Just a place where I can work on drafts of book reviews for my bookblog (https://bookblog.kjodle.net/) when I'm not working from home.
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The year is 1974, the Nixon presidency is melting down, nobody has cable television or a personal computer because neither of them are a thing yet, the closest thing most people have ever seen to a cell phone are the communicators in Star Trek, and the United States is very interested in trying to raise a sunken Soviet submarine from the floor of the Pacific Ocean.
All of that is true. But Three Miles Down is an alternate history, so while all of those things exist within the book (the history part), there are parts in the book that don't exist in real life (the alternate part). We'll get to those alternate bits in a moment.
What makes alternate history work is the details. What if Stauffenberg had not been interrupred when he was trying to assassinate Hitler? What if the Titanic had gone straight ahead instead of turning to port. What if the Greeks had not managed to turn back the Persians? The further back we go in time, the larger a paint brush we can use to paint doubt and uncertainty. If it's recent history, we must use a very finely pointed paint brush.
The big detail in this case is Project Azorian, which was an actual American attempt to raise a sunken Soviet submarine in the early 1970s. This is the big detail. No need to paint it with a big brush; it's already a big thing.
One of the great things about well-done alternate history is that it makes you wonder if you've somehow missed something. The plot of Three Miles Down is that the Glomar Explorer is going out to mine the ocean floor for manganese nodules (the story they told to the public), not to raise a sunken Soviet submarine (the story they told to everyone on the ship to get them to join the mission), but to raise the thing they think could have sunk the Soviet submarine, which is…not of this earth? This probably didn't happen, but if it did, would we even know about it? Is an alien space capsule lying buried in a government warehouse somewhere, Indiana Jones-style?
One of the things a clever writer of alternate history can do is use it as a lens to examine certain aspects of our actual, modern society. Turtledove is a clever writer, and he casts a fair bit of shade at the 45th presidential "administration. (And as someone who was no fan of the Tronald Dump long before he even considered going into politics, I thoroughly enjoyed these bits of shade. It's been a very hot day since he started his new hobby.) Three Miles Down takes place just as the Nixon administration was in its final meltdown, and while Jerry, the cetacean biologist who tells this tale may be left-leaning, almost everybody else on the ship, from the rent-a-frogs to the CIA guys and to the civilians running the operation, are rock-ribbed righto-wingers. Nixon is being set up, the evidence is all fake, why-are-all-the-commie-liberals-picking-on-our-poor-boy?, etc., etc. If you've been at all awake during the past few years, you've heard endless reiterations of this.
I've been a lifelong fan of science fiction since I first started watching Star Trek in repeats in my pajamas on Sunday mornings. I read Asimov's Foundation trilogy when I was in my early teens. So I have absolutely no excuse for having never read any of Harry Turtledove's books before. This is especially true when the cover blurb describes him as "the master of alternate history" because I've always loved history. After all, you can't really appreciate Tolkien if you don't like history.
I have not read a lot of alternate history science fiction, despite the fact that The Man in the High Castle was made into a television series recently. (I like Phillip K. Dick, but he's always been a little too liberatarian[sup]1[/sup]for my to ever really do a deep dive into his works.)  Sadly, a lot of people seem to think that a fascist takeover of the United States would actually be a good idea. Does history repeat itself? Yes, of course. The better question is why does history repeat itself? The answer there is "because nobody listened the first (or the tenth, or the hundredth) time around". History depresses me enough already; do I really need an alternate history to depress me even more?
What caught my eye was the cover. The artwork reminded me of some 1950s B-grade sci-fi movie, but it was the tagline that really snagged me: "A novel of the first contact in the tumultuous 1970s. I was a child in the 1970s, and yes, it was very tumultuous, both personally and politically.
So yeah, there is all that. I was not prepared to enjoy this book nearly as much as I did. I highly recommend it.
[sup]1[/sup] Libertarianism has always been an excuse for selfishness. "I've got mine; too bad you didn't get any, but I'll be damned if I'm going to share" may as well be their motto.
[mla-start][mlabook author="Turtledove, Harry" title="Three Miles Down" city="New York" publisher="Tor" year="2022" medium="Book" addt=""]
[mla-end]