The New World Order: what’s it about?

The Holekhor | Locations used

In case you hadn’t yet gathered, New World Order is an alternate history. There tend to be two types of this, both exemplified by the works of prolific alternate historian Harry Turtledove.

In one, history just happens differently. The South wins the Civil War. Germany wins WW2. Alexander the Great doesn’t die. Why? Because.

Even Winston Churchill wrote fiction in this vein. If you know your subject, it can be an interesting little exercise in “what if?”: taking one very key historical event and seeing how things would be different. Mr Turtledove has written, amongst other things, a series of novels in which first of all the South wins the Civil War. Later novels then extrapolate forward into the alternative late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, culminating in a Great War that is fought in North America rather than Europe.

It all starts when the South wins, which it does for no other reason than it does. And no doubt it’s all very clever, but it’s not really very science fictional because it didn’t happen.

The other type is where history goes drastically wrong. Some major intervention happens. Again Mr Turtledove can provide examples, with his Worldwar: In the Balance series (aliens invade Earth during WW2) or, more particularly and my favourite, Guns of the South. Here the South wins the Civil War (again) because time travelling South African nazis from the future go back and supply Robert E. Lee’s army with Kalashnikovs.

(There is a half-way house between the two: a simple historical event happens differently, but the outcome is so way-out that you get the feeling things would have been drastically different anyway. Examples: Keith Roberts’ Pavane [Armada invades Britain] and Harry Harrison’s A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! [US loses its War of Independence; in the twentieth century we have coal-powered aircraft and, yes, a transatlantic tunnel.])

New World Order is squarely the second kind of alternate history. The fact that it’s set during England’s Civil War, where the balance is upset by superior weaponry from a mysterious people called the Holekhor, is a deliberate tribute to Turtledove. Guns of the South is an excellent novel. Turtledove’s affection for Lee as a character shines through, and he is so well written that I was led to do some finding out about Lee myself. He was a remarkable man.

And, as a story, there is much more to it than the South just winning. Lee becomes President of the Confederate States and has to deal with the Nazis, still a very real presence in the land. Their simplistic ideas about the motivations of the Civil War — keep the blacks in their place — are quite at odds with Lee’s much more in-depth awareness. Likewise, in New World Order, it’s not just a question of who wins the war. The original tensions that led to the war in the first place are still there, and the Holekhor have their own agenda.

But, let me stress that New World Order is not Guns of the South rewrote. The issues, the characters and the action are all very different. Nor are the Holekhors aliens. Or time travellers.

Who are they? Buy the book and see …