A Different Flesh

A Different Flesh is a collection of alternate history short stories by Harry Turtledove set in a world in which Homo erectus and various megafauna survived in the Americas instead of Native Americans or any other human cultures.

Turtledove was inspired to write the story by a Stephen Jay Gould article that speculated as to how humanity’s distant cousin, Australopithecus, would be treated if that species had survived.[1]

A Different Flesh
A Different Flesh
AuthorHarry Turtledove
CountryUnited States
Genrealternate history, science fiction
Published1988 (Congdon & Weed)
Media typePrint (hardcover)
813/.54 19
LC ClassPS3570.U76 D5 1988

Plot introduction

The stories give a brief glimpse in this altered American history ranging from 1610 to 1988. The Western Hemisphere is inhabited by Homo erectus rather than Homo sapiens, as well as megafauna long extinct in the known world. Consequently, the colonization of the New World by Europe has been a far more difficult process. As time goes by, various characters debate the nature of the "sims" (as erectus is known) and their role in human history.

Included with the short stories are quotations from The Story of the Federated Commonwealths. These snippets from an imaginary textbook providing the reader information about what happens during the time between the different stories.[2]

Plot summary

Vilest Beast

1610: At the colony of Jamestown, Virginia, Edward Maria Wingfield must rescue his infant daughter from the tribe of wild sims who kidnapped her. The opening passages reveal that Captain John Smith was killed and eaten by sims in 1607.

And So To Bed

1661: The story is made up of a series of entries in Samuel Pepys' diary. Pepys owns two sims (which can easily be trained in household chores) and contemplates the origin of the species. By watching these sims, as well as observing various other animals found in North America, Pepys develops the theory of evolution.

Only one of the diary's entries in the story has a corresponding entry in the real diary Pepys kept.[2]

Around the Salt Lick

1691: Thomas Kenton, a scout from Virginia and descendant of Edward Wingfield, and his faithful sim companion Charles, explore the interior of North America. Kenton is after the teeth of the spearfang cats that populate the area. He is captured by a group of wild sims, and must hope that Charles will rescue him. The story structure is reminiscent of James Fenimore Cooper.

The Iron Elephant

1782: The first steam-driven train is invented by Richard Trevithick in Boston, Plymouth Commonwealth. A race is held in a commonwealth bordering the New Nile starting in Springfield and ending in Cairo, with one of the hairy elephant-pulled trains they threaten to replace.

Notes: 1) The story has some parallels to the legend of John Henry. 2) In this story it is learned that England's American colonies broke off into a new nation - the Federated Commonwealths of America - in 1738, and westward expansion began much sooner than in our history, due to the lack of indigenous humans in the regions to be colonized. 3) The character Trevithick is American rather than British, and appears to be 20 years older than his historic age, so he is probably not the historical figure but an analog. In Turtledove works, it is common for historical figures to have fictitious offspring (as with Edward Wingfield's daughter and her own great-grandson Thomas Kenton above) as a result of the butterfly effect.

Though the Heavens Fall

1804: A house-slave named Jeremiah goes on trial for running away, and his attorney presents the argument that, with the existence of sims, there is no need for human beings to enslave other human beings. They are successful, and the court's decision leads to the emancipation of all human slaves. There are echoes of the historical Dred Scott Decision.

Note: More about the FCA is learned in this story. The government is based very closely on the Roman Republic. Although the historic USA used that example as a template, the FCA has gone even further, for example by having two chief executives who can veto each other, and a Senate whose members serve for life.

Trapping Run

1812: Henry Quick, a trapper in the Rocky Mountains, is wounded by a bear and is nursed back to health by sims. While there, he ends up impregnating one of the sims, resulting in a Sim-Human hybrid. His time among the sims makes him far more sympathetic to them.


1988: A group of sim's rights activists, including a great-great-granddaughter of Henry Quick, protesting experimentation on sims, "rescue" Matt, a sim infected with HIV, from a medical lab but fail to take enough HIV inhibitor, which is medicine that suppresses the effects of HIV and AIDS. Eventually, this forces the activists to return Matt to the researchers.

