As a brief recap of the premise - the US dropped atomic bombs on Manchuria to keep Red Chinese forces from coming to the aid of North Korea in 1951. Unsurprisingly, this starts World War III as the USSR retaliates.
I am not wandering into spoiler territory to say the war ends in this book but what we have here is not really a book about achieving an armistice - the major players on the scene - Truman, Stalin, Mao - barely make an appearance. Indeed, Stalin is dead by the time we hit page 80, the armistice with the USSR is a done deal by page 157 and China and Korea - the start of the whole mess, is dealt with as sort of an afterthought with a couple of pages around page 280 of this 430-page tome. Instead we again focus on the “everyman” characters and their fates. Some characters live, some characters die and, unfortunately, we don’t really care either way for most of them - that is if we can keep them straight since there are so many of them and, with few exceptions, there is nothing remarkable about any of them. I deliberately sat down to write this as soon as I finished the book and I find I can’t easily bring to mind most of the characters or their fates.
The book suffers from the same problem as the first two - too many characters, too much repetition about everything: the brand of cigarettes, the type of alcohol being drunk, the interchangeability, or not, of the weapons and their ammo, that the Russian bomber is an exact copy of the US B-29 and, of course, the most annoying - the constant reminder of who is a Jew even when it has nothing whatsoever to do with the character’s current actions or situation. I suspect the repetition of tedious details about each character was to try and remind us who they were since they may get 4-10 pages and then disappear again for 100 or more pages.
The implausibility of the military tactics continues - ignoring the reality that, by my estimation, both sides dropped three times the number of atomic bombs as existed in the 1950s in the first book alone - why does neither side ever actually target a bomb-making facility? Or even a conventional weapons facility? Why, having seen atomic bombs dropped on major west coast cities, were air defenses not beefed up to prevent the east coast strikes on DC and other major cities?
The way people behave and the world’s nations are affected also stretches credulity. Unless the character is directly within a war zone, life pretty much goes on as normal. With dozens of major cities worldwide destroyed by atomic bombs, why does no one panic? With major US cities destroyed on both coasts why, are there no black outs? With the Suez and Panama Canals destroyed, why are there no shortages in the US? Why is there no gas or food rationing as there had been only ten years earlier with no damage within US mainland borders or such serious challenges to supply lines? With a major war being fought with obsolete airplanes and tanks from WWII, why is there steel available for a thriving business in new refrigerators, washers and dryers? Heck, with the world working its way to total destruction one atomic, and in this book, hydrogen bomb, at a time - why is society so blasé about the future that they are buying new houses, cars and appliances? Why does gas remain plentiful and cheap, “exotic” fruits remain so easily available that it is a staple breakfast item in displaced persons camps in the US?
Considering the wholesale destruction of large parts of the world - the continental United States, Europe, Soviet Union, China, Korea - there are way too many happy endings here.
There was a really good premise and one, possibly long, but one really good book lurking in this trilogy. As much as I have enjoyed Turtledove’s early works I simply cannot recommend this book or the trilogy. ~~ Stephanie L Bannon
For reviews of the other books in the series click here
For reviews of other Harry Turtledove books click here