Review: The Road Not Taken

By on 12:23 AM

The Road Not Taken. Harry Turtledove,  1985. Short Story.

"How is it they have all these machines and we don't, or any race we know of?"

Ransisc's nose twitched in disagreement. "I asked one of their savants the same question. He gave me back a poem by a human named Hail or Snow or something of that sort. It was about someone who stood at a fork in the road and ended up taking the less-used track. That's what the humans did. Most races find the hyperdrive and go traveling. The humans never did, and so their search for knowledge went in a different direction."


Turtledove is an interesting author. While his works usually aren't considered spectacularly well written - with believable situations, well explored characters, and complicated syntactical structure – he is a master of speculative fiction, particularly alternative history.

The Road Not Taken is one of the best examples I've seen of mixing the extraterrestrial genre with alternative history and is something I would definitely love to see more authors play with. The idea that most intelligent civilizations are relatively similar (at least mentally) with one another has been done dozens of times. However, the differences between how scientific discoveries are made is a much rarer – and in my opinion more interesting – idea. The whole premise gives off a sort of Sid Meier's Civilization IV vibe.


The story starts off aboard a seasoned extraterrestrial warship as it continues its voyage toward a soon-to-be conquered planet. During the journey the warship's crew, the Roxolani spot Earth and become determined to conquer it on their way to the primary target. Sensing no gravity manipulation on 2039 Earth the Roxolani conclude that Earth is a primitive and poorly defended planet ripe for conquering.

What makes this story truly memorable is the way Turtledove mixes alternative history into the plot. In essence the key difference between the Roxolani and the Earthlings is the route their technology took. The Earthlings took the fairly standard route we all know and love; Iron Age, Middle Ages, The Age of Sails, Industrial Revolution etc. The Roxolani on the other hand shared a similar history with us until the Age of Sails when they discovered gravity manipulation of all things. This discovery led to the field of gravity manipulation to be the only field of study, to the exclusion of all others. Thus the Roxolani easily developed spacecraft and faster-than-light travel and quickly set to work conquering the galaxy.

The only serious flaw in this story is the issue of the suspension of disbelief. Some people think it strange that a civilization could develop gravity manipulation before certain advances; data processing, aerodynamics and telecommunication for example. While Turtledove does have a habit of basically telling the reader what happened, then asking them not to question the details he's easily forgiven because of his wonderfully imaginative ideas an logical thought processes following the initial point of divergence.

Who Should Read This Story

Anyway I recommend this story if you're:
Looking for a thought provoking short story
A fan of the Alternative History genre
A fan of Harry Turtledove
A regular reader of extraterrestrial works looking to start reading Alternative History

Final Verdict

All-in-all The Road Not Taken is an intriguing story that does an excellent job combining two of my favorite genres into a pleasant light read. Definitely worth the read. To read it click here and order it from amazon as part of a collection of extraterrestrial themed short stories (including one of my personal favorites The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything).

And of course, if you've read this story please give us your opinions on it by leaving a comment.

Rusty is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and gets up to all kinds of shenanigans planning for any and all kinds of apocalypse when he's not busy reading, writing, or yo-yoing. Keep up with him and Rachel on Facebook and Twitter to get cool, space related news or click here to read more of his thoughts on the terror of alien invasion novels.

About Syed Faizan Ali

Faizan is a 17 year old young guy who is blessed with the art of Blogging,He love to Blog day in and day out,He is a Website Designer and a Certified Graphics Designer.


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