March 10, 2016
Joe Steele, by Harry Turtledove
President Herbert Hoover has failed America. The Great Depression that rose from the ashes of the 1929 stock market crash still casts its dark shadow over the country. Despairing and desperate, the American people hope one of the potential Democratic candidates—New York governor Franklin D. Roosevelt and California congressman Joe Steele—can get the nation on the road to recovery. But fate snatches away one hope when a mansion fire claims the life of Roosevelt, leaving the Democratic party little choice but to nominate Steele, son of a Russian immigrant laborer who identifies more with the common man than with Washington D.C.’s wealthy power brokers. Achieving a landslide victory, President Joe Steele wastes no time pushing through Congress reforms that put citizens back to work. Anyone who gets in his way is getting in the way of America, and that includes the highest in the land. Joe Steele’s critics may believe the government is gaining too much control, but they tend to find themselves in work camps if they make too much noise about it. And most people welcome strong leadership, full employment, and an absence of complaining from the newspapers—especially as Hitler and Trotsky begin the kind of posturing that seems sure to drag America into war.
I’ve been a Turtledove fan for about thirty years. Some of the WWI & WWII alternate stories seem to get bogged down in the day to day affairs of the Army personnel. A lot of Turtledove seems to be a rehashing of older plots and tropes. The constant foxhole tropes and the Turtledove Formulaic Doctrine, have left me to consider that the things that appealed to me three decades ago are waning in recent years. I’ve found myself enjoying Turtledove’s non-war stories more so than the war stories. It could be that I’m just warred out.
Although Joe Steele does have a foxhole war in the last 25% or so, war isn’t the primary focus of this story. I would place Joe Steele on par with the Supervolcano series, and the first two books in the Atlantis series.
No one could ever accuse Turtledove of not doing the research for an alternate history. Joe Steele is no exception. Everything that happens in the story is plausible within the confines of this speculative piece. Turtledove is still the master of alternate history.
Joe Steele is touted as a stand-alone, and I can see another installment, especially with the trick ending. I’d read a sequel to Joe Steele, and as always, I’d read just about any fiction Harry Turtledove puts out. As far as storytelling, Joe Steele doesn’t wow me the way Guns of the South or Opening Atlantis did. It’s a solid four-star read, especially for people who enjoy alternate history, or are already Turtledove fans.
Dr Harry Norman Turtledove is an American novelist, who has produced a sizeable number of works in several genres including alternate history, historical fiction, fantasy and science fiction. Turtledove has been dubbed “The Master of Alternate History”. Within this genre he is known both for creating original scenarios: such as survival of the Byzantine Empire; an alien invasion in the middle of the World War II; and for giving a fresh and original treatment to themes previously dealt with by other authors, such as the victory of the South in the American Civil War; and of Nazi Germany in the Second World War.