Birthday Reviews: Harry Turtledove’s “Half the Battle”
Harry Turtledove was born on June 14, 1949.
Turtledove began publishing using the pseudonym “Eric G. Iverson” and has also published under the names “Mark Gordion,” “H.N. Turteltaub,” and “Dan Chernenko.” Known for his alternate history novels and epics, he has also published numerous science fiction and fantasy works. In 1994 his novella “Down in the Bottomlands” received the Hugo Award. He won the Sidewise Award for Alternate History twice, for his novels How Few Remain and Ruled Britannia. Two of the novels in his Young Adult Crosstime series have won awards. Gunpowder Empire won the 2004 Golden Duck Hal Clement Award given by SuperConDuckTivity and The Gladiator received the 2008 Prometheus Award. His novel WorldWar: In the Balance received the Italia Award in 1996. Turtledove served as Toast Master at Chicon 2000, the Worldcon. In 1995 he received the Forry Award from LASFS.
“Half the Battle” was published by Jerry Pournelle in 1990, in volume 9 of his There Will Be War anthology series, After Armageddon. The story has not been reprinted.
The story opens sometime after an apocalyptic event has destroyed civilization in southern California. A new society has arisen around several small kingdoms, with Turtledove looking at the king of Canoga. When a book is found that describes a machine that the ancients had that can spit bullets, a machine gun, King Byron has his artificers try to replicate the lost device to replace the slow matchlocks his troops are using. The fact that King Byron and his people knew the gun could exist gave them the edge in re-creating it.
The story uses several time jumps to explore where this future will go. In each period, King Byron’s descendants have managed to extend and consolidate the kingdom’s power and in each period, they come across other devices of the ancients that they work to replicate, because knowing it can be done is “half the battle.”
Turtledove builds a interesting future in only a few words, eventually taking the story beyond the plausible when the Namerican Empire continues to discover references to technology that has been lost, but which their technologists know is possible and can therefore be replicated.
Reviewed in its original publication in the anthology There Will Be War, Volume IX: After Armageddon, edited by Jerry Pournelle, Tor Books 1990.
Steven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.
I think you should have reviewed an Eric G. Iverson story!
Interestingly, only five of the stories published using the Iverson Name have not been reprinted under Harry’s own name.
But one of those (“The Summer’s Garden”) was re-written and published under his own name and one of them (Noninterference) formed part of a novel published under his own name.
So, that really only left me with three Eric Iverson options: “Blue Fox and Werewolf,” “Traditions,” and “Unholy Trinity.”
Harry Turtledove is an underrated author.
Shtetl Days is one of my favorite stories. A great story about the enduring power of faith.
I have his Videssos cycle knocking about. Should really make a plan to read it.