Worldwar is a tetralogy of books written by Harry Turtledove. This series is followed by the Colonization series of three books, and then the epilogue Homeward Bound, all part of the Worldwar Franchise.
In Worldwar, the Point of Divergence is in 1942 when aliens attack Earth. These aliens are called The Race, and they are expecting Earth to still be in its medieval period. Instead, they find earthlings embroiled in World War II.
The Lizards change much slower than humans, and so when their probes sent during the European medieval period sent back their data, they expected Earth to remain at that stage for thousands of years. They find that they Earth was not the easy conquest they had expected.
Most human warring nations try to put aside their differences to combat these intruders, but former resentment runs deep.
- In the Balance (1994)
- Tilting the Balance (1995)
- Upsetting the Balance (1996)
- Striking the Balance (1996)
The novels apply the major themes of World War II to what can be considered a typical science fiction cliché, namely an alien invasion of Earth. At one point the character Sam Yeager, himself a fan of early 20th century pulp fiction, recognizes the similarity of the world's predicament to that of sci-fi tales out of Amazing Stories and similar magazines. However, Yeager also recognizes that the standard plot resolution to such stories, usually that some brilliant scientists develop a secret superweapon that drives out the aliens, is hopelessly unrealistic.
Turtledove approaches the novels' science fiction scenario with less of a focus on the technological and fantasy elements typically associated with the genre and shows greater concern for the role of more mundane affairs such as the political repercussions of an alliance between the Allied and Axis powers, the impact the presence of alien creatures has on human society, and the ways in which warfare is paradoxically a hindrance to civilization and simultaneously a catalyst for the progress of civilization.
As mentioned above, one of the key themes explored in the novel is the complexity of international alliances. During World War II, there was often a great deal of friction between allies on both sides of the war. The United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union had very different reasons for fighting the war and often had conflicting views of what the postwar world should look like. For their part, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan rarely saw eye-to-eye on several key issues and found it difficult to coordinate their policies. Turtledove reexamines this idea by postulating a need for all the major powers to work together against the even greater threat of an alien menace.
This idea is most emphatically explored in the novel through the diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Invaded by the Nazis in 1941, two years after having signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Nonaggression Pact of 1939, the Soviets are reluctant to enter into yet another alliance with Hitler even in the face of an alien invasion. Indeed, there are allusions in the novel to the possibility that Nazi Germany still plans to settle its conflict with the Soviet Union even as they work together against the Race. Yet both sides manage to, at least temporarily, set aside their differences, launching a joint raid to capture alien uranium and also arranging a meeting between Adolf Hitler and Vyacheslav Molotov, the Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union.
The impact that the Race has on human society is also a central theme of the novel. Since the Race is biologically reptilian and evolved on a world where mammals never moved beyond a rodent-like stage, the idea of a race of sentient mammals is in of itself bizarre to them. The social structures humans have created as a result of their physiology, primarily families and the social institutions associated with them, are literally beyond the understanding of the Race. For their part, humans are generally shocked and disgusted that the Race has no concept of family and engages in sexual activity only during biologically specified mating seasons. Through the character of Liu Han, Turtledove explores how the different biological interactions of the two species, primarily sexual intercourse, lead to the development of a much more rapid and adaptive human approach to technological change.
Turtledove also makes connections between the negative traits of humanity and the Race. Members of the Race are not only interstellar imperialists, they are also extremely proud and boastful of that fact. In this way, Turtledove draws parallels between the Race and 19th century European imperialists. Like the European imperialists, the Race has an ideological conception akin to the White Man's Burden, in which they feel the need to conquer other species and "civilize" them by teaching them their language, their customs, and their social mores. The Chinese apothecary Yi Min implicitly expresses this parallel. Yi Min sees little or no difference between accommodating himself to the political desires of the Race or, for example, the British or Japanese who had also tried to subdue China. Indeed, Yi Min lumps the Race along with other human imperialists together as "foreign devils." Human or alien, the goals of imperialists remain universal.
The central theme of the novel may be the way in which human nature, perhaps because of its very propensity for violence and war rather than in spite of it, provides the best hope human beings have at defeating the alien enemy. Though the Race is an expansionist imperial power, the Race itself is a relatively peaceful society, having overcome internal wars and maintained a politically stable interstellar empire for nearly 50,000 human years. Indeed, the Race has no standing military force and only raises an army during the few times it seeks to conquer other worlds. Since the Race has only conquered two other species, the Rabotev and Hallessi, they have only engaged in war two times during their 50,000 year history. Yet their very political stability and inability to cope with rapid changes makes them stagnant and gives them difficulty in responding to dynamic human responses. However, although they are easily caught off-guard by human tricks and deviousness, they are merely naive, not stupid, and will devise effective countermeasures to these efforts.