Opening Atlantis is Harry Turtledove’s latest work of alternate history; the book jacket promises that this is the first book in a trilogy, and the author has already written at least two independent stories in the same universe, so we can expect a somewhat detailed exploration of this particular terrain. For those unfamiliar with the genre, “alternate history” is a type of either science fiction or fantasy where historical events turned out differently. The most common (if not stereotypical) examples are works where Nazi Germany won World War II, or the Confederacy won the American Civil War, but the need for novelty has encouraged authors to branch out to all sorts of plausible, implausible, and frankly impossible scenarios*.
Harry Turtledove is widely regarded to be one of the best, if not the best, in this field; he has explored most of the popular themes in this genre and has probably created a few of his own. In the Atlantis series he has chosen as his divergence point either the independent formation of a small continent in the mid-Atlantic, or the breakup of the existing North American tectonic plate to create one (the cover suggests the latter). The first English explorers of the island – the first discoverers being Basque fishermen in the mid-15th century who had traded the knowledge of its existence – called it “Atlantis,” and immediately began independently settling there, as did French and Spanish fishermen. The general narrative traces the fortunes of several members of the Radcliffe family, who are descendants of the head of the original English settler, over the next three centuries, in three separate vignettes.