Aliens invade Earth during World War 2.
So is the basic, and awesome, concept behind one of Harry Turtledove’s greatest novel series, the “Worldwar” series. First published in 1994, this 8-book series is one of the most famous alternate history stories written and poses one of the most delightful what-if questions ever asked. What if aliens invaded Earth during World War 2?
Now, WW2 is like a magnet when it comes to alternate histories. Soooooo many authors have written about this war posing various what-if questions but they’re usually about what if Nazi Germany won the war. No other topic in history, not even what if the Confederate States of America won the American Civil War, comes even close to matching the popularity of this topic. As such, alternate historical WW2 stories oversaturate the genre and make it hard to find good stories from this small pool.
What Harry Turtledove does to differentiate himself from other writers is focus on the point of divergence (the point in history where something happened differently than from our own timeline). It’s not Roosevelt or Hitler that gets assassinated, it’s not Nazi Germany refraining from declaring war on the U.S.S.R., it’s not Japan refraining from bombing Pearl Harbor, it’s an alien invasion. Freaking aliens.
Now at this point, you might be saying to yourself, “but they’re aliens! Shouldn’t they be able to steamroll over us and conquer Earth no problem?” You might be right, BUT, these aliens are practical…sensible…and not farcical. These aliens have technology similar to ours right now but with an added bonus of say…50 years from now or so. They have interstellar but slower than light travel, they have large spaceships for holding armies, and they have cryonics to preserve the soldiers during the long flight. So their technology is not too-farfetched.
More importantly though, the aliens, known as “The Race,” were not expecting this degree of advancement from the humans. When the Race sent their first probes to Earth, they sent back pictures and videos of humans riding horses while wielding swords and bows. The probes painted an image of the human race as relatively backwards and not a threat to the more technology advanced the Race. As such, when the Race arrived to the war-torn world of Earth, they were expecting an easy conquering of a backward species.
This is one of the reasons why the Worldwar series is a great series of novels to read. We are presented with a believable science fiction setting that offers a conflict that is not one-sided and can be viewed from multiple protagonists. Oh yeah, the protagonists. In typical Turtledove fashion, we are presented many different protagonists to follow from various walks of life, both human and the Race. They offer us a glimpse into their world and paint us a picture on what events are affecting them and what events they are affecting in return. My favorite POV is probably Molotov though Atvar, the Fleet Overlord of the Race, is a good character as well.
The second reason why this series is so great is that it does not overly rely on parallel historical events to tell a story. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Some authors, like Harry Turtledove, like to use events in their storyline as analogous to the actual historical events. In Harry Turtledove’s other famous series, Timeline-191, where the C.S.A. won the American Civil War, we see A LOT of parallels between the C.S.A. and Nazi Germany during the 1930s and 1940s and in the 1940s’ war between the C.S.A. and the U.S.A. In all honestly, it’s kind of annoying. I like my alternate history stories to progress like they naturally would and not just on some parallel track that was already determined by our timeline. This is why I like Timeline-191’s storyline during the Great War more so than the rest of the series because those parallel events are played down to the point of nonexistence.
Now, to be fair, the Worldwar series does have analogous events but they are portrayed as events similar to what has already happened in human history. Many of the human characters compare the Race’s colonization of Earth relative to British Imperialism in the 19th century. Topics like Social Darwinism and racism are prevalent in the Race’s attitude towards humans. The humans disgust the Race with their non-seasonal mating, long-term romantic relationships, high amount of liquid waste, and ability to handle change easily. But these events do not directly portray one or two significant events that happen during the course of history. In fact, many fans of the series more often than not compare the Race War to that of the Vietnam War. Even then, this is more of just a point of observation rather than directly comparing battles or weapons that the two wars may have.
As such, we are given two strong reasons why the Worldwar series stands out from other alternate historical novels. An original concept combined with a story that is unchained from our own history provides a delightful read that can keep the readers on edge. When I read the Timeline-191 series or other similar stories, I can get a relative idea what may happen and who might be killed at the end of the story. Worldwar pushes this to the side and keeps us guessing what may happen in each exciting new book.
And finally, in the television world where more and more companies like Netflix or Hulu are providing us with original, unhindered shows that can give us exciting and new series, I say this. The Worldwar series would be phenomenal if it was adapted into a television show. We already have shows with multiple protagonists, such as Game of Thrones, and there hasn’t been any good, strong science fiction shows in recent memory. What’s more, the tagline that I gave you at the beginning of the article is enough to entice anyone to at least check out the first episode
Aliens invade Earth during World War 2.
Someone has to make it. This series is awesome.
My only request is that you make the aliens chameleon-like cause god damnet, sooooo many book covers make them just reptilian-like. Make it happen!
Yes, it was certainly tough waiting for the next installment to be published…
What “next installment” are you referring to? Is there something coming out after Homeward Bound?
Ah, my apologies; I was referring to Mr Turtledove’s ‘One book per year’ policy.