Major themes

The stories explore what makes someone "human". As time passes humans' view of sims generally shifts from seeing them as beasts into seeing them being close to humans and deserving of some rights.[2] Without anthropomorphizing the sims, Turtledove makes clear that although they cannot become humans and enjoy all the freedoms that humans have, they still deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.[3]

When asked whether the point of divergence of A Different Flesh being set before human history makes the novel a proper alternate history or some sort of "alternative natural history", Turtledove responded: "They seem like alternate history to me, but I haven't really spent a whole lot of time worrying about how to classify them, I'm afraid."[4]

Literary significance and reception

Steven H Silver gave a positive review of the novel and commented that Turtledove left a lot of room open for further stories in the series, but still feels that Turtledove's writing style has changed to the point where future stories would appear out of place.[2] Science fiction author Orson Scott Card also gave a good review for the novel complimenting Turtledove especially on Freedom for the use of a sims point of view without "sentimentalizing and anthropomorphizing until the true differences between species are erased."[3]

One negative criticism of the novel was made by a reviewer who thought that there was an assumption that the course of history would have gone pretty much as it did with Native Americans here, and felt that this underestimates the impact of Native Americans on our history.[5]

Publication history

Vilest Beast, And So to Bed, Around the Salt Lick, The Iron Elephant, and Though the Heavens Fall were all originally published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Freedom was originally published in Asimov's Science Fiction while Trapping Run was written exclusively for the hardcover edition.[6]

Originally published by Congdon & Weed in 1988, it was first published in paperback by Worldwide the following year. In 1994, Baen reprinted the book.[7]


  1. ^ "A Different Flesh (Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature)". eNotes.com. Retrieved 2008-09-11.
  2. ^ a b c d Steven H Silver. "A DIFFERENT FLESH by Harry Turtledove". Book Review. SF Site. Retrieved 2008-09-11.
  3. ^ a b Orson Scott Card (July 1988). "Books to Look For". Book Review. Fantasy & Science Fiction. Retrieved 2008-09-11.
  4. ^ Octavio Aragão (2008-05-29). "Different changes: interview with Harry Turtledove". Interview. Intempol. Retrieved 2008-09-11.
  5. ^ Dale Cozort. "A Different Flesh -- by: Harry Turtledove". Book Review. Retrieved 2008-09-11.
  6. ^ Robert B. Schmunk. "Turtledove, Harry. A Different Flesh". Uchronia.net. Retrieved 2008-09-10.
  7. ^ "ISFDB Title listing for 'A Different Flesh'". ISFDB.org. Retrieved 2009-03-07.

External links

Between the Rivers

Between the Rivers is a fantasy novel by Harry Turtledove. The book centers on a fantasy realm that is analogous to ancient Mesopotamia based on the myths and legends of Sumer and Babylon.

Beyond the Gap

Beyond the Gap is a fantasy novel by Harry Turtledove, published in February 2007. It is the first book of the Opening of the World series. The book centers on several citizens of the fictional Iron Age Empire of Raumsdalia, a land whose inhabitants have North Germanic names. Raumsdalia is situated south of a great steppeland which is bordered on the north by a vast, seemingly unending glacier.

Conan of Venarium

Conan of Venarium is a fantasy novel by American writer Harry Turtledove, edited by Teresa Nielsen Hayden, featuring Robert E. Howard's sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian. It was first published in hardcover by Tor Books in July 2003; a regular paperback edition followed from the same publisher in July 2004.According to the table of contents the book includes a listing of "The Conan Novels in Chronological Order" at the end of the text; however, at least in the paperback edition, the list provided includes only Conan novels published by Tor and is not chronological, either in terms of content or publication.

Darkness Descending

Darkness Descending (2000) by Harry Turtledove is the second book in the Darkness series.

Departures (short story collection)

Departures is a collection of alternate history stories by Harry Turtledove, first published in paperback by Del Rey Books in June 1993 and reprinted in 1998.

The book contains twenty short short stories and novelettes by the author, some originally published under his early pseudonym Eric G. Iverson, together with an introductory author's note. The first edition also includes a short piece about the author and an excerpt from his then-recent novel The Guns of the South.

"In the Presence of Mine Enemies" was later expanded into a full-length novel in 2003.


