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The Grapple [Format Kindle]

Harry Turtledove

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Funereal music poured out of the wireless set on Brigadier General Clarence Potter’s desk. For three days, Confederate stations had played nothing but somber tunes and even more somber commentaries praising the courage of the army whose survivors had just surrendered in Pittsburgh.

Potter’s mouth twisted. Behind steel-rimmed spectacles, his cold gray eyes flashed. That army should have taken Pittsburgh away from the damnyankees. With their great industrial center gone, the USA should have had to make peace. From everything the Intelligence officer knew, Pittsburgh was a wreck. That would hurt the United States. But the army that should have conquered it was gone, every man a casualty or a prisoner. That would hurt the Confederate States even more.

The latest dirge-tempo march ended. An announcer came on the air. “Courage, self-denial, modesty, and the willingness to make every sacrifice are the highest virtues of the Confederate soldier,” he said. “It was not the lust for conquest which caused the Confederacy to take up arms. This war was forced upon us by the destructive aims of our enemies.”

Well, what else could the man say? If he came right out and announced that Jake Featherston wanted to go to war long before he became President of the CSA, it wouldn’t look good. Potter knew perfectly well that it was true. He also knew that what was true and what made good propaganda often had not even a nodding acquaintance with each other.

“Our soldiers are completely imbued with the importance and the value of the ideas now championed by the Freedom Party,” the announcer said. For better and for worse, Potter knew how true that was. The announcer went on, “The Confederate soldier is convinced of them to the very depths of his innermost being, and that is why the Confederate armed forces form an invincible bloc having as its spiritual foundation the sublime ethics of a soldierly tradition. It is, moreover, inspired by belief in its high mission of protecting the Confederate States against the longtime enemy to the north, the enemy who would gladly deny our great nation its very right to exist.”

Again, he wasn’t wrong. This was the fourth war between the USA and the CSA in the past eighty years. But if the Confederates were so bloody invincible, what went wrong in Pennsylvania? Potter, a confirmed cynic, would think of something like that. Would the average Confederate who was listening? Maybe not.

“We see the most magnificent example of this in the sacrifice of the troops fighting at Pittsburgh,” the announcer went on. “That let our armies farther west build up new dams to hold back the raging Yankee torrent and continue to preserve the Confederacy from the annihilating rule of the USA. Cut off from all possibility of receiving reinforcements, surrounded by implacable foes, they fought on with bayonets and entrenching tools after their ammunition was exhausted. Truly their courage and devotion will live forever.”

The music swelled once more: yet another sorrowful tune. Potter sighed. Putting a good face on disaster was always hard. He wondered why he kept listening. Knowing what the rest of the country was going through was useful. That had something to do with it. The rest was akin to picking at a scab. The pain held a perverse attraction.

He started a little when the telephone rang. Turning down the music, he picked up the handset. “Potter here.” If anybody needed to know what he did, that person had got hold of him by mistake.

“Hello, Potter there.” The voice on the other end of the line was a harsh rasp every Confederate citizen recognized at once. “I need you to be Potter here, soon as you can get on over.”

“Yes, Mr. President. On my way.” Potter hung up. He turned off the wireless. When Jake Featherston said he wanted to see you as soon as you could come, you needed to get to the Gray House in a hurry.

Potter went upstairs. The door by which he came out on the ground floor had something innocuous painted on the frosted-glass window. You would never open it unless you already knew where it led.

Workmen labored to repair bomb damage. The damnyankees hit the War Department as often as they could. More and more of the business here went on underground—how far underground, even Potter wasn’t sure any more. The men who bossed the work parties were whites too old or too crippled to help the war effort. Some of the men in the crews were colored, though a lot of Negroes had already been removed from Richmond. More workmen were Mexicans, up from Francisco José’s ramshackle empire to find better-paying work in the CSA.

Some offices on the ground floor were still usable. The officers and clerks who worked in them took a sour pride in staying at those battered desks as long as they could. Several men waved to Potter as he walked past. He nodded in return.

All the motorcars outside the War Department were ordinary civilian models. Every so often, U.S. fighters streaked low over Richmond in broad daylight, shooting up whatever they could. No point giving them any special targets. As if at a cab stand, Potter got into the forwardmost auto. “The Gray House,” he told the driver.

