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Literature / A World of Difference

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A World of Difference is a Science Fiction Alternate History novel by Harry Turtledove, set during an alternate, extended Cold War.

As an Alternate History novel, A World of Difference is set in an alternate version of the 1990s where, due to the planet that became Mars in our timeline being larger, it has a different composition that makes it suitable for complex life into the present day. This also causes it to have a different color, so it's known as Minerva instead of Mars. Because of this, the Viking missions of the mid-1970s find conclusive evidence of life on Minerva, causing the US and USSR to send a pair of coordinated missions to the planet in order to study the local biosphere. They then find themselves on opposite sides of a war on Minerva, threatening to take the Cold War's proxy wars onto another world.


This book provides examples of :

  • Ace Pilot: Bragg, as shown when he beats the Soviet vessel down to the planets surface, leaving his Russian counterpart a little sullen.
  • All Take and No Give: An unintentional example, but Frank Marquand hasn't made his wife Pat orgasm in over a year.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Yuri is the second KGB agent in the Soviet crew and comes close to reporting Shota for borderline treason, although he stays out of Bitch in Sheep's Clothing territory by having some basic decency and ultimately giving his crewmate a pass.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Six-section radial symmetry is commonplace on Minerva.
  • Bizarre Alien Reproduction: Minerva females (which are referred to as mates) gestate their young six at a time in separate buds, one on each body section. The young connect to the mother's circulatory system for nourishment via their mouths, much like Earth's marsupials attach themselves to a teat in their mother's pouches. When the time comes for the young to be born, the buds on the mother's body split open and the young fall off from their attachment points. This process inevitably kills the mother from bleeding out.
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  • Brutal Honesty: Fralk is upfront about his domain's desire to invade Reatur's land, as a way of trying to motivate him to surrender. Later, Hogram admits that he would have treated any prisoners he would have taken in victory far less kindly than Reatur is treating there people, having realized that honesty will win more appreciation than perceived insincerity.
  • Cunning Linguist: Valery serves as the Soviets interpreter and is very good at his job, but ironically is the least worldly and cunning of the Russians.
  • Determined Doctor: Sarah is determined to find a way to stop the Minervan females from dying when they give birth. She succeeds.
  • Dragon with an Agenda: Fralk serves as his grandfather's chief soldier and advisor, but plays a proactive role in preparing for war, badly wanting it in order to enhance his own power and prestige once Hogram dies.
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  • The Engineer: Louise Bragg is this for the American expedition.
  • Family Versus Career: Emmett Bragg loved his first wife, but still divorced her and married Louise because NASA only wanted married couples for the Minerva mission, and she didn't have the necessary skills.
  • Love Letter Lunacy: Yuri writes romantic songs directed at Katerina, the only woman among the Russian crew, but never has the courage to send them.
  • May–December Romance: Louise Bragg is fifteen years her husbands junior.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Oleg helps launch the conflict in the first place, and much of his later regret comes from fear for his own life, but he does sacrifice himself keeping Fralk from killing Sarah.
  • Seduction-Proof Marriage: Subverted. Irv Leavitt does reject Pat Marquand's attempts to instigate an affair at first, but later succumbs to it after the death of her husband, while in the mean-time, his wife is sleeping with Bragg.
  • Southern Fried General: General Bragg is from Alabama and is a capable pilot and mission leader.
  • Starfish Aliens: The Minervans possess six-way radial symmetry, with each section having an eye stalk, an arm with three fingers, and a leg. Minervans can point their eyestalks in any direction, speak through breathing pores that appear to be separate from their mouths (which are on top of their bodies pointing upwards), and do not have a defined front or back.
  • Suit with Vested Interests: The NASA bureaucrats released false coordinates for the location of the Viking probe which landed in the Omalo Domain (telling Bragg the real location at the last minute), in an effort to humiliate the Russians and give their own team a leg up. as a result, the Russian becomes more suspicious of the American crew even though they honestly didn't know, and the Russians end up landing in the rival Skarmer domain, with the presence of the different shuttles in opposing territories prompting more war-mongering, putting the human explorers at greater risk, and even threatening to spill over to the cold war back home.
  • Token Minority: Shota, a Georgian, is the only cosmonaut not from Russia.
  • Values Dissonance: Because of the realities of Minervan reproduction, male dominance in Minervan society is a given. One of the effects is that Minervan mates are never allowed to leave what appoints to a harem.
  • Vocal Dissonance: The Minervans, despite using spoken language for communication, are otherwise completely strange looking. Yet their voices are compared to the contralto singing voice of human women. Made even more powerful by the Minervan males possessing such contralto voices.

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