As a longtime fan of Harry Turtledove, I’ve read many of his works, but his “Crosstime Traffic” series is among his best. The premise – a world in the late 21st century that has discovered the ability to travel between alternate timelines – is one that he has used to create some imaginative divergences and the civilizations they have spawned. The timeline in this book is typical of this creativeness; an atomic war in 1967 had left a Southern California at a pre-industrial level of technology, splintered into squabbling domains.
His plot is just as engaging: the Mendozas, a family researching the origins of the war in the remnants of the UCLA library, find themselves in the middle of a war between the kingdom of the Valley and the Westside. Their neighborhood is quickly conquered, and teenaged Liz Mendoza draws the unwanted attentions of Dan, a young soldier in the Valley army. As the war drags on, the Mendozas come under suspicion, and they soon find themselves having to navigate both sides of the war while struggling to complete their project.
Turtledove succeeds in creating an entertaining tale for readers. Though the characters are somewhat underdeveloped, his alternative Los Angeles is well-visualized, with people living in the ruins of 1960s America, using the leftover artifacts as best they can and adopting the slang of the era as their everyday language. Readers should not be put off by the “juvenile fiction” label; this is a novel that can be enjoyed by people of all ages.