Harry Turtledove,
The Disunited States of America
(Tor, 2006)

The Disunited States of America is the fourth book in a series written by Harry Turtledove featuring "Crosstime Traffic." For those of you who do not know what that means, simply put, there are multiple parallel universes in existence. One of these universes has figured out how to jump to parallel universes. You do not jump forward or backwards in time, but rather across to the same point in time. As these other universes split from each other at different points in the past, their current situations are vastly different. And just in case you are wondering, I do not think ours is the universe that has figured out the secret to jumping from one universe to the next.

The people who travel in Crosstime generally act as traders. Not only can they gain valuables from another universe, but they can help ensure the locals never discover Crosstime Traffic on their own. Justin comes from a family of these traders. At the start of the novel, he has just transported to another universe with his mother. There, the United States never was. Most states remained independent. The Carolinas joined as one. Cuba took over the southern portion of Florida. California is the richest and most powerful country on the continent. And Virginia and Ohio have had constant scrimmages over the years.

Justin is not the only outsider to find himself in Elizabeth, Virginia, when war breaks out with Ohio yet again. Beckie happens to be on a trip east from California. She has come with her unbearable grandmother, who wanted to visit the town where she grew up. Their timing could not have been worse. Secretly, Ohio has been arming the African-Americans of Virginia who are still treated as second-class citizens. Many states in this universe never allowed race relations to reach a level of equality among all. (The "blacks" of Mississippi were the only ones to turn the tables on the "whites" and swap roles on which race had the upper hand. California was about the only place where race inequality was supplanted by nationalism.)

While Beckie and Justin meet and console each other as they are stuck in a situation they can't escape, both have issues they have to deal with on their own. For Justin, the fact that he is in Elizabeth while his mother is in Richmond is cause for concern. Thanks to an engineered virus the Ohioans let loose in Virginia, he is stuck in Elizabeth. He can't get back to his mother. And if he could, Crosstime Traffic has now quarantined them, so they could not get to their own universe anyway. Beckie misses her family in California. She also has a hard time dealing with the race war. She constantly wonders what the continent would have been like if the states would have united. Justin has to constantly bite his tongue.

If you want to find out what happens with the war between Virginia and Ohio, if you are curious to know if Justin ever spills the beans about his universe's version of the United States; if you are ever wanted to read about race wars in a fictional setting, then The Disunited States of America might be the book for you.

Turtledove has written several novels on alternate history. His Ph.D. focused on Byzantine history, so he has a background in the field. He has won several awards over the last several decades as a writer. Turtledove currently resides in Los Angeles.

The Disunited States of America may be part of a series, but it stands alone. I think the writing style is aimed at teenagers, as it seemed a little basic to me. The idea is intriguing. All the "what-ifs" retain your attention. But the dialogue is a little stilted at times. The description of the technology required to jump from one universe to the next is glossed over. However, the action is good (but a little on the light side for a war story). Over all, this novel is not bad. But it is not something to rave about, either.

review by
Wil Owen

20 October 2007

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