Often the best science fiction and fantasy results from exploration of a simple question, such as “How do you define what is human?” From the first pages of A Different Flesh, Turtledove makes the status of sims the major concern: Are they animal or human? In the first expository episode, a settler and his wife conclude their argument by noting that the last time the issue was raised, their present positions were reversed. She had thought sims human, and he had thought them beasts. They acknowledge that the issue is not easily resolved.
In the middle of the novel, Turtledove explores the Aristotelian notion that there are those who are slaves by nature. Because sims are incapable of producing civilized behavior on their own, humans do them a favor by allowing them to serve their betters, learning more refined behavior through instruction and association. One episode concerns a sim who is a snob. He has learned much from his human associates, and he declines an opportunity to join a band of wild sims, conveying through sign language that they are boring and uncivilized. He would rather be a slave to humans than be free and wild.
The debate continues throughout the book. Early in the novel, readers will tend to identify more with the humans’ views of sims as an inferior and at times inexplicable life-form. As the novel progresses and more is revealed about sims and their ability to do many things that might be considered...
(The entire section is 507 words.)