“Yes, sir.” The soldier started the engine and put the Birmingham in gear.

More work crews repaired streets and gas lines and water mains and electric lines and telephone wires and . . . anything else that could be damaged when bombs fell on it or near it. Hardly any glass windows faced the world these days. Plywood and cardboard covered even the ones the damnyankees hadn’t blown to smithereens.

Again, Mexicans did a lot of the work Negroes would have handled before. The Confederate States would be a different country when the war was through. Whites had anxiously watched blacks for much too long. Well, soon there’d be far fewer blacks to need watching. Potter had long opposed the Freedom Party, but he didn’t mind its taking a shot at the Negro problem. He didn’t know any white man who did.

As he’d expected, the driver had to detour several times before he got to the presidential mansion. Craters made some streets impassable. One block had sawhorses and warning signs all around. danger! unexploded bomb! the signs shouted in big red letters. Maybe the bomb was a dud. Maybe a time fuse ticked inside it. Either way, Potter didn’t envy the men who worked to get the ordnance out of there. They were skilled technicians. No matter how skilled they were, their average life expectancy was measured in weeks.

The snouts of sandbagged antiaircraft guns poked up from the Gray House grounds. Not much of the building was left above ground. The damnyankees kept doing their best to level it. They wanted Jake Featherston dead, not only because losing him would take the wind out of the Confederacy’s sails, but also because Confederate bombs had killed U.S. President Al Smith.

“Here you are, sir.” The driver pulled to a stop in front of the rubble pile.

“Thanks.” Clarence Potter got out of the Birmingham. With a clash of gears, it rolled away.

Guards waited in among the wreckage. “Let’s see your papers, sir,” one of them said.

No one got anywhere in the CSA without proper papers these days. Potter displayed his. Once the guards were satisfied about who he was, one of them used a telephone. That done, he nodded to his pal. Together, they opened a heavy steel trap door.

Potter went down the stairs. They bent several times to foil blast that might penetrate the door above. In due course, he got to another door, this one even thicker. He pressed the button next to it. It swung open from the inside. More guards nodded to him. “Come with us, sir,” one of them said.

“I know the drill,” Potter said.

They ignored him. He’d figured they would. All of what went on at the Gray House went on underground these days. People who spent a lot of time down there were as pale and pasty as . . . people who spent a lot of time underground at the War Department. Potter looked at the backs of his own hands, and at the veins clearly visible there. He wasn’t a vampire, to whom the sun was death, but he often behaved as if he were.

Lulu, Jake Featherston’s longtime secretary, nodded to him. “He’ll be with you in a moment, General,” he said.

“Thank you, ma’am,” Potter answered. You treated Lulu with respect or you were sorry. No one ever talked about the authority secretaries and other such people had, which didn’t make it any less real.

The moment stretched to about five minutes. Featherston wasn’t in the habit of making people cool their heels just to be sitting. Something had to be going on. And something was. Nathan Bedford Forrest III, the head of the Confederate General Staff, came out of the President’s office. He didn’t look happy.

He looked even less happy when he saw Potter in the waiting room. Potter wasn’t happy to see him, either. They weren’t quite conspirators. If it looked as if Jake Featherston was dragging the CSA down to ruin, someone would have to try to dispose of him. If that worked, someone would have to try to run the country afterwards. As far as Potter could see, Nathan Bedford Forrest III made far and away the best candidate.

Forrest wanted the job as much as he wanted another head. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t try to do it—he had a strong sense of duty. It meant he hoped everything would turn out all right, even though he was the one who’d first wondered whether Jake Featherston was going round the bend.

Did Featherston know about those wary discussions? If he did, would Nathan Bedford Forrest III still be free? Potter didn’t think so.

“You can go in now, General,” Lulu said.

“Thank you very much,” Potter said. From most Confederates, that would have been, Thank you kindly. He’d never lost the more than half-Yankee way of speaking he picked up to fit in while he was at Yale.

