Harry Turtledove is known best for his alternate histories. In Down in the Bottomlands, a novella which won the Hugo Award, Turtledove goes with the premise that the Atlantic Ocean did not re-fill the dried-up Mediterranean Sea during the Miocene period. The sea basin becomes a desert, and this alteration in the Earth’s geography affects many aspects of humanity’s genetic and geopolitical evolution.
Radnal vez Krobir, a citizen of the Hereditary Tyranny of Tartesh, is a tour guide in Trench Park, part of the dessert that he knows used to be a sea supplied by the ocean that lies beyond the Barrier Mountains. Now dried up, it has a distinct ecosystem. When we meet Radnal, he is in charge of a diverse group of tourists who want to experience the wonders of Trench Park.
Everything seems to be going as planned until one of the tourists is murdered. The rest of the group is scared, but they don’t even know the worst of it. Radnal suspects that the murderer may be a terrorist who plans to blow up the mountains that keep the ocean from flooding his country. Not only would this kill him and his company, but it would start a war. Can Radnal discover the culprit and foil the plot?
I believe that Down in the Bottomlands is the first story that I’ve read by Harry Turtledove and I liked it. Radnal is a well-constructed protagonist who is interesting and feels real on the page. I enjoyed learning about the beautiful desert ecosystem from him, and hearing his humorous thoughts about the tourists and about his own life. The mystery and the plot were also entertaining. I especially loved the addition of a bird that was central to the plot’s resolution. This novella made me want to pick up some more stories by Harry Turtledove.
I listened to the audio version read by Victor Bevine. He did a great job with Radnal. The story is 4.25 hours long. Down in the Bottomlands was first published in 1993 in Analog. It won the Hugo Award in 1994.