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Creator / Harry Turtledove

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No, that's not Freud.
"Fiction has to be plausible. All history has to do is happen."

Harry Norman Turtledove (born June 14, 1949) is an American author. Most of his work consists of Alternate History stories — among the most prolific and accessible. He has written many, many books and short stories, some of them set in Alternate Universes, some of them fantasy diverging from recorded history.

He actually does historical research for his novels, and footnotes some of them.

Known for having a PhD in Byzantine history, some of his books feature this period while others, set in more modern times, sometimes lampshade the fact that this area is considered extraordinarily obscure even among historians.

Works by Harry Turtledove with their own trope pages include:

Other works include:

  • After the Downfall: A Wehrmacht officer is magically transported to a medieval fantasy world during the fall of Berlin. He initially advises the kingdom of tall white blondes where he lands, but his views of racial supremacy are challenged by events...and his sexual partners.
  • Agent of Byzantium: A Byzantine spy in a world where Muhammad converted to Christianity deals with plots that threaten an Eastern Roman Empire that never fell.
  • The Atlantis series: Thanks to Alternate Universe Continental Drift, the Eastern seaboard of North America becomes a giant island continent that is discovered and settled by Englishmen and Bretons in the 15th Century.
  • Between the Rivers: A novel about a version of Mesopotamia ruled by Physical Gods.
  • Down in the Bottomlands: A novella in which a vast sunken desert occupies the Mediterranean basin, which in TTL never refilled as it did millions of years ago in OTL. The story also features a surviving Neanderthal nation with technology identical to that of modern humans in both timelines.
  • Every Inch a King: In a fantasy world cribbed from the pre-WWI Balkans, an alternate-German circus performer impersonates a king the alternate-Turks are supposedly sending to rule alternate-Albania. Essentially a fantasy adaptation of the real-life Otto Witte's story.
  • Fort Pillow: A straight historical account of a massacre of black soldiers by Confederates during the Civil War.
  • Give Me Back My Legions: A straight historical account of Quintillus Varus' doomed attempt to Romanize Germany during the reign of Augustus Caesar, ending with the massacre of the three legions under his command at Teutoburg Forest.
  • The Hot War series: An alternate history series whose divergence from our world occurs in 1951, when a more effective Communist Chinese counterattack during The Korean War causes Harry S. Truman to follow General Douglas MacArthur's advice and use atomic weapons in Manchuria. Josef Stalin responds by attacking US allies in Europe, and World War III begins. The first book, Bombs Away was released on July 14, 2015.
  • The House of Daniel: A barnstorming baseball team (based on the real one supported by the House of David religious commune) travels through a Magitek-influenced United States during the Great Depression.
  • Justinian, about the Byzantine emperor of that name, a straight historical novel published under the pseudonym H. N. Turtletaub.
  • The Road Not Taken: The scientific principles behind hyperspace travel and contra-gravity ships are surprisingly easy to discover and implement; races that can barely smelt iron or still use wooden sailing ships have discovered and used them. But Earth never discovered them, and our science went in different directions. This proves a shock to the Roxolani, biggest and most advanced of the races building stellar empires, who are shocked to find that their muskets and cannon are somewhat outclassed when they invade mid-21st-Century Earth.
  • Supervolcano a trilogy about the eruption of the super volcano beneath Yellowstone National Park and its aftermath.
  • Three Miles Down: It's 1974, and Jerry Stieglitz is a grad student in marine biology at UCLA with a side gig selling short stories to science fiction magazines when he is offered a position on a top-secret "Project Azorian" in the middle of the north Pacific Ocean. Joining up and swearing to secrecy, what he first learns is that Project Azorian is secretly trying to raise a sunken Russian submarine, while pretending to be harvesting undersea manganese nodules. But the dead Russian sub, while real, turns out to be a cover story as well. What's down on the ocean floor next to it is the thing that killed the sub: an alien spacecraft.

Other works by Harry Turtledove provide examples of:

  • Alternate History: Turtledove's works primarily deal in alternate history, such as the Worldwar series, which has aliens invade during WWII.
  • Anonymous Ringer: In the Presence of Mine Enemies, an Alternate History set in 2009 Nazi Germany, has a sort of anonymous ringer — the Führer, "Kurt Haldweim", is a blatant stand-in for real-world Austrian president, and UN Secretary General, Kurt Waldheim, who in real life would die in 2007. The real Waldheim had been in the SA and Wehrmacht during World War II, which sparked a massive controversy when it was revealed and much debate on whether he'd been involved in atrocities, or to what extent, so it may have been a Take That!.