“Hello, Potter,” Jake Featherston said. The President of the CSA was in his early fifties, tall and rawboned, his close-cropped brown hair going gray. His eyes had dark pouches under them that hadn’t been there a few years before. They still blazed, though. If ruthless determination could pull the CSA through, Featherston was the man to give it.

“What’s up, sir?” Potter asked, hoping it had nothing to do with Nathan Bedford Forrest III.

“I need you to light a fire under Professor FitzBelmont. I don’t care if you promise him prime pussy or promise you’ll shoot his kids if he doesn’t get his ass in gear, but get him moving. We really need that uranium bomb,” Featherston said.

The Confederate uranium program had got off to a slow start because the President didn’t believe in it at first. Potter couldn’t blame him for that; who in his right mind would have believed it? But when the Confederates learned the United States were going after uranium explosives as hard as they could, they’d had to follow suit.

“If lighting a fire will do anything, I’ll do it.” Potter wasn’t sure it would. Separating U-235 from U-238 was proving fiendishly hard and fiendishly expensive. “They could use more money and more men, too.”

“Whatever they need, we’ll give it to them,” Featherston vowed. “If the damnyankees are ahead of us on this one, we’re screwed. If we beat ’em to the punch, we win. Even Pittsburgh won’t matter at all. It’s about that simple. Or will you tell me I’m wrong?” He glared a challenge at Potter.

“No, sir.” Potter meant it. He might despise Jake Featherston the man, but Jake Featherston the leader was dead right here.

Major Jonathan Moss became a flier at the start of the Great War because he thought it would prove a cleaner, more chivalrous way of fighting than the mess on the ground. And he was right—for a while.

After a career as a lawyer in occupied Canada, he came back to flying not long before the new—the greater?—war broke out. With his wife and daughter killed by a Canuck bomber, he threw himself into aviation as much to stay sane as for any other reason. And he got shot down over Virginia and spent a while languishing in the Confederates’ Andersonville POW camp. If not for a tornado that flung barbed wire in all directions, he would have been there yet.

Now he was a foot soldier, not because he wanted to be one but because he had no choice. The Negro guerrillas who found him would have killed him if he didn’t join their band.

Chickens and chunks of pork roasted over campfires in the pine woods of southwestern Georgia. The white man from whose farm they’d been taken didn’t need to worry about his livestock any more. Neither did his family. The USA and the CSA followed the Geneva Convention when they fought each other. The USA and the Mormon rebels in Utah played by the rules, too; the Mormons were, if anything, more scrupulous than their U.S. foes about keeping them. Between black guerrillas and Confederates, rules went out the window. It was war to the knife.

“Smells goddamn good,” Captain Nick Cantarella said. The infantry officer, much younger than Moss, had escaped from Andersonville with him. With his knowledge of how to fight on the ground, Cantarella had to be more valuable to the Negroes than Moss was.

“Be ready soon.” The black who led the guerrillas called himself Spartacus. He wasn’t far from Moss’ age. He’d fought for the CSA in the Great War, and reminded Moss of a career noncom in the U.S. Army. Jake Featherston didn’t want any Negroes fighting on his side. Spartacus used everything he’d learned fighting for the Confederacy to fight against it now.

After Moss got outside of some hot, greasy pork and a tin cup of chicory-laced coffee, he asked, “What do you aim to do next?” He had no trouble treating Spartacus as his CO, and it wasn’t just because the black man could kill him with a word. Like most whites in the USA, Moss hadn’t had much to do with Negroes. There weren’t many in the United States, and most whites were happy to keep it that way. He’d always thought of Negroes as inferior; he hadn’t had much reason to think otherwise. But Spartacus would have commanded respect as a man if he were green with blue polka dots.

From the Hardcover edition.

