Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gunpowder Empire!

My wife had ordered some Star Wars books to be sent for me from the Public Library, and the computer said they were there and on hold for us, but when she went, they were actually at a different library, and were en route to us. So what did my wonderful wife do? She went through the aisles to find books she thought I would like. This is one of the things she came up with. She's great.

Gunpowder Empire is the story of a Southern California family of the late 21st century, who are also traders in what is called "The Alternates", parallel histories sort of like ours, but different. Such traders exist to get food, raw materials, and oil for our own resource starved world. The particular family from this story goes to a world where, due to Agrippa not having died, and succeeding Emperor Augustus, the Roman Empire never fell. As such, they are stuck in a sort of 'Renaissance' where legionaries are armed with matchlock muskets and speak 'neo-latin.' Quite an interesting premise, actually.

Things I liked:
  • Well thought out characters, with built-in beliefs and morals.
  • Tremendous amount of effort put in to fleshing out what the Roman Empire might have become, had it outlasted the migration.
  • Good depiction of Renaissance era siegecraft and combat.
Things I did not like:
  • Faulty Conclusions. Turtledove seems to think that conquering Germany would have saved Rome. What really killed the Empire was the Migrations; whole populations of Steppe peoples like Huns, Vandals, Goths, Sarmations simply ground the Western (Latin speaking) half of the Empire until it was so unimportant that the Barbarians simply told the last Roman Emperor to go home.
  • We already know what the Empire would have looked like if it had survived into the middle ages. The Eastern (Greek speaking) Empire became the Byzantine Empire, and lasted until the Ottoman Turks took Constantinople in 1453. The last Emperor, Constantine, died fighting personally at the walls.
Aside from these (admittedly nit-picky) objections, it was a very good book. I had seen this back when it came out, but never did get in a mood to read it. After years of playing Rome: Total War, however, it was the right time.

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