After the Downfall
By Harry Turtledove
Published by Audible Frontiers
Read by Eric Michael Summerer
Seriously? Did we need yet another what if involving a German soldier at the end of the Second World War? More to the point did we need another heavy-handed metaphor (or is this a simile) in which racial prejudice is examined in such an obvious manner. Indeed, it seems the story is just a vehicle for the underlying message that prejudice is a bad thing. But that is not entirely why I was dissatisfied by this story.
The whole story has the feeling of one that was phoned in. Yeah, okay, we get it from the outset; The Lenelli are larger than life Aryan types – blond-haired and light-colored eyes and the Grenye are this other world’s version of Jews, Romani, homosexuals, Slavs, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other peoples who were oppressed by Nazi Germany. Mister Turtledove not only does nothing to disguise this, but has his main character note the similarities several times, in case, I suppose, we were not paying attention the first few times.
Then, in what I can only assume is fan service to his male readers, we are started out with a gratuitous sex scene in which a woman the main character rescues, immediately takes off her clothing and lays down in the middle of the road so they can get it on. Seriously? Outside of a porno flick, that does not happen in any human society and putting it in another world does not make it easier to believe. I suppose Mister Turtledove must think it is okay because the woman in question is the Goddess-on-Earth… or her mortal vessel or whatever and might point at Near Eastern temple prostitutes of the ancient world, but that parallel does not hold up for a multitude of reasons that I really do not have the space to go into here, but keep in mind that in the ancient Near East, depending on the time and place, the so called temple prostitutes were either priestesses performing a sacred rite or else lay women who were required to serve at least once as a rite of passage. Either way, these were religious rituals. I seriously doubt a priestess of Astarte would have just happily stripped and had sex on an open road no matter the circumstance.
Well, after a sojourn with that world’s “Master Race,” it was to be expected that our displaced Nazi soldier would get taken captive by the “Untermeschen,” and he would have to revise his entire outlook. So, no surprises there either. The Grenye seem to be a cross between and undiscovered civilization and the stereotypical noble savage. Of course they are civilized… they live in cities, therefore… Of course the Lenelli don’t see things that way, but our protagonist is forced to see the Grenye as they are. Well, it is inevitable that he eventually changes his mind although it happens very late in the story and only after he realizes the Lenelli, and his former lover especially, will kill him given the chance. And I, personally have some doubts about his reform and ability to accept that people are people since his only nod to people in in the world he came from is something like “perhaps Jews are just people too.” Nice of him to get that far, I suppose. I did not that he never stopped referring to Russians as Ivans, so there is cause to wonder if he really has changed his mind.
The story is not badly crafted, and certainly better than some of Turtledoves’ recent works, although I do hope this is intended as a stand-alone book, because it really was not good enough for a sequel in my eyes. Where could it go? Would our protagonist have a relapse and decide the Grenye aren’t really people after all? Or will his personal story stagnate as he does his Martin Padway imitation, re-inventing new and bigger weapons from his home-world? Hard to say, but I won’t be looking for the second book, if it exists.
For the most part, Eric Michael Summerer, did a passable job of reading this story. I was willing to put up with Hasso Pemsel’s thick German accent, even when speaking German. I have a pronounced aversion to using accents when a character is speaking his native tongue and even in the main text when speaking the languages of the Lenelli and Grenye where it is fair to assume he is speaking with an accent I felt it got in the way of the story. However, what was worse was the thin parody of an Eastern European (possibly Jewish) accent spoken by the chief of the Grenye. Why should he have an accent at all? It sounded all wrong.
Other than those vocal choices, however, Mister Summerer’s performance was good and as the book proceeded I was able to shelve my own prejudices most of the time and listen to the end.
So all told while the story is fairly well written, the concept and its presentation is a bit tired and worn and definitely predictable (this is coming from a guy who almost never figures out whodunit before the big reveal). The performance is passable and I think that those less jaded than I will enjoy it. So if this sort of story appeals to you, you’ll probably like this one, and if not… well the library is full of books, isn’t it?