A Different Flesh

A Different Flesh

by Harry Turtledove


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This novel by the New York Times–bestselling “master of alternate history” explores an America reshaped by a twist in prehistoric evolution (Publishers Weekly).

What if mankind’s “missing link,” the apelike Homo erectus, had survived to dominate a North American continent where woolly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers still prowled, while the more advanced Homo sapiens built their civilizations elsewhere? Now imagine that the Europeans arriving in the New World had chanced on these primitive creatures and seized the opportunity to establish a hierarchy in which the sapiens were masters and the “sims” were their slaves.
This is the premise that drives the incomparable Harry Turtledove’s A Different Flesh. The acclaimed Hugo Award winner creates an alternate America that spans three hundred years of invented history. From the Jamestown colonists’ desperate hunt for a human infant kidnapped by a local sim tribe, to a late-eighteenth-century contest between a newfangled steam-engine train and the popular hairy-elephant-pulled model, to the sim-rights activists’ daring 1988 rescue of an unfortunate biped named Matt who’s being used for animal experimentation, Turtledove turns our world inside out in a remarkable science fiction masterwork that explores what it truly means to be human.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504052337
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 05/29/2018
Pages: 300
Sales rank: 490,744
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Harry Turtledove is an American novelist of science fiction, historical fiction, and fantasy. Publishers Weekly has called him the “master of alternate history,” and he is best known for his work in that genre. Some of his most popular titles include The Guns of the South, the novels of the Worldwar series, and the books in the Great War trilogy. In addition to many other honors and nominations, Turtledove has received the Hugo Award, the Sidewise Award for Alternate History, and the Prometheus Award. He attended the University of California, Los Angeles, earning a PhD in Byzantine history. Turtledove is married to mystery writer Laura Frankos, and together they have three daughters. The family lives in Southern California.

Read an Excerpt

A Different Flesh

By Harry Turtledove


Copyright © 1988 Harry Turtledove
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-0945-4



Vilest Beast

Simia quam similis, turpissima bestia, nobis!
[The ape, vilest beast, how like us!]
—Ennius, quoted in Cicero,
De Natura Deorum

Europeans found the New World a very different land from the one they had left. No people came down to the seashore to greet their ships. Before the arrival of European settlers, there were no people in North or South America. The most nearly human creatures present in the Americas were sims.

In the Old World, sims have been extinct for hundreds of thousands of years. Fossils of creatures very much like present-day sims have been found in East Africa, on the island of Java, and in caves not far from Pekin, China. Sims must have crossed a land bridge from Asia to North America during an early glacial period of the Ice Age, when the sea level was much lower than it is now.

At the time when humans discovered the New World, small hunting and gathering bands of sims lived throughout North and South America. Their lives were more primitive than those of any human beings, for they knew how to make only the most basic stone and wood tools, and were not even able to make fire for themselves (although they could use and maintain it if they found it). Paradoxically, this very primitiveness makes them interesting to anthropologists, who see in them an illustration of how humanity's ancient ancestors must have lived.

Despite their lack of weapons more formidable than chipped stones and sticks with fire-hardened points, sims often proved dangerous to colonists in the early days of European settlement of the New World. As they learned to cope with attacks from bands of sims, the settlers also had to learn new farming techniques needed for soils and climates different from those of their native lands. Hunger was their constant companion in the early years of the colonies.

Another reason for this was the necessity of bringing all seed grain across the Atlantic until surpluses could be built up. The Americas offered no native equivalent of wheat, rye, or barley for settlers to use. Sims, of course, knew nothing of agriculture.

Nevertheless, the Spaniards and Portuguese succeeded in establishing colonies in Central and South America during the sixteenth century. The first English settlement in what is now the Federated Commonwealths was at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607....

From The Story of the Federated Commonwealths, by Ernest Simpson. Reproduced by permission.

After thirty mild English summers, July in Virginia smote Edward Wingfield like a blast from hell. Sweat poured off him as he tramped through the forest a few miles from Jamestown in search of game. It clung, greasily, in the humid heat.

