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img src="../blybgraphics/centercannothold.jpeg" align=left width=101 height=147 alt="American Empire: The Center Cannot Hold cover"> The Center Cannot Hold by Harry Turtledove

Published by Del Rey Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

As the years pass after the conclusion of a Great War transformed by a historical divergence that allowed the Confederate States of America to win the American Civil War and preserve their independence, the peoples of the various countries of North America continue to adjust to the new political situation, even as it continues to change. Although some of the broad patterns of history are similar to that of our own timeline, for instance the rapid growth of the US stock market due to speculation and the resulting bubble burst and economic downturn, even they are strangely transformed. It is not a Republican but a Socialist who presides over the disaster and is subsequently voted out of office. Even war with Japan takes a different form, with the Japanese actually attacking the US mainland. Meanwhile in the Confederacy, Jake Featherstone continues his chillingly Hitleresque career, reassembling his forces after the disaster served them by the assassination of the Confederate President by one of his more fantatical followers.

However, this is a book about which I feel intensely ambivalent. On one hand, the characters are so real that we want to keep finding out what else happened to them. On the other, the actual storyline is moving at a glacial pace. This entire novel is one enormous bridge linking the Great War trilogy to a probable World War II-equivalent trilogy or tetralogy. It feels as though a single quick sum-up volume that should have been at the end of the Great War trilogy and a possible summary at the beginning of the next sub-series have instead been expanded to tell in detail everything that happened between them. Such is the power of Harry Turtledove's masterful characterization that we really don't care that technically speaking, this entire novel is nothing but a bridge between the last trilogy and the next. The characters as people keep the pages turning, even if nothing is actually moving forward -- something that appeals to readers who read to enjoy more than writers and critics who are looking for specific technical elements. A reader's writer, if you will, as opposed to a writer's writer.

Because of these issues, this is not a novel with which to begin one's acquaintence with the Great War alternate timeline. The characters and their problems are compelling because we have come to know them so well in the Great War trilogy that we want to keep them around and know all their stories, even if they aren't stories in the technical sense of the word. However, if you have been enjoying Dr. Turtledove's series all along and want to return to the world he has created, you will enjoy this novel.

buy the book Click here to buy American Empire: The Center Cannot Hold in hardcover.

Review posted November 18, 2002

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