  • Anti-Hero: Many of his protagonists are often unscrupulous individuals. Sometimes, they're actual historical figures known for their questionable actions.
  • Anti-Villain: Some of Turtledove's Nazis, and at least one Nazi Captain Ersatz, qualify.
  • Anyone Can Die: Turtledove's war-themed novels stress this element quite heavily. Many characters, including long-lived favorites, die, sometimes in completely random incidents. He seems to have a quota of "At least one death per book."
  • Arc Number: His books all have twenty chapters.
  • As You Know:
    • Turtledove has a tendency to fall into this trap in his multi-volume alternative history epics; he will often recap complicated alternative histories and the plots of two, three or more previous novels in the series by having characters engage in conversations or think to themselves about things that they would already know. His stand-alone and shorter works are generally better in this regard (largely because he usually has less to cover or recap), but it can still pop up from time to time.
    • He can also get a bit repetitive with regards to things the reader should already know, especially with regards to character traits and quirks. For example, in the "Worldwar" series every time the Race discuss their Emperor they lower their eyes as a sign of respect; they discuss their Emperor a lot, and the narration will remind you that they do this and why pretty much every single time.
  • Author Tract: Defied in two short stories in Atlantis and Other Places. "Bedfellows", which features a gay wedding between George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden, is a scathing Take That! against the then-current president. The next story, "News from the Front" is an equally scathing, only somewhat less thinly-veiled Take That! against Bush's detractors, particularly in the media. Both of these stories are written quite convincingly, conveying the impression that the author is an anti-war liberal in the first one, and a hawkish conservative in the second one. In his preface to "News from the Front", Turtledove, quoting Larry Niven, states that "there is a technical term for those who judge writers' politics by what they turn out. That term is 'idiot'."
  • Badass Family: Generations of the Radcliffe family line, in the Atlantis series.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Or Grey-and-Gray Morality. This is a common thing in his stories, with the "good guys" often being just a little better than the bad guys (who are usually literal Nazis).
  • Bland-Name Product: One of Turtledove's alternate history series has the most popular soft drink in the Confederate States of America being "Doctor Hopper". Also the popular Confederate comic book "Hyperman". In both cases, characters occasionally think about the "Damnyankee drink/hero with a similar name."
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": He likes to do this to reflect the past divergence of his alternate history works. He's come up with about a dozen alternative names for 'nuclear bomb' for different settings, for instance.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": In the short story "Running of the Bulls", the "bulls" are Triceratops. Also, the narrator and his friends are revealed to be sapient dinosaurs rather than humans.
  • Cassandra Truth: In Give Me Back My Legions, Varus was warned about the plot to destroy him several times, but because of the identity of the informant and the main conspirator, repeatedly shrugged it off as the efforts of an old man trying to get his disliked son-in-law in trouble.
  • Clarke's Third Law: Turtledove wrote the short story "Death in Vesunna" as a rebuttal, in which a retired Roman soldier working as a police investigator figures out on his own that the perpetrator of an inexplicable murder was not a god or a demon, but a time traveler.
  • Compound Title: The Counting Up, Counting Down anthology features two stories at the beginning and end, "Counting Up..." and "... Counting Down." Both are actually the same story told from different perspectives.
  • Cozy Catastrophe: His Supervolcano series has this. Unless you were in the area that got blown up or in the heavy ash cloud, life seems to be pretty good still, even the book titled "Things fall apart" doesn't really have any falling apart, though some mention of future chaos is every so often seen.
  • Crazy Cultural Comparison: Turtledove likes this trope.
  • Creator Thumbprint: In several ways, but note the oddly high percentage of Jewish characters. In the same vein, a time traveller from ten thousand years in the future - past the fall of our civilization, the rise and fall of the next one, and the rise of one after that - spots a menorah (the nine-branched candelabrum lit during the holiday of Hanukkah) in a contemporary character's house and says "If you had that in my time, I'd think you were Jewish."
    • Mind you, Turtledove doesn't always take it seriously: in the same short story collection (Departures) is a piece that he confesses was inspired by a quip he'd uttered at breakfast: "This bacon tastes so good, it ought to be kosher."
    • Additionally, he is a lifelong resident of southern California, and many of his stories have characters who live there. (Some of his short stories are set there in their entirety.)
