Shaun Farrell interviews Harry Turtledove
Shaunís Quadrant Ė September 2005

Harry Turtledove's Drive to the East, Alternate History, ISBN 0345457242Born in Los Angeles in 1949, Harry Turtledove received his Ph.D. in Byzantine History from UCLA in 1977. He started publishing in 1979 under a pseudonym, and it wasnít until 1985 that he began publishing under his real name. Since then, Mr. Turtledove won a Hugo Award for his Novella Down In The Bottomlands in 1994. He has also received nominations for additional Hugos, Nebulas, and Sidewise Awards for Alternate History. Today, he continues to be a best-selling author, and he is arguably the most popular author of alternate history to ever contribute to the genre.


Shaun Farrell: Your new novel, published August 9th, is entitled Drive To The East, and is the second book in your Settling Accounts trilogy, which, in turn, is part of the The Great War Series. Drive To The East continues the events of Return Engagement and depicts a war of revenge by the Confederate States against the United States. In this timeline, the Confederation gained its independence in the 1860ís. For those who are unfamiliar with it, will you please tell our readers a little about this series, and what is your goal in furthering the series with Drive To The East?

Harry Turtledove: The series looks at the way the world might have been had the USA and CSA got sucked into the European alliance system on opposite sides in the 19th century, the Confederates aligning with Britain and France and the USA with the Kaiser's Germany as a counterbalance. We've been through World War I (a narrow victory for the USA and Germany in this timeline) and the interwar years, which see the rise of something that looks a lot like fascism in the defeated powers, and World War II breaks out not much later than it did in real history. Drive To The East takes the war from the death of U.S. President Al Smith to the turning point...and no, I won't say what that is {g}.

SF: There are so many WWII Germany references in this book from American concentration camps to a Hitler-like Confederate President Jake Featherston. You seem to be saying that the ideologies of Nazi Germany can blossom just about anywhere given the right circumstances. How does war contribute to the proliferation of these ideals?

HT: Well, war makes it harder to say no to them, because you look unpatriotic if you do. We see some of that around us now--not a lot, but some. But losing a war, or not getting what you hoped you would if you win, is what really makes fascism take root.

SF: End Of The Beginnings will be published in November 2005 and also deals with an alternate rendering of the events of WWII, with the Japanese occupying Hawaii after their attack on Pearl Harbor. You seem to have a deep interest in WWII as youíve written many novels about it. Why is this era so compelling to you?

HT: Most people think WW2 is the key event of the 20th century. (Actually, I disagree--I think it's really WW1, from which WW2 directly flowed.) WW2 certainly lends itself to drama in a way that WW1 doesn't. It's got more movement and nastier villains. And it's still within living memory, which gives it more immediacy than its predecessor has.

SF: How difficult is it to write alternate history for an American audience? In my experience, American students are not exactly well versed in history. Do you feel any responsibility to teach young people about actual history so they can better understand the possibilities you present?

HT: My job is to tell a story, with luck entertainingly. If I interest people enough to make them try to find out what really happened, that's a bonus. Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall did that to me—reading it got me interested in Byzantine history, and that's what led me to my academic career, such as it was.

SF: How does the current war on terror impact your writing? Do you plan to write any modern alternate histories where the events of recent days occur differently, or are we way too close to those events to even consider such an attempt?

HT: Some things that modern terrorists do, their fictional predecessors of a couple of generations earlier might also have done, so real events are grist for the mill in that sense. But I think we're still too close to 9/11 and other such events to write about them, though maybe someone else will prove me wrong.

SF: Are we nearing a time of dissolution in government that is putting our democracy in jeopardy?

HT: I doubt it. Partisan bickering is certainly less intense now than it was in the 19th century. What's new is that all the liberals are in one party and all the conservatives in the other, instead of having two parties with liberal and conservative wings. That makes things more complicated, but not impossible.

SF: What do you know about writing alternate history now that you didnít know in the early stages of your career?

HT: I hope I'm a better writer generally than I used to be, that I can put things more economically and without the infodumps, and that my characterization is better than it was when I was starting out.

SF: Your love for alternate history, and SF in general, started when you were 14 and read Lest Darkness Fall, by L. Sprague de Camp. What other alternate history is particularly inspirational to you?

HT: Oh, I was interested in SF long before I read Lest Darkness Fall. I bought that one because I'd already read and liked de Camp's Incomplete Enchanter, and hoped it would be more of the same. Probably the first a-h I ever read was MacKinlay Kantor's IF The South Had Won The Civil War. I enjoyed H. Beam Piper's Paratime stories, Keith Laumer's Worlds Of The Imperium and its sequels, and Poul Anderson's Time Patrol stories, too, as well as Heinlein's Magic, Inc. I was easily corruptible.

SF: After all the alternate history you have written, what time period that you have not written about is the most fascinating to you? Will we ever see any novels set in this period?

HT: I've been doing homework on Chinese history the past couple of years. Don't know whether anything will come of it, but we'll see.

SF: In addition to the alternate history you have written, you have authored several books of fantasy. What attraction does fantasy have for you?

HT: Fantasy's different because you can project onto a blank screen and make things up to suit you. It's a little looser than a-h, which is nice.

SF: Does writing your fantasy books provide a mental break from the intense research you must conduct for alternate histories?

HT: Oh, the fantasy gets researched, too. But I can fudge a little more with it.

SF: You have a Ph.D. in history, but SF is often looked down upon by those in academia. Do you experience any disdain from your contemporaries in the University, or are other professors complimentary toward your work?

HT: I don't have a lot to do with academia any more. Some of my friends from the old days are more intrigued than anything else. I have fun telling lies for a living, and always have—my dissertation ran later than it might have because I was also working on the first novel that ended up selling.

SF: You are incredibly prolific. What is your writing schedule like, and do you ever see yourself slowing down?

HT: I try to turn out 2000-2500 words of reasonably clean copy a day. I do first drafts in longhand (my style's tighter that way, which saves rewriting), and write in chunks through the day and through the wee smalls. I tend to sleep in several small shifts rather than in one big lump.

SF: Is there anything you want to write that is completely different from your past work?

HT: Sure. If you do the same thing over and over, it gets dull.

SF: What are reading right now?

HT: Right now, I'm reading a translation of Ibn Batuta's travels. I've recently read The Kalevala (the Finnish epic), a prominent birder's biography by his son, and some baseball stuff.

SF: Youíve collaborated with many authors over the course of your career. If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?

HT: Can't think of anybody offhand. My collaborations tend to happen more by accident than by design.

SF: Mr. Turtledove, is there anything else you would like our readers at Far Sector SFFH to know?

HT: If it weren't for my readers, I'd have to work for a living instead of enjoying myself. Thank you, folks!

Copyright © 2005 by Shaun Farrell. All Rights Reserved.