Wednesday, December 03, 2003

The Mystery of Harry Turtledove

Harry Turtledove is an award-winning "alternate history" author, best known for The Guns of the South, his novel of the Civil War in which the South receives AK-47s from time travelling racists. There's not a lot of science fiction or Civil War novels with blurb quotes from James McPherson (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Battle Cry of Freedom), so you know it's good.

There are two bizarre mysteries about Turtledove. One is that he's an uncanny imaginer of alternate histories. What if the South won the Civil War? What if the Spanish Armada had successfully invaded Britain? What if Germany won WWII? What if WWII was fought with magic? And on and on. What's original is not the idea of these plot twists - countless authors have attempted similar stories. What's amazing is the intense and convincing sense of verisimilitude, of "oh yeah, this is how it would have been." How does he do it?

The second mystery is that he is shockingly, unbelievably, suspiciously prolific. In 2003, he published five novels (In the Presence of Mine Enemies, American Empire: Victorious Opposition, Gunpowder Empire, Jaws of Darkness, and Conan of Venarium, a total of 2110 hardcover pages). This is no isolated case; last year, he published four novels (Ruled Britannia, American Empire: The Center Cannot Hold, Rulers of the Darkness, and Advance and Retreat for a total of 2026 pages). Calculate the pages per day any way you want. This isn't possible.

So, to recap: a person with eerie accuracy and precision in discussing alternate worlds is also more prolific than a single person could be. What could be the common explanation?