    • Baseball references also frequently pop up in Turtledove's work. Sometimes he'll even stretch to fit in a baseball analogy, such as in the latest installment of The Hot War in which President Truman mentally compares chicken served at a political fundraising event to a mediocre ballplayer—and even lists the stats that make the ballplayer mediocre. This is the only time baseball has been mentioned in this particular installment of the series, but the analogy seemed more than a little forced.
  • Creepy Uncle: Adolf Hitler in "Uncle Alf". The story consists of a series of letters from Hitler to his niece, in a world in which the Germans won World War I and Hitler is helping stamp out the French resistance. The letters are increasingly suggestive and disturbing, but the clincher is the final line of the story:
    Adolf Hitler: "Wear a skirt that flips up easily, for I intend to show you just what a hero, what a conqueror, is your iron-hard Uncle Alf".
  • Crusading Lawyer: Alfred Douglas in A Different Flesh, who manages to end slavery sixty years early (and without a Civil War) in a trial modeled after the Dred Scott Case (albeit at the cost of further hurting the rights of Sims).
  • Dagwood Sandwich: Popular in Atlantis.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The majority of his characters, with Ulric Skakki (Opening of the World) but one example.
  • Deconstructed Trope: Turtledove takes aim at racial and ethnic stereotypes in his work:
    • The stereotype of Black people as lazy and shiftless is deconstructed by showing that this was the result of slavery, rather than anything inherent. As shown in his Atlantis books, as slaves, Black people were treated the same no matter how hard they worked, and with no incentive to overachieve, they did the bare minimum they could get away with. Moreover, their real loyalty was not to their masters, but their fellow slaves, for whom overachieving would only make life harder, as it would raise the expectations of their masters. Turtledove shows the same thing happening with White people under communism, particularly in his Hot War series.
    • His short story Shtetl Days takes aim at the anti-Semitic stereotype of the Greedy Jew as well as the idea of Jews as Dirty Cowards. First, as the Jews live in extreme poverty, barely eking out a living, they have to watch every penny; otherwise they starve. Second, especially considering that they’re outnumbered and outgunned by an overwhelming margin, running and hiding in the face of persecution is their only option, since doing anything else will only make things worse for themselves, their families, and their neighbors.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: In the Presence of Mine Enemies features a Nazi Empire being brought down by popular protests modeled on those in 1989-91 in the USSR in our world, but the protesters are no less antisemitic than the regime.
  • Detective Drama: A few of his stories fall into this:
    • The short story "Les Mortes d'Arthur", surrounds the murder of three athletes during the 66th Winter Games on the Saturn moon of Mimas.
    • The novel The Two Georgesnote  is set in a timeline where the US and Canada joined together to form the North American Union. The plot revolves around the titular "Two Georges", a Thomas Gainsborough painting depicting the historic meeting between George Washington and King George III, which led to the peaceful resolution of the American Revolution. When the painting is stolen by the Sons of Liberty, a radical terrorist group who wish to bring about America's independence, Colonel Thomas Bushell of the Royal American Mounted Police Force is dispatched to track it down before the state visit of King-Emperor Charles III occurs.
    • "The Maltese Elephant" is a pastiche of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. Following the murder of his partner Tom Trencher, Private Investigator Miles Bowman is embroiled with gangsters and femme fatales in a search for the eponymous MacGuffin. Unlike the original story, the titular elephant isn't a valuable statue, but a genuine, living animal.
    • "Farmer's Law" is a historical mystery set during the Byzantine Empire. When a wealthy farmer is murdered in the village of Abrostola, the locals are reluctant to seek aid from the iconoclastic officials of the nearby city of Amorion. Instead, they ask local priest Father George to investigate.
    • "The Scarlet Band" features Sherlock Holmes Expy Athelstan Helms and his Dr. Watson stand-in Doctor James Walton, as they solve a murder which occurs in the United States of Atlantis.
    • "Hoxbomb" is set in the city of Latimer on a planet known as Lacanth C, where humans and a race of aliens called the Snarre't coexist. When a human child is born with severe deformities as a result of a Snarre' bio-weapon known as a hoxbomb. Human cop John Paul Kling, and Snarre' investigator "Miss Murple" join forces to solve the crime before relations between the two species break down completely.

