Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Book Review: The Grapple by Harry Turtledove

The newest novel in Harry Turtledove's alternate Civil War series is The Grapple. It's 1943, and after cutting off and crushing a Confederate army in Pittsburgh (a la Stalingrad), the United States has summoned its industrial capacity and struck deep into the Confederacy. Both sides are racing to develop the ultimate weapon to win the war: the atomic bomb.

The Confederacy is dying. By the end of the book, US forces are preparing to capture Atlanta. The other fronts in Virginia and West Texas are folding in. Jake Featherstone, fascist President of the Confederacy, has two goals: develop the atomic bomb before the US does and end the "Negro Problem" forever.

As I've mentioned before, this series includes a shocklingly-realistic scenario for an American genocide. The Confederate "population reduction" facility Camp Determination in West Texas has fallen into Yankee hands as Jefferson Pinkard, orchestrator of the final solution has moved his operation to Humble, Texas outside of Houston. Here is a passage as Major General Abner Dowling confronts the mayor of the town near Camp Determination and the mass gaves of a million Blacks:

Abner Dowling walked the mayor of Snyder, Texas, through what was left of Camp Determination. The mayor was a plump, middle-aged fellow named Jethro Gwynn. He walked with a limp and a stick; he'd fought for the CSA during the Great War. "You say that you don't know what was going on here?" Dowling growled.

"That's a fact, sir," Gwynn answered. "All the barbed wire and everything...They kept people out, you know." He sounded earnest and persuasive. Dowling didn't believe him for a minute.

Neither did Major Angelo Toricelli [Dowling's aide -- ed.]. "Well, what did you think was going on when all those trains stopped here? People got off those trains. Thousands and thousands and thousands of them got off. Nobody ever got on. Didn't that kind of make you wonder?"

"No, sir," Gwynn said blandly. "All them trains went through Snyder sealed up tight. Couldn't prove by me they had people in 'em."

"What are we going to do with this lying son of a bitch, sir?" Dowling's adjutant demanded.

"Here, now. You got no cause to talk about me like that," Jethro Gwynn said. "Whateve went on here, it was none of my damn business, and I didn't ask no questions."

Major Toricelli's hand dropped to his pistol. "For three cents cash I'd blow your lying brains out. It's more than you're worth, too."

"Nobody who lives in town paid much attention to this place," the mayor of Snyder insisted. "It was just there, that's all."

[Dowling drags Gwynn to one of the mass graves -- ed.]

"Go on," he said harshly. "Take a good look."

Gwynn gulped. How many Negroes -- men, women, children -- lay in this trench, all bloated and stinking and flyblown and pecked by scavenger birds? Thousands, surely. The trench was long and deep and about two-thirds full. Had the Confederates not pulled out of Camp Determination and blown the place up, they would have filled the trench with corpses and then scraped out another trench, closer to the entrance, and started in on that one, too. They'd set this up very efficiently.

"Well?" Dowling said. "What do you think, Mr. Gwynn? How do you like it?"

"I had no idea," the mayor of Snyder gasped, and he leaned forward and threw up. He was neat about it; he missed his shoes. Wheezing, coughing, spitting, he went on, "Honest to God, I didn't."

"You lying sack of shit." Dowling pointed to the closed trench beyond this open one, and then to the next closed trench, and then to the next and the next. "What did you think they were doing here? Running a hospital?"

"I didn't ask any questions," Gwynn said. "I didn't want to know."

The Grapple is a powerful story in a powerful series. I recommend it. But it's not for the faint of heart.


Anonymous said...

No book review here but I just wanted to make sure that you read this John. You lost all creditability after reading the post on "out the door".

John said...

I am heartbroken that I have lost credibility with someone who lacks the courage to attach his/her writings to a name! The horror!

Anonymous said...


John said...

Okay Jason, what's your complaint?

Jason said...

my complaint would be assuming all white males are racist. because how does that make you any better in stereotyping me or anyone else?

John said...

Dude, I was joking about the extremes of political correctness. That was sarcasm.

Richard said...

I doubt that John assumes all white males are racist, considering he is a white male and doesn't consider himself a racist. I suppose the only ones who need to feel offended by people identifying racists are racists themselves, right Jason?

Jason said...

I guess I just missed the punchline to that joke about the KKK. Since there isn't anything funny about it.

John said...

Then I guess that you also missed John Battern's joke in the original question as well.

Or did you think that he was being serious?

Crassvs said...

I tackled How Few Remain last year and was fascinated--very well done. What an outstanding knowledge of history Harry Turtledove has to apply it so skillfully. I'm hoping to check out the rest of the series in order--one book per year, say--which gets me to The Grapple in...2014. The teaser you posted was intriguing enough that I'm hoping to get to it a tad sooner, though.