Weapons of Choice by John Birmingham

(2004-09-05)

 

Published by Del Rey Books (www.delreydigital.com )

One of the most common historical events toyed with in the genre of alternate history is the World War II, wherein the author twists the outcome/actual events and works from there to chart a "new" history. In Weapons of Choice, John Birmingham’s opening novel of the Axis in Time trilogy, he takes us to a crucial battle of World War II. A naval armada from the year 2021 is thrust into the Pacific Ocean in 1942, disrupting the American force that was to win the Battle of Midway. The time-displaced armada had been in the midst of quantum experiment causing a temporal displacement, thrusting the ships and personnel back approximately 80 years. Birmingham deals with characters and the effect this time displacement has on them rather effectively, charting several characters reactions to this unbelievable event. This is perhaps the strongest aspect of the novel, his careful crafting of characters like Admiral Philip Kolhammer, Captain Daytona Anderson, and reporter Julia Duffy.

As much as the people who were transported back in time were confused and disoriented, the Naval and other military personnel were confused as well. While the set up of getting the people from 2021 to 1942 did make up a substantial portion of the novel, it was in this portion of the novel Birmingham laid the strong foundation for the characters, really providing the readers with an understanding of this time-displaced people.

The US naval personnel are not the only ones affected by the time travelers. The Japanese, who were to have been defeated by the US, were also quite affected. They wind up not being defeated, but strengthened by the lack of the loss as well as the knowledge of their impending defeat in the war. Unfortunately, with this as the opening novel, the full effects do not get played out, and the reader is left curious as to the ultimate effect of the changing course of events in the Second World War.

Birmingham is a skilled writer, and he plays on a commonplace conceit in the genre, laying the groundwork for what has the potential to be a very thought-provoking saga. My only problem with the novel was the pacing. Despite the strong foundation Birmingham built for the characters, the event and initial arrival of the time-displaced characters made up a significant portion of the novel, taking up a too much of the overall novel. It took some time before the story began to roll along at a more even pace after the Temporal displacement. After that, the time in the novel flew rather quickly, with weeks having gone by for the second 2/3 of the novel, in contrast to the short amount of time that passed in the initial third of the novel.

One nice touch he added throughout the novel were the homage to his predecessors in the genre alternate history, giving names to characters like Stirling, Drake, and Turtletaub. On a whole despite the pacing, this is an entertaining novel and looks to be a precursor to a larger, entertaining story.

Reviewed by Rob H. Bedford

robbedford@earthlink.net

© 2004 Rob Bedford

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