  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: In the second Hot War novel Fallout, one of the presidential candidates is Joe McCarthy, whose portrayal is reminiscent of how many saw Donald Trump in the U.S. 2016 election. Ultimately averted; McCarthy along with most of the US government does not survive the atomic bombing of Washington DC.
  • Doorstopper: Standalone Turtledove books ten to be an average of five or six hundred pages and series ones can be even longer.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: It's common for major characters to be killed off abruptly and without much fanfare in his books.
  • Eternal English: In "The Barbecue, The Movie, and Other Unfortunately Not So Relevant Material" a man from ten thousand years in the future has little trouble communicating, but he's got the technology. He mentions that everything known about our time comes not from our records but those translated into the dominant language of the society before his own, then translated into his language.
  • Fan Disservice: The awkward sex scenes.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • His predilection for inserting "blonds" as the oppressed group when representing blacks under slavery or Jews in the Holocaust in displaced fantasy settings.
    • Also, played with heavily in his Opening of the World trilogy: the Rulers believe themselves to be a Master Race. Turtledove appears to have combined influences from Mongols and the Japanese code of bushido to create their culture, while physically they're short, stocky, with brown skin, black hair, and big curly beards.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Turtledove appears to have combined influences from Mongols and the Japanese code of bushido to create the culture of the Rulers in the Opening of the World Trilogy.
    • The Glacier-folk in The Breath of God have blond or red hair, light eyes, and Old Germanic names: Marcovefa, Leudegisel, Dragolen. The most notable aspect of their culture seems to be mostly based on similarly subsistence-level Melanesian and/or Caribbean cultures. In other words, they're cannibals.
  • Footnote Fever:
    • Or rather, endnote fever.
    • Regular footnote fever appears in his translation of the obscure Chronicle of Theophanes, but it doesn't impair the quality of the work.
  • For Want Of A Nail: Turtledove loves doing these.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: In In the Presence of Mine Enemies, Heinrich (who is in fact a secret Jew) is accused of being a Jew by a Woman Scorned out of simple spite.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: It appears to be the case in Between the Rivers that the gods depend on their worshipers, though part of the plot is that the gods have taken care to prevent any of their worshipers suspecting this.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: One story in the anthology collection Kaleidoscope has a time traveler ask two people who learned her secret who else knows they were investigating her. They reply that only two other people do and she relaxes, having (probably) never intended to kill them if they hadn’t told anyone but being afraid they may have tipped off the FBI to arrest her.
  • Humans Are Special: Just try to count the number of times in the Worldwar series that a member of the alien Race bemoans how different humans are to the Race themselves or their other subject species.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Turtledove does this in the Atlantis series just because he can.
  • Insufficiently Advanced Alien: The short story "The Road Not Taken". Hyperspace travel and contra-gravity ships are surprisingly easy to make if you know how; races that can barely smelt iron have discovered them, and are roaming the galaxy. The biggest and most advanced of them is the Roxolani, who are shocked to find that their muskets and cannon are somewhat outclassed when they invade mid-21st-Century Earth.
  • Just Before the End: The Supervolcano series begins just before the Yellowstone Park supervolcano erupts, plunging the U.S. into chaos.
  • Karma Houdini: It is rare for every (or in some cases many) despicable characters to meet their comeuppance in his stories (e.g. most of the Nazi leaders from Worldwar get to die of natural causes while still in power).
  • Lighter and Softer: The Crosstime Traffic series is this when compared to his other alternate history works, as the series is written for teenage and young adult readers (there is still violence, but the sexual violence is toned down compared to his other works). Most of his other alternate history works are generally written for adults, thus containing massive amount of profanity, sexual violence, and sexuality.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Routinely - he's writing alternate history.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Many of his series with numerous characters tend to have at least one horribly twisted and complicated group of love affairs.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: He likes this trope. All his fantasy settings, though otherwise unrelated, run on the same basic rules of magic—the "Law of Similarity" (two visually similar things are magically connected) and the "Law of Contagion" (two things that have touched are magically connected).
  • Magic from Technology: Subverted; Turtledove's short story "Death in Vesunna" was a direct Take That! against Clarke's Law, in which a Roman "policeman" works out on his own that he's on the trail of a pair of time-traveling murderers, not magicians or demons.
  • Magitek: In Every Inch A King, windworkers produce winds that allow ships to sail against the natural wind, items are cheaply mass produced using the law of sympathy, crystal balls replace telegraphy, etc.