Revue de presse


“Turtledove [is] the standard-bearer for alternate history.”
–USA Today

Settling Accounts: Drive to the East

“First-time readers can jump in and enjoy Turtledove’s richly rearranged cultural and political landscape.”
–The Kansas City Star

“Engrossing . . . thoroughly satisfying.”
–Publishers Weekly

Settling Accounts: Return Engagement

“Strong, complex characters against a sweeping alt-historical background.”
–Kirkus Reviews

American Empire: The Victorious Opposition

“Powerful . . . demonstrates Turtledove’s continuing mastery of historical fiction . . . almost impossible to praise too highly.”
–Booklist (starred review)

American Empire: The Center Cannot Hold

“Turtledove never tires of exploring the paths not taken, bringing to his storytelling a prodigious knowledge of his subject and a profound understanding of human sensibilities and motivations.”
–Library Journal

American Empire: Blood & Iron

“Nobody plays the what-if game of alternative history better than Turtledove. . . . This book begins a panoramic story, a new trilogy at least, that promises to be immensely fascinating.”
–Publishers Weekly (starred review)

From the Hardcover edition.

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 665 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 640 pages
  • Pagination - ISBN de l'édition imprimée de référence : 0345464079
  • Editeur : Del Rey (25 juillet 2006)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 3.6 étoiles sur 5  82 commentaires
36 internautes sur 41 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Mixed review for yet another installment 31 juillet 2006
Par P. M Simon - Publié sur
Plot: Volume umpteen of Harry Turtledove's seemingly endless in his South-won-the Civil-War alternate WWII series. Story picks up after the Pittsburg-Stalingrad defeat for the Confederacy and follows as the USA grinds the CSA down by a relentless drive into Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Georgia. Usual side plots galore on the seas, in Utah, and in Texas, with less on Canada this time.

General weaknesses of breadth: Again, the wider world war is only barely, tantalizingly mentioned.

Biggest strength: Hard to say except it's good to see all one's well-known characters back. Also, one senses that there will (hopefully) just be one more book to wind the series up.

I at least enjoyed some of the little snide didja-catch-that one obscure historic references and real characters in odd places. Castro snuck into this book for a cameo, and Oswald Mosley got another mention. Also, the North's main successful general, Irving Morrel is obviously not Sherman as some speculated but Irwin Rommel.

Biggest flaw: As others have noted-- the endless repetition is one nominee. For instance, I counted over a HUNDRED references to how great CSA cigarettes were and how sucky USA ones were. As if the hundred or so times the last two books mentioned this were not enough. There are also barely changing sequences for many of the main characters, not only Dr. O'Doull, but also Sam Carstens, George Enos, and esp. Chester Martin.

But my nominee for the absolute worst aspect is that the fractured plotline meant the first hundred pages or so were little but reintroducing all the characters and reminding us where we left off with them (necessary since, sadly, HT has scattered his writing efforts so much that this series rates but a book a year). The scattered subplots also make it hard to have a really dramatic, riveting thread anywhere. We are switching channels so fast that no one episode of anything is long enough to be well-developed or hold out interest.

Overall: Yes, readers of the series will want to press on. Although formulaic and predictable and slow, the book does progress and it is better than some of the frankly-nothing-happens earlier books.
22 internautes sur 25 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 Nothing New 2 septembre 2006
Par Canticle For Leibowitz - Publié sur
Harry Turtledove was once a writer of creativity and imagination. Well, that's history. What's left is endless repetition and recycling of earlier material. Has anyone else noticed that he has now TWICE used the Stalingrad concept in his fiction? (Okay in two separate series, but come on.) Most of this book, as in much of his work these days, is simple filler. I have seriously wondered if its all done by some writing program, or student interns, and if he "oversees" the work and signs his name to it....Look, I used to LOVE his work. NOW he could actually be dead, and still churn out work of the same creativity and originality. I don't know what's worse, if he IS still doing the writing, or if he ISN'T. Sorry...
16 internautes sur 18 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 Turtledove appears to need an editor 14 novembre 2006
Par TechDawgMc - Publié sur
I've been reading this series by checking it out of the library. I'm pretty glad because I'd hate to be spending money on this series. It really began to lose momentum several books ago. This volume is very repetitive and very predictable. Too little that's really interesting ever happens. Much like in the Great War, the result just seems inevitable. There's no way the South can do anything but lose this war without a real "deus ex machina" turnabout. Every possible movement that could make things interesting -- a Japanese landing on Pearl Harbor for instance, gets easily written out. Instead the two key USA generals simply do no wrong. It is likely that a government run by a maniac is going to have trouble fighting a war, but the matchup here should be closer than it is.