He held his crossbow cocked and ready. He also carried a loaded pistol in each boot, but the crossbow was silent and accurate at longer range, and it wasted no precious powder. The guns were only for emergencies.

Wingfield studied the dappled shadows. A little past noon, he guessed. Before long he would have to turn round and head home for the colony. He had had a fairly good day: two rabbits, several small birds, and a fat gray squirrel hung from his belt.

He looked forward to fall and the harvest. If all went well this year, the colony would finally have enough wheat for bread and porridge and ale. How he wished—how all the Europeans wished—that this godforsaken new world offered wheat or barley or even oats of its own. But it did not, so all seed grain had to cross the Atlantic. Jamestown had lived mostly on game and roots for three years now. Lean and leathery, Wingfield had forgotten what a hot, fresh loaf tasted like. He remembered only that it was wonderful.

Something stirred in the undergrowth ahead. He froze. The motion came again. He spied a fine plump rabbit, its beady black eyes alert, its ears cocked for danger.

Moving slowly and steadily, hardly breathing, he raised the crossbow to his shoulder, aimed down the bolt. Once the rabbit looked toward him. He stopped moving again until it turned its head away.

He pressed the trigger. The bolt darted and slammed into a treetrunk a finger's breadth above the rabbit's ear. The beast bounded away.

"Hellfire!" Wingfield dashed after it, yanking out one of his pistols.

He almost tripped over the outflung branch of a grapevine. The vine's main stock was as big around as his calf. Virginia grapes, and the rough wine the colonists made from them, were among the few things that helped keep Jamestown bearable.

The panic-stricken rabbit, instead of diving into the bushes for cover and losing itself there, burst past a screen of brush into a clearing. "Your last mistake, beast!" Wingfield cried in triumph. He crashed through the brush himself, swinging up the gun as he did so.

By then the rabbit was almost to the other side of the clearing. He saw it thrashing in the grass there. Wingfield paused, puzzled: had a ferret torn out its throat as it scampered along, oblivious to everything but its pursuer? Then his grip tightened on the trigger, for a sim emerged from a thicket and ran toward the rabbit.

It had not seen him. It bent down by the writhing beast, smashed in the rabbit's head with a rock. Undoubtedly it had used another to bring the animal down; sims were deadly accurate throwing sharpened stones.

Wingfield stepped into the clearing. The colony was too hungry to let any food go.

The sim heard him. It rose, clutching the bloody rock in a large, knobby-knuckled hand. It was about as tall as the Englishman, and naked but for its own abundant hair. Its long, chinless jaw opened to let out a hoot of dismay.

Wingfield gestured with the pistol. Sims had no foreheads to speak of above their bone-ridged brows, but they had learned the colonists' weapons slew at a distance greater than they could cast their rocks. Usually, these days, they retreated instead of proving the lesson over again.

This one, though, stood its ground, baring broad, yellow teeth in a threatening grimace. Wingfield gestured again, more sharply, and hoped he seemed more confident than he felt. If his first shot missed, or even wounded but failed to kill, he would have to grab for his other gun while the sim charged—and pistol-range was not that much more than a stone's throw.

Then the bushes quivered on the far side of the clearing, and a second sim came out to stand behind its fellow. This one carried a large, sharp-edged rock ready to hurl. It shook its other fist at Wingfield, and shouted angrily.

It was the Englishman's turn to grind his teeth. If both sims rushed him, he would never have the chance to reload either a pistol or his crossbow. The odds of stopping them with just two shots were not worth betting his life on, not for a rabbit. And if they did kill him, they would not content themselves with the game he carried. They would eat him too.

Raising the pistol in a final warning, he drew back into the woods. The sims' mocking cries followed him. He hated the filthy animals ... if they were animals. Close to a century had passed since the Spaniards brought the first pair back to Cadiz from their coastal fortress of Veracruz. Churchmen and scholars were still arguing furiously over whether sims were mere brute beasts or human beings.

At the moment, Wingfield was ready to hate them no matter what they were.