  • Medieval Stasis: Sometimes used, sometimes averted, sometimes a mixture. His fantasy settings often advance in magic "technology" (being allegories for industrial era wars in the real world) but politically tend to always be based on feudal monarchies.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: In Supervolcano the police chief's reprobate son is arrested for dealing drugs. A routine DNA sample taken upon his arrest links him to a serial killer who turns out to be the police chief himself.
  • Money, Dear Boy: Mike Resnick explained the reason for some of Turtledove's more... inflated series during a lecture at my university: "He had to put his three daughters through college, all within a few years of each other." Not surprisingly, Turtledove's recent books have (mostly) been more streamlined: 2007-2009's Opening of the World trilogy, and 2009's Give Me Back My Legions! were lean, mean, and lots of fun.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Turtledove is fond of using this, as well as Foreign Cuss Words, often Yiddish. Considering that he has no problem with characters using racial slurs (including the N-word), Country Matters, and telling each other to fuck themselves up the asshole with cacti and boards of nails, it makes one wonder what the author feels the needs to censor.
  • No Such Thing as Wizard Jesus: Averted in his apparently one-and-only example of work in the "secret-history" genre, the short story Under St. Peter's, he reveals that Jesus actually became a vampire (and not even the first vampire) after his crucifixion, and in addition, may not have been really divine after all.
  • The Neidermeyer: General George Armstrong Custer in The Great War. Although he lacks the "You're all worthless and weak!!" part, he is still more than willing to send the unfortunate men under his command into needlessly costly and bloody offensives that end up gaining little. He constantly tries to seek glory wherever he can and also is more than willing to hog it all and push all the blame on others when something fails.
  • Noble Top Enforcer: The short story "After the Last Elf is Dead" is told from the POV of a general serving an evil overlord. The general is capable of cruelty, but shows a lot of Pragmatic Villainy and Villain Respect for his enemies. At the end of the story he's thrown into a torture chamber for becoming too noble for his boss's taste.
  • Persecution Flip: Some of his works will explore this for the irony.
    • Through Darkest Europe is set in a universe where the Islamic nations of Africa and the Middle East are the center of modern civilization, being champions of liberal and free politics. Christian Europe, by contrast, is full of backwater countries ruled by corrupt governments, tribalism, and theocratic fundamentalists.
    • In The Disunited States of America, the states broke away into separate countries due to the Constitution never being passed, as the weaker Articles of Confederation couldn't keep them together. The southern states, as you'd expect, remain oppressive to black people, although they eventually abolished slavery. This oppression caused black rebellions, and one in Mississippi was successful. The victorious black people there then treated the whites much as they themselves had been earlier.
  • Pinkerton Detective: Pinkerton toughs occasionally appear as secondary characters throughout Turtledove's series of Great War and American Empire Alternate History novels. As the USA in those novels is much more "Europeanized", with a strong Socialist movement, they ultimately end up being defeated by the organized strikers and unions (the Socialists become one of the two major parties, replacing the Republican Party).
  • The Promise: In Between the Rivers, the protagonist in a grandstanding moment vows that he won't marry his sweetheart until the completion of the trading expedition he's about to embark on. It seems like a safe thing to do since it's a routine expedition and he wasn't planning to marry her until after he got back anyway. But then the nation they were going to trade with unexpectedly puts a trading embargo on the protagonist's city. And the god he swore by is real, interventionist, and quite willing to make the vow stick.
  • Prophecy Twist: "Counting Potsherds" uses the real-life story of Athens being saved from the invading Persians by a "wooden wall" (the wooden-hulled Athenian navy). It's set in a timeline where the Athenians all took the Oracle's prophecy rather more literally, and the Persians wiped them out.
  • Pun-Based Title: Several of his short stories: according to Word of God, sometimes the pun comes first and the story later. For example, one story is set in a world where Stalin's purges were worse and left the Soviets unable to defeat the Nazi invasion. In the brutal Nazi-occupied USSR of 1947, the Soviet general Fyodor Tolbukhin becomes a resistance leader known as The Phantom. The title of the story? The Phantom Tolbukhin.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: He originally wrote under the pseudonyms "Eric Iverson" and "H.N. Turteltaub" because his editor thought "Turtledove" sounded too much like a made-up name.
  • Recycled In Space: In the Presence of Mine Enemies is the fall of the Soviet Union IN NAZI GERMANY AND TWENTY MINUTES INTO THE FUTURE!
  • Redemption Equals Death: In A Different Flesh, Henry Dale causes a peaceful rescue mission to end in tragedy by shooting at the Sims out of Fantastic Racism, but after getting one of his companions killed, becomes guilty enough to sacrifice his life so that the others can escape.
  • The Remnant:
    • The short story "After the Last Elf is Dead" has the garrisons of several fortresses remain loyal to the elven king and continue to fight back against impossible odds long after their liege's demise. All of them are defeated, but they instill some Villain Respect in the Noble Top Enforcer.
    • The short story "The Phantom Tolbukhin" has former Soviet general Fyodor Tolbukhin leading a small, desperate group of Russian soldiers in guerrilla resistance actions against the Nazis several years after the Nazis win World War II (in an Alternate Universe).
    • "The Last Article" (where The Bad Guy Wins World War II) begins with the British troops in India surrendering and being rebuked for fighting four years after the Nazis conquered England.
  • Ridiculous Future Inflation: The USA in his Crosstime Traffic books has a hundred-dollar coin.
  • Rightful King Returns: Deconstructed in the Short Story, The Emperor's Return, which is set during a Greek invasion of Istanbul in what was at the time the not so distant future of 2003. The Greek reconquest of the city causes the prophecy of The Marble Emperor to come true with Constantine XI reappearing to reclaim his throne. The problem? Greece is a socialist state that has long moved past the era of Emperors. When a group of Greek soldiers argue over whether or not to accept him as their ruler, Constantine, infuriated by what he perceives to be the same petty infighting that plagued Byzantium, attacks the soldiers with his sword only to be unceremoniously shot dead.
  • Secret Test of Character: in A Different Flesh, Dr. Howard is conducing AIDS research on Sims (surviving descendants of homo erectus) with an inquisitive politician providing his funding questioning him about the ethics of the experiments and what he would do if there were no sims in the world. When Howard replies that he'd simply be conducting test tube experiments (like in the real-world), his guest reveals that he'd been curious to see whether Howard would have been willing to test it on mentally ill humans, and tells him that he passed the test by not suggesting this. Howard gets upset by the implication and orders the man to leave, but finds himself wondering if he really would be tempted to infect "human defectives" with AIDS if there were no Sims... and is disturbed to realize that he doesn't know.
  • Shakespeare in Fiction: Shakespeare is the main character in "We Haven't Got There Yet" and Ruled Britannia.
  • Sherlock Homage: The Atlantis short story "The Scarlet Band" features Great Detective Athelstan Helms and his faithful biographer Dr. James Walton. Notably, Walton is depicted as very xenophobic as was typical of Victorian society, a far cry from the more compassionate and tolerant Dr. Watson of the original Holmes stories.
  • Shout-Out: The Crosstime Traffic series is at least partly inspired by H. Beam Piper's Paratime stories-and to emphasize this, the names of the developers of the crosstime technique are clearly based on the names of the people who developed the paratime transposition.
  • Shown Their Work: Turtledove writes epilogues to explain how real history meshes with his alternate history, and his works themselves can go into great detail on everyday life. He's even got a degree in Byzantine history (an obscure area he writes fiction about).
  • Spare a Messenger: The short story "After the Last Elf is Dead" has the general of an Evil Overlord release five soldiers from a fortress he successfully besieged, telling them to spread the word of his victory to every corner of the region while their surviving comrades are enslaved.
  • Suicidal Pacifism: The Alternate History short story The Last Article turns Mohandas Gandhi's nonviolent resistance movement into this after Nazi Germany conquers India from the British Empire
  • Switching P.O.V.: Most of his series have at least 5 or 6 POV characters per book, covering various aspects of a large-scale event, like a war on multiple fronts as seen by generals and soldiers and civilians.
  • Take a Third Option:
    • His short story "Ready for the Fatherland" was inspired by his realization that WW2 alternate history is always 'we win or the Nazis win'. To do something different, he made a scenario where a coup by Manstein in 1943 results in a Nazi Germany that manages to fight just well enough (and cut a deal at the right time) to make WW2 end in a stalemate, resulting in a four-way cold war between the USA, USSR, Third Reich and British Empire.
    • Likewise, in his short story "Must and Shall", Turtledove has an AH where Reconstruction is much harsher due to the death of Abraham Lincoln by a sniper on July 12, 1864 on the ramparts at Fort Stevens. Instead of this causing the Civil Rights Movement to come a hundred years early, this leads to the South being Northern Ireland writ large, with US troops occupying it into the 1940s and facing common revolts, while Southern whites have become disenfranchised.
