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Creator / Harry Turtledove

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No, that's not Freud.

Harry Norman Turtledove (born June 14, 1949) is an author of Alternate History — one of 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:

  • 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.
  • The Crosstime Traffic series: People from the future of our universe engage in clandestine trade with alternate timelines and change their destinies - sometimes by accident, sometimes not.
  • Between the Rivers: A novel about a version of Mesopotamia ruled by Physical Gods.
  • In the Presence of Mine Enemies, in which the US stayed out of World War II entirely, allowing the Axis to conquer Europe, Asia and ultimately America itself. In 2010, a small group of Jews still survives, hidden in Germany, while an analogue of the Soviet Union's fall plays out in Berlin.
  • 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 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 14th, 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.
  • Supervolcano a trilogy about the eruption of the super volcano beneath Yellowstone National Park and its aftermath.
  • Household Gods, co-written with Judith Tarr. A time travel story in which a modern woman is sent back to the 2nd century Roman Empire due to an ill-advised prayer.

He also has his own Wiki.

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 My Enemies, an Alternate History set in 2009 Nazi Germany, has a sort of anonymous ringer — the Fuhrer, "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.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • Dagwood Sandwich: Popular in Atlantis.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The majority of his characters, with Ulric Skakki (Opening of the World) but one example.
  • 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 anti-Semitic than the regime.
  • 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.
  • The Dung Ages: Household Gods, with Judith Tarr, highlights how much this was the case in the late Roman Empire. It's mostly because of ignorance or simply inability to do anything else however. How do you keep the flies or lice away with no screens or shampoo, for instance? Nonetheless, it's hard on the protagonist, who's a time traveler from the US in the late 90s. They still do bathe frequently, but it doesn't help much since the grime quickly sets in against, bath water is rarely changed, and sick people go too.
  • Eternal English: In "The Book, 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.
  • 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.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: Early in The Breath of God (part of the Opening of the World trilogy), a man gets an arrow to the knee. Ulric Skakki resolves this in the same scene with a tool specifically designed to remove arrows. This was three years before Skyrim.
  • 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.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Routinely - he's writing alternate history.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Nowadays more often than not Loads and Loads of viewpoint characters.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Many of his series with Loads and Loads of 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 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: 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.
  • 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!
  • Ridiculous Future Inflation: The USA in his Crosstime Traffic books has a hundred-dollar coin.
  • Rightful King Returns: Deconstructed in The Last Emperor, 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.
  • Rule 34: A rare case where it's arguably self-applied. Seriously.
  • Science Cannot Comprehend Phlebotinum: In the short story "The Road Not Taken," this applies to anti-gravity and faster-than-light travel.
  • Shakespeare in Fiction: In "We Haven't Got There Yet".
  • 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).
  • 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. This led 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.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Despite being set about a century in the future, the Crosstime Traffic series's home timeline looks like this. Apart from a hundred years of ordinary inflation, a few undescribed and apparently undescribable consumer objects, and the Crosstime vehicle itself, the home timeline is thoroughly familiar (Burger King apparently still exists, but a Whopper will cost a few Benjamins or C-Notes. Even the Euro still exists, though you need a hundred of them to buy anything).
    • Apple still makes their products, and "The Incredibles" is such a beloved classic that the proprietor in "The Gladiator" has it on his future PAD or whatever Apple will call that device.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Virgin Power: 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.
  • World of Pun: The short story "The Phantom Tolbukhin", about the real-life Soviet General Tolbukhin l
eading 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.
  • Ye Goode Olde Days: Household Gods, a novel he and Judith Tarr wrote, plays with this trope. The protagonist, a female lawyer who lives in modern LA (c. the late 90s when the book came out) wishes for something else than her difficult life juggling a career and family, praying to a statue of two Roman gods she bought, thinking it was better in the era they came from. When her prayer is granted, and she's woken up in the body of a female Roman tavern owner in the 2nd century AD, it turns out to be quite unpleasant in many ways. She's disgusted by the lack of hygiene, slavery and the Romans' attitudes toward many issues. Then things become worse. Ultimately it boils down to finding more appreciation for what she has in her own time.
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: Being that he's Ashkenazi Jewish, Turtledove injects some of these around the dialogue.
  • You Have to Have Jews: Turtledove himself is Jewish, and while it makes sense for some of his books to have important Jewish characters considering they are set in World War II, it's rare to see any book by him that doesn't have prominent Jewish characters regardless of setting.
    • There's a fun Lampshade Hanging in one short story where a time traveller from the distant future—so distant that he finds almost everything in our time incomprehensible—casually notes someone from our time is Jewish when he spots a menorah in his house.
  • 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 that 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."


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