He found the tree where he had shot at the rabbit the sims were now doubtless gulping down raw. He managed to cut himself while he was digging out the crossbow bolt with his knife. That did nothing to improve his temper. Had he shot straight in the first place, he would not have put himself in the humiliating position of backing down from sims.

Thinking such dark thoughts, Wingfield turned back toward Jamestown. He scratched at his nose as he walked along, and felt skin peel under his nails. One more annoyance—he was too fair not to burn in this climate, but found wearing a hat equally intolerable.

On his way home, he knocked over a couple of quail and one of the native beasts that looked like giant, white-faced rats but tasted much better. That improved his mood, a little. He was still grumbling when Allan Cooper hailed him from the edge of the cleared ground.

Thinking of the guard's misery made him ashamed of his own bad temper. Cooper wore a gleaming back-and-breast with thick padding beneath; a heavy, plumed morion sat on his head. In that armor, he had to be steaming like a lobster boiled in its own shell. Yet he managed a cheery wave for Wingfield. "Good bag you have there," he called.

"It should be better, by one hare," Wingfield replied, pique flaring again. He explained how he had lost the beast to the sims.

"Aye, well, no help for such things sometimes, not two on one," Cooper sighed, and Wingfield felt relief at having his judgment sustained by a professional soldier. The guard went on, "The thieving devils are robbing traps again, too. Henry Dale came in empty-handed this afternoon, swearing foul enough to damn himself on the spot."

"If swearing damns a man, Henry was smelling brimstone long years ere this," Wingfield observed.

Cooper laughed. "You speak naught but the truth there, though I don't blame him for his fury this time. Sims are worse than foxes ever were—foxes have no hands." He hefted his matchlock musket. "Without guns, we'd never keep them from our own animals. And how often have they raided the henhouse?"

"Too many times." Wingfield turned to a less gloomy subject. "How is Cecil?"

"Doing splendidly," Cooper said, his voice full of pride. "The lad will be three months tomorrow." Cecil Cooper was Jamestown's oldest child; the first ship carrying women had reached Virginia only a year before. Wingfield had a daughter, Joanna, only a few weeks younger than the guard's son.

He left Cooper and walked down the muddy path through the fields. Several rows of thatch-roofed cabins stood by the log stockade that mounted cannon. On the other side of the fortress were longer rows, of graves. More than half of the original three shiploads of colonists had died from starvation or disease. A couple of the newest burials were pathetically small: even back in England, so many infants did not live to grow up—and life was far harsher here.

But the marker that grieved Wingfield most was one of the oldest, the one showing where Captain John Smith lay. Always eager to explore, he had set about learning the countryside from the day the English landed—until the sims killed him, three months later. Without him, the settlement seemed to have a lesser sense of drive, of purpose.

Still, it went on, as people and their works do. Several colonists swung the gates of the fortress open, so others could drive in the pigs, goats, and oxen for the night to protect them from the sims and other predators. The pigs and goats, which ate anything they came across, throve in this new land. The oxen had the same gaunt look as most of the colonists.

Wingfield's cabin was in the outer row, closest to the forest. Smoke rose from the chimney as he approached. The door stood open, to let in what air would come.

Hearing her husband's step, Anne Wingfield came out to greet him. He hugged her close, so glad she had chosen to spend her life with him. She had had her pick of suitors, as was true of all the women in Virginia; men outnumbered them four to one.

She exclaimed in pleasure at how much game he had brought home. Back in London, she would have been nothing special to look at: a rather husky, dark-haired girl in her early twenties, with strong features—if anything, handsome rather than pretty. On this side of the Atlantic, though, she was by definition a beauty.

"And how is Joanna?" Wingfield asked as his wife skinned and disjointed his two rabbits and tossed the meat into the stewpot. The rabbits shared it with a small piece of stale venison from a couple of days before and a mess of wild onions, beechnuts, mushrooms, and roots. The smell was heavenly.

"Asleep now," Anne said, nodding toward the cradle, "but very well. She smiled at me again this morning."

"Maybe next time she will do it in the night, so I may see it too."

"I hope she will."

