Joe Steele  
Author Harry Turtledove
Genre(s) Alternate History
Publisher Penguin/Roc
Publication date April, 2015

Joe Steele is an alternate history novel published by Roc in April, 2015.[1] It is an expansion of the 2003 story of the same name.

The novel shares the same basic premise as the short story; Iosef Dzhugashvili's parents left Georgia and moved to California a few months before Iosef was born. Rather than becoming Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, Iosef becomes "Joe Steele", American lawyer and Democratic politician, eventually becoming a congressman from California. Similarly, the families of several of Stalin's OTL cronies, specifically Vince Scriabin ("the Hammer"), Lazar Kagan, and Stas Mikoian, also arrived in California, although this improbable plot contrivance is never addressed.

Unlike the short story, which is told by an omniscient third-person narrator (apparently representing the American everyman), the novel is told through the POVs of two journalist brothers, Mike and Charlie Sullivan. The novel begins at the 1932 Democratic Convention as Steele vies for the presidential nomination with Franklin D. Roosevelt. Charlie favors Steele, and Mike backs FDR. When FDR is killed in a mysterious fire at the N.Y. Executive Mansion in Albany, Steele wins the nomination, and defeats incumbent Herbert Hoover in the November election. However, Charlie witnessed Vince Scriabin make a long distance phone call with (Charlie assumes) orders to kill Roosevelt, a fact he shared with Mike.

During his first term, Steele forges an alliance with like minded individuals, such as J. Edgar Hoover. He strong arms Congress into accepting his Four Year Plan with Hoover's help. He also rails against Adolf Hitler and Soviet leader Leon Trotsky, and uses them as boogeymen to justify certain of his more repressive tactics. In 1934, after several of the laws he's backed are overturned by the Supreme Court, he orders the arrest of four particularly conservative justices, and has them placed before a military tribunal. The justices admit their guilt and are swiftly executed. Steele also suspends habeas corpus and arranges for the deaths of other opponents. Concurrently, Charlie Sullivan vocally defends Steele, thus gaining entrance in to Steele's inner circle, while Mike is an ardent critic.

Steele wins a second term handily in 1936 against Alf Landon, and survives an assassination attempt by an Army captain. Steele uses this attack as an excuse to purge the military. He also sets up labor camps for dissidents and creates the Government Bureau of Investigation, with J. Edgar Hoover at its head. By the middle of Steele's second term, Mike Sullivan goes too far, and is finally arrested, convicted, and sent to Montana, despite his brother's best efforts. World War II breaks out in September 1939, with Steele promising neutrality, and winning an unprecedented third term in 1940 against Wendell Willkie. Steele nonetheless provides aid to the United Kingdom throughout 1940. When Germany attacks the Soviet Union, Prime Minister Winston Churchill convinces Steele to extend aid to Trotsky as well, although it takes months after the German invasion for this to happen.

In short order, Charlie becomes Steele's speechwriter, and his entrance into Steele's inner circle is complete. He is present for several key moments, such as Steele's first meeting with Churchill, the Basra Conference, and the revelation that Albert Einstein hid the theoretical atomic bomb from Steele. Steele is able to secure a fourth term in 1944, defeating Thomas Dewey. While he won fairly in 1932 and 1936, he implicitly began rigging the election in 1940, and continues to do so in 1944, although with the war going quite well in all theaters, the tampering is limited.

Mike spends several years in the Montana camp. When Japan attacks the U.S. in December 1941, Mike, with nothing left to lose, volunteers for the Army, and fights in the Pacific, even participating the eventual invasion of Japan in November 1945 through April 1946. He remains part of the occupation of Japan as it is divided between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., resulting in two puppet states, North and South Japan. In 1948, in a parallel of the OTL Korean War, North Japan attacks South Japan, forcing Steele to actually have to campaign in 1948 against Harold Stassen. This Japanese War ends in August, 1949 with the deployment of atomic bombs by both sides.

Mike is able to return home in the 1950s, but he is still limited to Wyoming. Steele wins for what proves to be sixth and final time in 1952, defeating Robert Taft. He dies in White House of a stroke in March 5, 1953 - Stalin died in the Kremlin on the same date in OTL. His long marginalized Vice President, John Nance Garner, is sworn in, and begins to undo some of Steele's policies, including the firing of nearly the entire Steele cabinet. Unfortunately, he's met with resistance from Vince Scriabin and J. Edgar Hoover. Soon, Garner is facing impeachment for the crimes of the Steele administration. The suspicious deaths of Secretary of State Dean Acheson and Secretary of War George Marshall, the only two people left who could legally replace Garner, add further pressure to the crisis. While Scriabin is killed in a car accident, it is too late: Garner is impeached, convicted and removed from office. Without a legal successor to the presidency, J. Edgar Hoover takes control of the executive, claiming Congress is now acting unconstitutionally.

While Mike is able to make a quiet life for himself in Wyoming, Charlie is now in the eye of the storm. He initially remains in Garner's good graces, but once Garner is ousted, Hoover has him fired. The novel ends "up in the air" with Charlie about to be arrested by Hoover's GBI men.

Differences between the novel and the story[]

  • The story is approximately ten pages, and rapid fires through several key plot points. The novel is much more detailed, explaining a variety of events that weren't addressed in the story.
  • The short story uses third-person omniscient narration. The novel is told through the limited third-person POVs of Charlie and Mike Sullivan.
  • The Hammer character (an analog of V. Molotov) is not named in the story. In the novel, he is Vince Scriabin.
  • The novel follows the basic arc of the short story until the end. In the short story, John Nance Garner takes office as President, and immediately orders the deaths of the Hammer and J. Edgar Hoover. The Hammer issues the same order against Garner and Hoover. Hoover issues the same order against Garner and the Hammer, and ultimately prevails. In the novel, Garner acts in a legalistic manner, but is ultimately outsmarted by Scriabin (who dies in a convenient traffic accident) and Hoover, and is impeached and removed from office. His survival and quiet retirement to Texas make one of the few times that the novel is more "upbeat" than the story.
  • In the story, Joe Steele runs unopposed beginning in 1944. In the novel, the Republican Party nominates Thomas Dewey in 1944, Harold Stassen in 1948, and Robert Taft in 1952.
  • In the short story, the American atomic bomb in the Japanese War is dropped on Sapporo. In the novel, it's dropped on Sendai.
  • In the story, the four executed Supreme Court justices are called the "Gang of Four". In the novel, they are the "Supreme Court Four".
  • In the short story, Steele's would-be assassin is a German citizen named Otto Spitzer (the only fictional character named in the story). In the novel, it is American soldier Roland Laurence South, whose name is an unexplained pun on Oliver Laurence North. The ensuing purge of the military logically flows from this in the novel.
  • Huey Long is officially killed while trying to escape Fort Leavenworth prison in the short story. In the novel, he is shot by a sniper while speaking in public in Louisiana.
  • Emperor Hirohito is killed during a firebombing raid in December 1945 in the short story. In the novel, he is killed by a machine gun round in March 1946.
  • In the short story, Lavrenty Beria is still the head of the NKVD under Leon Trotsky. In the novel, Genrikh Yagoda, a more logical choice given the circumstances, is the head of the NKVD at the novel's end.
  • In the short story, Sam Rayburn is an early critic of Steele, and dies in a 1937 car accident arranged by the Hammer. Rayburn is not mentioned at all in the novel.
  • In the short story, Dwight Eisenhower commands in the European Theater as in OTL. In the novel, he commands in the Pacific War.
  • In the short story, Omar Bradley leads the war against Japan like in OTL. However, in the novel, he takes over Eisenhower's role in Europe, including opening a second front via an invasion in Normandy.
  • In the short story, Wernher von Braun evades the attempt of all Allied nations to capture him at the end of WWII, and is reportedly on his way to China by 1946. He is never mentioned in the novel.
  • In the short story, the U.S. atomic bomb project is led by Edward Teller. In the novel, the project is led by Hyman Rickover, with Teller merely a part of it.
  • In the short story, the specific government of South Japan is not discussed. In the novel, it is a constitutional monarchy under the late Hirohito's 12-year-old son Akihito, who acts as a puppet to Eisenhower.
  • In the short story, Albert Einstein and several other scientists, who withheld knowledge of atomic bombs from Steele and thus necessitated the complete invasion of Japan, are rounded up and executed for conspiracy in the "Professors' Plot," with Steele focusing on their Jewish origins. In the novel the conspiracy is not named, and the scientists' Jewishness is only commented on by a few average citizens in private, but Einstein and the others meet the same fate for the generic crime of wrecking.

See also[]