  • Take That!:
    • Supervolcano: Eruption has Vanessa Ferguson, an arrogant and bitchy (and proud of it) Grammar Nazi editor. What clinches it is this snarky line of narration: "Like any good editor, Vanessa was sure she would make a good writer as soon as she found the time. As with a lot of good editors, somehow she never did."
    • As one of his few stories written in the present day, Turtledove is clearly enjoying the opportunity to take jabs at preferred targets in the Supervolcano series. A fantastic gag has the main character turning from good CNN coverage of the volcano to Fox News, which blames the President for the volcano... and then disgustedly turning to MSNBC, which is instead blaming the Republican Congress.
  • Turn the Other Cheek: "The Last Article" explores the effectiveness of Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent protest in a timeline where the Nazis won World War II and took over all Britain's imperial holdings including India. His tactics fail, as unlike the British the Nazis are willing to simply kill them all.
  • Uncertain Doom: In the short story "Must and Shall," the villains burn down the strip club where Lucy (one of the protagonist's informants) works, killing almost everyone inside. The protagonist feels certain that she must have died in the fire, but her body isn't specifically identified.
  • Ungovernable Galaxy: After two hundred years of interstellar expansion in the backstory to "Herbig-Haro", the Terran Confederacy falls apart due to infighting. The characters state it "grew too fast and became too big to administer", and in the story's setting a thousand years later most human planets are still relatively isolated while the few that are near the Confederacy's technology level are Scavenger Worlds.
  • Unicorns Prefer Virgins: Played with in "Honeymouth", in which a foul-mouthed and lecherous mercenary is somehow able to ride a unicorn without any problem. When asked how he can do it, usually while the unicorn is parked outside a brothel, he sarcastically replies that he's a virgin. He is. Technically. He only engages in oral sex with women, thus his name.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Turtledove mentioned that this was a problem when doing the research for Remember Fort Pillow, as most of the official records of the battle on both sides were obvious works of propaganda.
  • Violence Really Is the Answer: One of Turtledove's central themes-see "The Last Article", where Mahatma Gandhi's nonviolent tactics fail miserably against the Nazis when they take over India. Averted in In the Presence of Mine Enemies though, where intelligent non-violent actions prove effective.
  • What If?: He stories tend to begin with one little thing happening differently and so much changing as a result.
  • What You Are in the Dark: In the short story "Must and Shall," a government agency with some Holier Than Thou tendencies is repulsed about having to meet a contact in a strip club. Nonetheless, when the only other people around are sex workers and drunken pro-Confederates, he finds his moral rectitude tested when he gropes one of the dancers.
    Unlike the others in the room, he'd had to be here. He hadn't had to grab her, though. Sometimes, facetiously, you called a place like this educational. He'd learned something, all right, and rather wished he hadn't.
  • World Half Empty: It is incredibly rare for a Turtledove story to end on an unambiguously positive note, with long-running series frequently dwelling on how much has been lost up until that point and about how things aren't necessarily over (e.g. in The War That Came Early Hitler has been defeated but Germany itself hasn't an nearly everyone in the story believes that Germany's new leaders will start a third world war in the near future).
  • World of Pun: The short story "The Phantom Tolbukhin", about the real-life Soviet General Tolbukhin leading La Résistance as "The Phantom" in a Nazi-occupied USSR, is a title Shout-Out to The Phantom Tollbooth.
  • Writer on Board: Since 2001 or so, if the particular Alternate History setting allows for it, Turtledove will include some kind of analogy to Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: Being that he's Ashkenazi Jewish, Turtledove injects some of these around the dialogue.
  • You Keep Using That Word: Turtledove is fond of this trope, having a doctor discuss the "lay/lie" distinction in The War That Came Early, and has a character reflect on the media's misuse of "impact" to mean "affect" in Supervolcano: Eruption.
  • You No Take Candle: A fairly realistic one is done in Supervolcano: Eruption with a Filipina store clerk, whose English is understandable but displays some grammatical problems that actually do tend to happen to many Filipinos in Real Life. However, it gets ridiculous when a police officer has to mime out the word "mask" to get her to understand. English is common enough in the Philippines to be one of the country's two official languages. Many English-language shows and books are left untranslated, and the word maskara (a localized spelling of the Spanish word mascara) is found in the major Filipino languages and dialects. She should have had no problem understanding "mask".