Monday, August 9, 2010

The End of the Beginning

The End of the Beginning
© 2005 Harry Turtledove
448 pages

The Empire of the Rising Sun has cast a dark shadow across the Pacific. On December 7th, 1941, the naval and air forces of Imperial Japan struck Pearl Harbor, disabling or destroying most of the US Pacific fleet at Pearl, and paving the way for the invasion forces that immediately followed. Unprepared for the assault, American troops were forced to abandon the island. Early in 1942, America launched an ill-considered attempt to regain the island, resulting in a disastrous naval battle that completed the Pacific Fleet's destruction. Only one American carrier survived to limp back to drydock.  In the wake of their triumph, the Japanese have established a puppet government in the form of the newly-revived Kingdom of Hawaii. The Empire will soon learn, though,  that taking Hawaii and keeping it are different challenges altogether.

Although little remains of America's surface fleet in the Pacific, her submarines still hunt the waters there -- and Hawaii's location at the end of a very long supply line makes the occupational forces even more vulnerable to their attacks than England in either world war. Hawaii's soldiers, prisoners, and civilians need food and oil if they're to maintain their newly acquired 'shield' against the United States, and the freighters that bring those supplies into Honolulu are ideal targets for submarines. While Japan's occupational forces complete their subjugation of the islands and dig in in anticipation of future assaults, factories in the United States break records to produce another -- and a far greater -- fleet from scratch. The end result is inevitable, but exciting to see developed.

Turtledove relies on his usual structure, telling this story of Hawaii's occupation and restoration through a diverse cast of characters from both sides of the conflict. Notable viewpoint characters include Joe Crosetti, a Hellcat pilot who's itching for vengeance;  Army officer Fletch Armitage and his ex-wife Jane, who are both prisoners -- one doomed to work to death in labor gangs, and the other forced into the role of comfort woman for the Imperials; Minoru Genda, the officer who planned Hawaii's invasion; and the Takayashi family, including two boys who were raised American and their Japanese father, who eagerly provides whatever assistance he can to the men of his native country.  The villains here were not as sympathetic as most of Turtledove's antagonists, almost always betrayed in the most sadistic light.  While I typically support one of Turtledove's factions over another, I haven't rooted for a villain's defeat this enthusiastically since the large Timeline-191 series. The Imperials treat Hawaii as savagely as they treated China and the Philippines in reality.

The End of the Beginning is a strong book: the Armitages and Takayashi boys were especially sympathetic characters, and the Pacific theater is not one Turtledove has invested a lot of time in prior. Although the eventual outcome of the book is obvious -- the cover of the novel depicts American forces attacking Japan's forces in Pearl Harbor -- the ride there was fun. He even avoided engaging in too much repetition: there were only two obvious offenders, and one of those (the emaciation of POWs) may be justified. I could've gone without reading abut Joe Crosetti hearing bullets rip into his plane, checking the gauges automatically, seeing that they were normal, and noting that Hellcats are built to last four times.

It doesn't appear that Turtledove is expanding this series more, which may be wise:  given the United States' industrial output and the scarcity of resources in Japan, the conflict can only end in defeat for the Empire; Turtledove even throws in foreshadowing to hint that the Empire's surrender will follow a certain explosion in Hiroshima. I'd recommend this to both Turtledove fans and alternate history readers in general: it redeemed Give Me Back my Legions! for me.

I picked this up from the library a few weeks back, not because I expressly wanted to read it but because I didn't want to return from the library empty-handed. Purchasing and beginning to play Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault rekindled my interest given that its first level forces the player to survive the chaos of Pearl Harbor. I'd share a screenshot, but I haven't been able to take one that gives the full scope. Here are a few, though:
- Seeing the first wave of Zeros buzz Pearl Harbor, after which point I was forced to run across the base hiding from their strafing runs.
- Using the deck guns of a PT boat to shoot (and miss by a large margin) Zeros while enroute to my post aboard the USS Arizona. (Yeah, that bodes well.)
- Sailing down battleship row, which is quite an experience given the bombers, strafing runs, and ships that are falling down around me. 
- Shooting at more planes while trying to find a ship that isn't destroyed; the Arizona perished before my eyes.
- And aboard the West Virginia,  defending it from the second wave of fighters after jumping aboard ship, saving it from sinking, waving an axe around, saving soldiers from dying, and nearly dying myself of smoke inhalation. The ship was morbidly detailed.

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