Tag Archives: Fiction

Impressions of “Alpha and Omega,” by Harry Turtledove

Recently I finished Alpha and Omega, Harry Turtledove’s book of the end of the world. I have a soft spot in my heart for Turtledove’s earlier book, Guns of the South. Turtledove’s book is not a lesson in theology, but could be thought of as a secular Lord of the World: a blow-by-blow account of the Eschaton from the perspective of several secular characters, as well as a few religious point of view characters.

But first: a few words about Guns of the South. Guns is an alternate history where time-travelers present General Robert E. Lee with a large truck full of AK-47s, associated parts, and ammunition. The rest of the book is told primarily from the perspective of Union and Confederate war-fighters. I loved Guns of the South because of the relentlessness with which it takes the logic of its initial premise. Second- and third- order effects, such as the Union’s industrial base better ability to replicate parts, are taken seriously. The conclusion is a brilliant combination of historical contingency and historical determinism.

Alpha and Omega is not as good. The book’s blending of apocalypses is original.  Yet Turtledove is clearly better at materialistic history rather than comparative theology. Turtledove does not have more than a surface-level understanding of the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism, as in the scene where a televangelist gives prayers for the dead:

Lester Stark prayed for the victim’s soul and drove on.
p. 46

There are other cases where the Jewish and Islamic distinctions are likewise muddled. Yet there are still some good lines and set-pieces which cleverly play on expectations, such as the origin of the “Messiah”

Chaim knew exactly what he wanted: “Take me instead!”

“What?” The rabbi’s eyebrows came down and together in a scowl that should have petrified Chaim.
p.g 393

The context being a very odd take on Paul:

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:7-8

and the loneliness of the Messiah:

Before this started, Eric hadn’t worried about the Messiah. He’d never imagined Him as the loneliest guy in town. Judging by Chaim Avigad, that came with the package.
pg. 446

being an unstated commentary on Matthew:

Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Matthew 27:45-46

I wanted more of the historical strengths of Turtledove’s earlier works. When Turtledove writes about history he’s on solid ground, and the result is great:

“Then this is yet the Kingdom of Judah?” he asked.
“This is Israel,” Chaim answered.
“The northern kingdom, the false line, have conquered the true, holy realm?” The ancient Jew sounded horrified.
pg. 432

Plus some of Turtledove’s references to recent history were fascinating:

The 1948 War of Independence saw bizarre things, like Israeli Air Force pilots flying Messerschmidt 109s (Czech-built postwar versions) against Egyptian B-17s and their Spitfire escorts.
pg. 444

Sadly, there’s nothing like Lee’s dialogue in Guns of the South where he discusses the future South Africa’s political situation with time traveling Afrikaners. I enjoyed Alpha and Omega, but it was neither as good as the comedic Tom Stranger series, nor as thought-provoking as Ball Lightning, other fiction books I’ve read recently. If there are sequels to this book, I may not read them.

I read Alpha and Omega in the Kindle edition.

Review of “Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse,” edited by John Joseph Adams

The thing about Wastelands is that it is very uneven. Perhaps it is because the post-apocalyptic genre is so wide, or so bare, but for every great story there are three or four or five which is a chore to read. Joe Sherry and Slippard do a great job breaking down the stories individual without spoiling anything, so instead I will focus just on the tales that make this volume worth it.

  • “The End of the Whole Mess,” by Stephen King. King is a great writer, always fun and easy to read.
  • “The People of Sand and Slag,” by Paolo Bacigalupi. Perhaps the most disturbing book in the collection, as Bacigalupi seems to understand where genetic engineering is going.
  • “Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels,” by George R.R. Martin. A Cold War parable. Anyone who loved golden age Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke will feel at home here.
  • “Judgment Passed,” by Jerry Olten. An odd story as it deals with the rapture from the point of view of atheist astronauts who were out of the solar system at the time.
  • “Mute,” by Gene Wolf. You need to read this. Mute, alone, makes buying this book worth it, even if you just buy the Kindle edition and read it on your computer. Mute is only ten pages, but that includes a short intro in which Neil Gaiman gives the following advice:(1) Trust the text implicitly. THe answers are in there.
    (2) Do not trust the text farther than you can throw it, if that far. It’s tricksy and desperate stuff, and it may go off in your hand at any time.
    (3) Reread. It’s better the second time.

    Actually, it’s more confusing the second time. The third time I really paid attention to why the protagonist could be thinking her thoughts. And I drew a map.

    (Mute tends to have negative reviews in summaries. If you only read it once it’s disturbing, but you completely miss what is happening.)

  • “The End of the World As We Know It,” by Dale Bailey. The end of the world is not the most important thing to happen to the protagonist, to a local consequence of it is. A wonderful story of grieving.
  • “A Song Before Sunset,” by David Grigg. Reads like an episode of The Twilight Zone, in the best sense.

If the same book for the same price was just these stories, it would have been a great deal, well worth the $10.85 paperback price. Don’t feel obligated to read the rest.