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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

GUEST BLOG: Spirits in the Material World by Harry Turtledove

Harry Turtledove is an acclaimed alternate history novelist and Fantasy Book Critic is excited to have him stop by as he promotes his latest book The House of Daniel, set for publication April 19, 2016 by Tor. The House of Daniel combines one of America's favorite sports – baseball – with supernatural/fantasy elements.

Summary of The House of Daniel:

Acclaimed alternate history novelist Harry Turtledove adds a dose of magic to baseball in THE HOUSE OF DANIEL. Turtledove crafts a vivid colloquial voice for his semipro hero, as Jack “Snake” Spivey escapes hometown troubles for a life on the road with the legendary House of Daniel team.

Since the Big Bubble popped in 1929, life in the United States hasn't been the same. Hotshot wizards will tell you nothing's really changed, but then again, hotshot wizards aren't looking for honest work in Enid, Oklahoma. No paying jobs at the mill, because zombies will work for nothing. The diner on Main Street is seeing hard times as well, because a lot fewer folks can afford to fly carpets in from miles away.

Jack Spivey's just another down-and-out trying to stay alive, doing a little of this and a little of that. When he crosses Big Stu, the guy who calls the shots in Enid, Jack realizes that needs to get out of the reach of Big Stu, and out of town. That’s when the House of Daniel comes to town – a brash band of barnstormers who'll take on any team, and whose antics never fail to entertain. Against the odds Jack secures a berth with them. Now they're off to tour an America that's as shot through with magic as it is dead broke. Jack will never be the same – nor will baseball.

Harry Turtledove has stopped by to talk with us about Spirits in the material world. A huge thank you goes out to Tor for helping to arrange this post and to Harry Turtledove for taking the time to stop by here. 


The House of Daniel is set in a world where magic works.  Ordinary humans share the planet with, at least, vampires, werewolves, zombies, chupacabras, sasquatches, and various flavors of elementals and local gods.  (Vampires, here, seem to be by origin fairly recent European immigrants to the United States--not unlike a lot of ordinary people in the 1930s, the period when the book is set.)  I have to say, though, that The House of Daniel isn’t set in a world where magic stands up, does a buck-and-wing, and sings out, “Look how extremely magical I am!”

To me, it makes sense that a world where magic works would be a world where magic doesn’t work showily.  If magic is real, it will have existed alongside of ordinary technology for as long as people have been been people.  That’s how things are even in our own world, where magic isn’t known to work.  The cave paintings that mark Homo sapiens’ arrival in Europe are thought to be sorcerous efforts to control the often extinct beasts they portray.  We see magic in the Old Testament.  It pervades Greek, Roman, and medieval life.  Only when engineering turned out to work better did magic lose believers and go underground, so to speak.

If engineering didn’t turn out to work better, but only about as well . . . If it costs about as much to ship goods by magic carpet as it does by truck, won’t you see both in action, competing against each other?  If dowsing really can find water, won’t you see dowsing rods on the shelves next to hatchets and hoes in your friendly local agricultural-supply store?  If forensic sorcery can look inside a body and detect injuries, won’t you find wizards helping doctors in place of X-ray techs?

And, if you’re building a dam, wouldn’t you be smart to keep the local water and earth elementals happy so you don’t have a flood instead?  There may be different kinds of earth elementals lurking under places like Los Angeles.  If there are, you would be wise to propitiate them, so any earthquakes aren’t your fault (excuse me).

All this applies to sports, too.  In a world where magic works, it could take the place that amphetamines and steroids more recently have in our arenas.  Instead of drug testing, you would have sorcerous wards to keep everything on the level.  But what one wizard can do, maybe another can outdo.  The men who play for the House of Daniel run into wizards who want to tilt things toward their own team.  As a second brushback pitch will answer a first, so they have ways of fighting magical fire with fire.

Doing this kind  of understated riff, and finding ways to goof on it, is the main reason I wrote The House of Daniel as fantasy, not straight historical fiction.  I had enormous evil fun speculating that, for instance, vampires might have been behind the revolution in that world’s Russia.  Makes a twisted kind of sense, if you look at it the right, or maybe the wrong, way.  They drenched the country in blood.  Their favorite color would be red, right?  Other things like that are buried in the text, too.  I hope you have some fun finding them.


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