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Between the Rivers

A book by Harry Turtledove

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Don't know quite what to say!

  • Nov 7, 2000
I found this book on a remaindered table; sometimes that's a good place to get interesting, little known books. Unfortunately, in this case, the reason it was on that table was more than abundantly clear to me as soon as I began reading it. It's a dud and I am at a loss to understand the good comments some other amazonians have vouchsafed it here. This is a tale of the dawn of civilization in the ancient Near East, describing a time when mankind first gathered in small city-like settlements in the Fertile Crescent area under the aegis of its gods. The central conceit is that the gods are somehow real, as though the way they are portrayed in the ancient cuneiform literature we have found in the archeaological remains, walking among and speaking to mankind, was the way it really was. In this case, the very old cities portrayed here (apparently pre-existing any of the later cities which are known to present day archeaologists) are each presumed to be the province of a special god and each god seems to be the product of the coalescing of aimless desert spirits or demons around human settlements in order to gain control of them. These cities are seen as the earliest sites of human civilization but also as fully in the thrall of these spirits who thrive on the humans they have captured. But one city's god has begun to grow lazy and, as such, its humans are beginning to grow away from this spirit. The tale is built entirely around this drawing away and what certain of the gods do to fight this. But it is absurdly told. A valiant effort is made by the author to effect the "voice" of the ancients as found in the old poetic texts, using a minimum of vocabulary and extensive repitition. But frankly this grows incredibly tiresome after the first 50 or so pages. And the story itself is utterly silly. The characters are flat and uninteresting. The gods have all these powers yet fail to notice the human's efforts to conceal things from them when they have only to reach inside the human's minds! We are never shown clearly why some of the gods are lazier than others (what is going on with them anyway? is a natural evolution taking place? an accident of fate?) or why, when they are manifestly interested in what their humans are doing, certain of them fail to probe more deeply to find out the truth the humans are concealing from them. The tale finally just peters to an end. I was expecting a surprise, e.g., why does Engibil manifest himself as smaller than Enimhursag in the final battle and yet his city is so much more powerful and effective on the battle field? Could some new development have been at work in which Engibil was himself somehow in the loop? And why didn't he search where he should have known the item of his interest lay? And what was the special nature of this item anyway? And why would the gods of the mountains have done such a manifestly foolish thing in the first place, I mean what was in it for them? I hate writing negative reviews these days and yet this book could have been so much more. But it wasn't. And there you have it.

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About the reviewer
Stuart W. Mirsky ()
Ranked #230
I'm a retired bureaucrat (having served, most recently, as an Assistant Commissioner in amunicipal agency in a major Northeastern American city). In 2002 I took an early retirement to pursue a lifelong … more
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About this book


When the gods declare war against the city of Gibil, Sharur the merchant's son takes upon himself the task of discovering the reason for their anger. Bolstered by his belief in the ability of mortals to act without the direct intervention of divine powers, Sharur travels beyond the confines of the twin rivers that demarcate his homeland, disseminating his strange ideas of free will and independent thought. The advent of the Bronze Age and its impact on human civilization forms the backdrop of Turtledove's (How Few Remain, LJ 8/97) latest excursion into the realms of alternate history. The author's cadenced prose imparts an epic feel to this tale of humanity's attempt to forge its own destiny. A good selection for most libraries.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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ISBN-10: 0312862024
ISBN-13: 978-0312862022
Author: Harry Turtledove
Publisher: Tor Books

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