While they waited for the rabbits to cook, they dealt with the rest of Wingfield's catch, cutting the meat into thin strips and setting them on racks over the fire to dry and smoke. After what seemed an eternity, Anne ladled the stew into wooden bowls. Wingfield licked his clean. Though matters were not so grim as they had been the first couple of dreadful winters, he was always hungry.

"I would have had another cony, but for the sims," he said, and told Anne of the confrontation.

Her hand jumped to her mouth. "Those horrid beasts! They should all be hunted down and slain, ere they harm any more of our good Englishmen. What would I have done here, alone save only for Joanna, had they hurt you?"

"No need to fret over might-have-beens; I'm here and hale," he reassured her, and got up and embraced her for good measure. "As for the sims, if they be men, slaying them out of hand so would burden us with a great weight of sin when we are called to the Almighty."

"They are no creatures of His," Anne returned, "but rather of the Devil, the best he could do toward making true humankind."

"I've heard that argument before. To me it smacks of the Manichean heresy. Only God has the power to create, not Satan."

"Then why did He shape such vile parodies of ourselves, His finest creatures? The sims know nothing of farming or weaving or any useful art. They cannot even set fires to cook the beasts they run down like dogs."

"But they know fire, though I grant they cannot make it. Yet whenever lightning sets a blaze, some sim will play Prometheus and seize a burning brand. They keep the flames alive as long as they may, till they lose them from rain or sheer fecklessness."

Anne set hands on hips, gave Wingfield a dangerous look. "When last we hashed this over, as I recollect, 'twas you who reckoned the sims animals and I the contrary. Why this reversal?"

"Why yours, save your concern for me?" he came back. "I thank you for't, but the topic's fit to take from either side. I tell you frankly, I cannot riddle it out in certain, but am changeable as a weathervane, ever thinking now one thing, now the other."

"And I, and everyone," Anne sighed. "But if they put you in danger, my heart cannot believe them true men, no matter what my head might say."

He reached out to set his fingers gently on her arm. The tender gesture was spoiled when a mosquito spiraled down to land on the back of his hand. The swamps round Jamestown bred them in throngs worse than any he had known in England. He swatted at the bug, but it flew off before the deathblow landed.

Outside, someone struck up a tune on the mandolin, and someone else joined in with a drum. Voices soared in song. The settlers had only the amusements they could make for themselves. Wingfield looked out, saw a torchlit circle dance forming. He bobbed his head toward his wife. "Would it please you to join them?"

"Another time," she said. "Joanna will be waking soon, and hungry. We could step outside and watch, though." Wingfield agreed at once. Any excuse to get out of the hot, smelly cabin was a good one.

Suitors were buzzing as avidly as the mosquitoes round the few young women who had not yet chosen husbands. Some of those maids owned distinctly fragile reputations. With no others to choose from this side of the sea, they were courted nonetheless.

"Oh, my dear, what would you have me do?" cried a roguish youngster named Caleb Lucas to a girl who, smiling, had turned her back on him. "Go off to the woods and marry a sim?" Laughter rose, hearty from the men who heard him, half-horrified squeals from the women.

"Allan Cooper says the Spaniards do that, or anyway cohabit," Wingfield told Anne. Spain held a string of outposts down to Magellan's Strait and then up the western coast of South America, to serve her galleons plying the rich trade with the Indies.

"Have they not read Deuteronomy?" Anne exclaimed, her lip curling in disgust. Then curiosity got the better of her and she whispered, "Can there be issue from such unions?"

"In truth, I don't know. As Allan says, who's to tell the difference betwixt the get of a Spanish sire and that of a sim?" Anne blinked, then burst into giggles at the bawdy slander against England's longtime foe.


Excerpted from A Different Flesh by Harry Turtledove. Copyright © 1988 Harry Turtledove. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Different Flesh 2.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Derek Glazener More than 1 year ago
If you can get past the ridiculous and scientifically ignorant notion of Homo-Erectus crossing a then-nonexistent land-bridge to North America and surviving for 2 million years (apparently unchanged) it's a good read. But if you can't get past the stupidity of the premise, read 'Between the Rivers'.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago