readable, and begs me to recommend it — so I do.
- Dark Rendezvous, Sean Stewart
- Demon in my View, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
- Stoic Warriors, Nancy Sherman
- The Titan’s Curse, Rick Riordian