Turtledove has really degenerated into extreme repitition. How many times do I need to hear that the blackout masking tape over headlights only gives off as much light as a cigarette? Someone should be editing this book. It isn't happening and it's at least 150 pages too long (and that's just to tell the same story).

How Few Remain created an interesting alternate timeline, but the promise of that has mostly petered out. I'll plug this out to finish it because I'm stubborn, but if you are thinking of starting this series, don't do it with your own money.
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Alternate World War II 10 janvier 2007
Par J. K. Fockler, Jr. - Publié sur
The Grapple is the third book in the Settling Accounts Trilogy, but actually the 10th book in a string that goes back to How Few Remain. Several of the characters have been featured since the second book in the string.

This book takes place in the 1940's in a timeline in which the Confederacy won the Civil War in 1862 and has been an independent country ever since. World War II is underway, but the alignments are different. The USA (North) is allied with a German Monarchy against a fascist Britain and France and a Confederacy which is a strong Nazi analog. The CSA's blacks are treated as the Nazis treated Jews.

As is characteristic of Harry Turtledove's serial novels, the story is told through multiple viewpoints which give a broad overview of the war, from extermination camps to battlefields in Ohio, Texas and Virginia, to ships at sea. Turtledove kills off a continuing character early in this book, also a Turtledove trademark.

I have two fairly minor gripes about The Grapple. The book, and the whole series, parallel our own timeline a little too closely. The Texas extermination camps are Auschwitz/Buchenwald, Jake Featherston is Hitler, a Confederate Army in Pittsburgh stands in for Germans in Stalingrad, and so forth. Oddly enough, George Patton seems to stand in for Erwin Rommel. For my tastes, this book moves a little too slowly. I'd have preferred if Turtledove had finished the war at the end of this book. The next book of the sequence could have begun with the postwar period, war crimes trials, etc.

Those complaints apart, The Grapple still reads better than most works in the field. Turtledove is a great creator of characters. Each is distinctive. Even his most evil characters are interesting, and while listening to them you don't hate them. The idea of carrying a victorious Confederacy through future years is not new (Bring the Jubilee) but is still fascinating. If you like alternate history, Turtledove is THE BEST.
16 internautes sur 21 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 More of the same for fans of the series 26 juillet 2006
Par MarkK - Publié sur
In the latest volume of his ongoing alternative history series, Harry Turtledove moves beyond the battle of Pittsburgh, the turning point in the war between the U.S. and the Confederate States with which he concluded the previous installment. The Confederacy, which had enjoyed dramatic success at the start of the war, now finds itself on the defensive as the U.S. drives them back. Increasingly the Confederate president, Jake Featherston, grasps onto the slim hope of secret weapons to turn the tide against the superior numbers and resources of the United States, which is bearing down upon the South in a campaign with echoes of the American Civil War.

Fans of the series will find much to satisfy them here. Once more he chronicles events the course of the war through the experiences of over a dozen characters scattered on both sides, though by this point the diversity of experience is much reduced as nearly everybody he chronicles is at the front; home front interludes are virtually nonexistent. The tactics of present-day wars are even more apparent in this installment they were before, as combatants use suicide bombers, car bombs, and even truck-mounted machine guns in ways more familiar to soldiers of today than those of sixty years ago.

Yet while readers will find many of the same strengths that engaged them in the previous volumes, the weaknesses are there as well. While the plot moves forward nicely, the individual episodes themselves have a rote and repetitive feel to them. Characters find themselves repeating the same actions from scene to scene, and even their dialogue is largely recycled from earlier parts of the book. The increasing confinement of the narrative to the battlefield only enhances this, as characters do the same things over and over because they find themselves stuck in the same situations - something that Turtledove successfully avoided in his far more diverse coverage of the alternative First World War in the earlier volumes.

In short, readers of the earlier volumes will find much the is familiar here, as events move down well-worn paths towards an inevitable conclusion. About the greatest surprise contained within these pages is that Turtledove doesn't wrap up the war, but instead plans at least one more installment of his "Settling Accounts" series, entitled "In At the Death". Fans will probably be rewarded with more of the same as before, as the whole series finds a groove that is both comfortable and predictable.
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