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by Harry Turtledove
Published by Tor Books, 2003
Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.ca: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.co.uk: hardcover, paperback
Suggested by: Greg Slade
Gunpowder Empire is a bit of a departure from Turtledove's other books which I have read so far, in that it is quite clearly aimed at the young adult market. The story follows Jeremy and Amanda Solters, teenagers whose family works as crosstime traders. They travel to Agrippan Rome, an alternate world in which Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa had lived to conquer the Germans and Dacians, and thus forestalling the barbarian invasions of the fifth and sixth centuries, and succeeded Augustus as emperor. Thus, just as in Silverberg's Roma Eterna, the Roman Empire survives on into modern times. The Solters' timeline suffers from shortages due to pollution and overexploitation of resources, so they trade things like mirrors and Swiss army knives for grain.
Life in Agrippan Rome is no great hardship for Jeremy and Amanda. They prefer the comforts of home, of course, but their situation is at least tolerable, until their mother suddenly takes sick and their father has to take them home, and then suddenly the children lose contact with them and with their whole home timeline. To make things worse, the Lietuvans pick just that time to besiege the town, so Jeremy and Amanda are trapped in a war zone, without the benefit of modern medicine.
Turtledove posits two kinds of Christians, somewhat analogous to "registered" and "unregistered" Christians living under communist governments. The "Imperial Christians" don't pray to the Emperor as a god, but they do agree to pray for him, and burn a pinch of incense in the temple. Other Christians do not go so far, but they are not actively persecuted, although they have fewer rights.
At least in this work, which promised to be the first in a series, Turtledove doesn't go much farther than to point out the differences between modern technological society and his posited Agrippan Rome (and, by implication, developing societies in our world.) In a sense, the story is an extended "field trip", both for Jeremy and Amanda and the intended readership. I am curious to see if Turtledove pushes his premise a little farther in the next volume. (November, 2005)
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