by Harry Turtledove

Del Rey


407pp/$16.00/January 2002

Counting Up, Counting Down
Cover by Istvan Orosz

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

It has been nearly a decade since Harry Turtledove published Departures, his last collection of short stories.  Part of this fact may be due to an increase in novel length works at the expense of short stories, and, in fact, eight of seventeen stories in Counting Up, Counting Down date to before Departure's publication date, which also demonstrates that even as Turtledove has become known for his lengthy series, he has not completely left the field of short fiction behind.

Many of the stories in this collection will be unfamiliar to both casual reader and Turtledove fan, for fourteen of the stories, including the most of the older ones, have never before been republished.  At the same time, two of the stories, "Forty, Counting Down" and "Must and Shall" have been nominated for the Hugo, with "Must and Shall" also having a nomination for the Nebula and and honorable mention for the Sidewise Award.

Counting Up, Counting Down shows Turtledove's versatility, with stories which are science fiction, fantasy and alternate history.  Bookended by the two titular, and connected, stories, the fifteen tales Turtledove has chosen to include range from mythological Greece to the distant space colony of New Zion.  Two of the stories are set in Turtledove's well established world of Videssos, dealing with events in peripheral lands.  While Turtledove is most widely known for his alternate histories, Counting Up, Counting Down proves that he is quite capable of writing straight fantasy ("After the Last Elf Is Dead"), straight science fiction ("Vermin") and humor ("Honeymouth" et al.)

While most of the stories are strong successes, there are a few which don't quite succeed.  To be most fully appreciated, a knowledge of academic technique is needed for "Deconstruction Gang," about a failed academic who finds himself working on one of the strangest road crews ever assembled.  The tedium of war is quite evident in Ils ne passeront pas, a story of the trenches during World War I.  Just as the characters grow used to their situation, all Hell breaks loose on the battlefield of Verdun.

The two titular stories, "Forty, Counting Down" and "Twenty-One, Counting Up" tell the same story from two different viewpoints, sort of.  The first story tells of a forty-year-old Justin Kloster who looks back on his life and decides his one regret was screwing up his relationship with one of his girlfriends, Megan.  Kloster invents a time machine and goes back to try to correct the mistakes he made.  The latter story, which is the final story in the collection, tells the same story from a twenty-one-year-old Justin Kloster who is living the events with Megan for the first time and must give way to his own future self to keep him from ruining his chances with Megan.  The two stories are complementary, each offering details of Justin's relationship with Megan and life in general that the other doesn't offer.  "Forty, Counting Down" offers a little more closure than the former since it provides more of a hint of what Justin's life is like as a result of his own meddling in his life.

The two Videssos tales are short peeks into one of Turtledove's most developed worlds.  Located far from the centers of power, both stories demonstrate how the Avtokrators of Videssos attempt to extend their sway.  In "The Decoy Duck," the Videssians use missionaries to try to bring their rule to the distant and cold Halogai barbarians.  In "The Seventh Chapter, Videssos has already inflicted its religion on the isolated village.  Despite this, Videssians feel that they must also impose their specific form of religion on those villagers.  With luck, people will discover the world of Videssos from these stories and clamor for more once they have had a chance to read the eleven novels which have been set in that world.  

Counting Up, Counting Down provides several examples to support the contention that Turtledove can write things which are not lengthy, multi-part series.  In fact, the stories could be used to support the contention that his short fiction is better than his novels in that he has less room for redundancy.  Even by adding these stories to those collected in Turtledove's earlier collections, Kaleidoscope and Departures, there are still more than two score stories by Turtledove which have only had their original appearance, ranging from 1983's "Blue Fox and Werewolf" to last year's "Black Tulip."  Perhaps Turtledove and one of his publishers will see fit to release another collection before another decade has passed.

Forty, Counting Down Must and Shall
Ready for the Fatherland The Phantom Tolbukhin
Deconstruction Gang The Green Buffalo
The Maltese Elephant Vermin
Ils ne passeront pas In This Season
Honeymouth Myth Manners' Guide to Greek Missology:  Andromeda and Perseus
Goddess for a Day After the Last Elf Is Dead
The Decoy Duck The Seventh Chapter
Twenty-one, Counting Up

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