Sometimes it has felt as if I'm the only uchronia partisan who hasn't read Gibaldi's great tome. It is not a language issue: I did feel a bit uncertain about my grasp of Spanish, but not so much to deter me, and there were translations into the French that I as a good Canadian know quite early on. I only wanted to be able to read the series at one go so as to take in the trilogy as a unity and see the various brave pop uchronia-inspiring actions (Indonesia's liberation of Indochina has come up so many times, as have the controlled collapse of the American junta mid-war, as have--of course--the decisions not to turn the weapons against each other) that has inspired so many discussion. That, and because the scientific speculative fiction fan in me wanted to see how Gibaldi would treat the Newts and their culture. How lucky I was that I logged onto the public library agency's kilooctet-rich electronic bibliothecary mesh early enough to be among the people able to penny-rent the first large pocket edition compendium of the three novels of this timeline's first series.
My first reaction was one of disappointment. There are factual issues, I should start by saying. Epsilon Eridani is a young star aged only one thousand million years, too young for any of its worlds to evolve a rich biosphere likely to produce a technological conscious tool-making species. Species like the Newts which spawn dozens of young at a time aren't likely to be intelligent on account of the social skills intimately associated with the construction of societies of any complexity: Look at the anthropoids for further proof. Species capable of building flotillas of massive transplanetary vessels which reliably make the 3.22 parsecs crossing are not going to be intimidated by a monoplanetary civilization with some space stations and some high-acceleration rockets tipped with nuclear bombs and supersonic jets and surface-to-air projectiles. Gibaldi has at least managed to avoid the incessant Euronet discussions about missile throw weights and refiring rates and the possibilities of rapid improvised editation of the both and others that has blighted too many discussions, but next to his writing style--which, for once, I shall not blame charitably on the translators--that is a minor issue. The author darts about from one character to another to another with such speed that, breadth of characterization noted, I could never assimilate myself to many of the characters, noting only that, yes Helen Ntampaka in Rwanda is terrified by the Newt armies and wants to flee to Mombasa with her husband if only she can find him in time, or that the Empire of China's top general Li Hong Mou is brave and determined and uniquely able to come up with a Terran defense strategy that saves our world, while the scientists at the New York Technoploical Institute are able once freed from misrule to reverse-engineer the Newts' fusion drive. (The series' personalities are not the personalities of our own histories, for obvious reasons.)
I additionally have deeper issues with Gibaldi's series. Gibaldi, the encyclopedias--paper; Toronto might be a North American informatics leader but it lacks in that regard unlike, well, Gibaldi's Buenos Aires among many, many other cities--and glossies tell us, began his career as a specialist historian concerned with high medieval and early modern Europe, a period translating to a period comprising the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. As an academic, he would have had no experience of the recent war. His specialized skills and South America's fortunate isolation from the war would have meant that, if conscripted at all, Gibaldi wouldn't have served on the front lines. He would certainly have exceptionally detailed knowledge of the wars, their personalities and their battles and their weapons and the horrors visited on the rest of the world forced to stand by and watch and suffer and, maybe, just maybe, be killed. I haven't served on the front lines: I was only three when the war happened, Canada was a neutral, and my pre-university days were spent electronically processing forms eight hours a day five days a week in a gratte-ciel downtown.
What I do know, from the media I've consumed and studies and the people I've talked to, is that war is a horror. The First was product of stupidity; the Second was the product of willful evil; the Third and the worst was a product of the two combined. The existence of the League of Armed Neutrality of Japan, Korea and the Philippines, aimed at saving offshore East Asia from a pointless war, demonstrates that the unstable American congeries of interior ministerial forces run amok combined with those military leaders lacking sense combined with those sufficiently avaricious politicians did not need to do that. They did, and two hundred million dead later we're in the world that they left to us their inheritors. Obscenely horrible scenarios were avoided, but no one alive then at the time, no one alive now, no one likely to be alive generations after, is going to escape from that. Canadians might rightly congratulate themselves for their good sense in excluding themselves from the fighting, but their country is effected. No country, not Canada, not South America, not Nouveau-Dauphiné, not even the Kerguelens can escape the effects. I can't: Among other reasons, why do I have so many American friends?
And here Gibaldi comes with his tales of heroic war using the same weapons, the same casts of personality (individual and national) and the same brave and determined and lethal energies but only--thankfully, testimony to our good sense as a species--directed outwards by the infrared astronomy satellites' detection of massive objections decelerating hard just the armies are massing. Entities of a literally inhuman cast are convenient, aren't they? "The type of war doesn't matter," I could imagine some of his characters saying if they contacted our reality. "The spirit remains the same." I am, as I have stated here and in other public and informatic fora, strongly in support of the sort of militaries capable of--for instance--the post-exchange peacemaking Conciliar expeditions to the United States. I am, and I'd like to think most people now alive are, opposed to that sort of easy transposition ("We can't kill x, but we can kill y? Suits me.")
I may be overreacting to all this. Gibaldi is a writer of popular fiction, after all, none of the glossies or another else have provided reason to suspect he's involved with any radical groups, and so on. I might simply be wary of war what with the latest news in the Toronto Journal the newest Russian campaigns in Siberia ("security operations," the general veteran of the liberation of Kazan' and Yekaterinburg is quoted as saying this morning on page 2). I might also be right to do so. What does it say about partisans of uchronias when novels and stories about war, especially war on this scale, prevail over other sorts of uchronias? What does it say about our world when few find this sort of book objectionable?