Earthgrip is a collection of linked science fiction stories by Harry Turtledove, first published in hardcover by The Easton Press in 1991, and paperback by Ballantine Books in December of the same year. The cover of the paperback edition bears the subtitled "Tales from the Traders' World." It was later gathered together with his novel Noninterference and collection Kaleidoscope into the omnibus collection 3 X T, published in hardcover by Baen Books in 2004.

The book contains two novellas and one novelette.

Every Inch a King

Every Inch a King is a 2005 fantasy novel by Harry Turtledove, published by ISFiC Press. It is a fictional account of the story of Otto Witte, who allegedly spent five days pretending to be the King of Albania. The title is a quotation from Shakespeare's King Lear, Act IV scene 6, wherein the insane King, crowned with weeds, makes futile assertions of his now usurped power.

Hail! Hail!

Hail! Hail! is a novella written by Harry Turtledove. It was published in e-book format by Swallow's End Publishing, June 5, 2018.

Hellenic Traders

Hellenic Traders refers to a series of historical fiction books published by TOR and written by H.N. Turteltaub (a pseudonym of Harry Turtledove). The books center around cousins Menedemos and Sostratos who work as seaborne traders in the years following the death of Alexander the Great. The series is notable for a high degree of historical accuracy.

After Tor allowed the series go out of print, PhoenixPick has acquired the rights to the series and all four books will be reprinted under Turtledove's name and will be reissued over the course of 2013 to 2015.

The series currently consists of four books:

Over the Wine Dark Sea (2001, re-released September 2013)

The Gryphon's Skull (2002, re-released April 2014)

The Sacred Land (2003, re-released December 2014)

Owls to Athens (2004, re-released March 2015)Turtledove also wrote Justinian, which takes place in the early Byzantine Empire. While not connected with the Hellenic Traders series, it still deals with the same area.

Jaws of Darkness

Jaws of Darkness (2003) by Harry Turtledove is the fifth book in the Darkness series.

Kaleidoscope (short story collection)

Kaleidoscope is a collection of science fiction, fantasy and alternate history stories by Harry Turtledove, first published in paperback by Ballantine Books in April 1990. It was later gathered together with his novel Noninterference and collection Earthgrip into the omnibus collection 3 X T, published in hardcover by Baen Books in 2004.

The book contains thirteen short short stories and novelettes.

Liberating Alaska

"Liberating Alaska" is a alternate history short story written by Harry Turtledove and published on June 19, 2018 in the July/August 2018 edition of Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine.

Opening of the World

The Opening of the World Series is a trilogy of novels by Harry Turtledove set in a fantasy world.

In the trilogy, the Raumsdalian Empire is the dominant political entity, which shares ties to a loose collection of barbarian tribes with a common ethnicity, known as the Bizogots. The known world had always been bounded on the north by a massive glacier, but at the beginning of the series it has melted through, allowing contact with lands to the north. The series details the exploration of these northern lands and combat with the people who live there, an aggressive race of fierce warriors and powerful sorcerers known as the Rulers.

Owls to Athens

Owls to Athens is the fourth book in the Hellenic Traders series by H.N. Turteltaub (a pseudonym of Harry Turtledove). Like the others in the series it is a work of historical fiction concerning the adventures of a pair of Greek traders from Rhodes. "Taking owls to Athens" was a contemporary Greek saying, roughly the equivalent of the modern "selling snow to eskimos" or "carrying coals to Newcastle".

Rulers of the Darkness

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The Road Not Taken (short story)

"The Road Not Taken" is a short story by Harry Turtledove, set in 2039, in which he presents a fictitious account of a first encounter between humanity and an alien race, the Roxolani. "Herbig-Haro" is another short story by Turtledove, which is the sequel to this one.

The Stolen Throne

The Stolen Throne is a fantasy novel written by Harry Turtledove and set in the Videssos universe. It is the first book in the Time of Troubles tetralogy. The events depicted are strongly based on the historical interaction of Sassanid Persia and Byzantium in the 6th and 7th century. The first book depicts the rise of Sharbaraz (the analog to Khosrau II) to overcome the usurper Smerdis (Bahram Chobin) to become the King of Kings of Makuran (Persia) with the help of the Videssian Emperor Likinios (Maurice).

Through Darkest Europe

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Through the Darkness (novel)

Through the Darkness (2001) by Harry Turtledove is the third book in the Darkness series.

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