Tuesday, August 17, 2010

West and East

The War that Came Early: West and East
© 2010 Harry Turtledove
436 pages

In 1938, the Munich Peace Conference ended in a general European war. Britain and France, outraged by Hitler's transparent attempts to manipulate them, pledged to defend Czechoslovakia -- resulting in a war that came early, with all sides largely unprepared. The conflict between Britain, France, and Germany widens into a two-front war for Hitler after Russia, discomfited by the Germano-Polish entente that emerged following their sacking of Czechoslovakia, invades his western neighbors. Imperial Japan seizes the opportunity to expand its puppet-state in Manchuria into Siberia.  So ended The War that Came Early: Hitler's War.

That last plot development ensured that I would read the second book in this series, West and East, for it had the potential to radically change the story of the war. While Turtledove's eventual story may read quite differently from our own history books, West and East isn't the book that does it. Though outfitted with interesting, mostly sympathetic characters and not being bogged down in too much trivia, West and East isn't much of an "alternate" history novel. True,  Europe's situation is different --  France, though partially occupied, has not fallen -- but  Germany expanding then falling back against a two-front war isn't much of a change. The most promising twist -- a Russo-Japanese war -- never amounted to much in this novel. The Japanese viewpoint character spends his chapters swatting mosquitoes, avoiding being hit by Russian bombers and mortars, complaining about the weather, and thinking patriotic thoughts about the Japanese race and empire. If Russia and Japan's armies did something other than throw things at one another, it's not apparent here. I was hoping for a wider altercation, but Japan is apparently too busy consolidating its rule in China, where a resistance movement has begun a terrorist campaign against Dai Nippon's occupational forces.

It's a...fair read. I looked forward to hearing from some of the characters, especially the American communist fighting in the Internationals and a Czech soldier embedded inside France's army, who uses an anti-tank rifle to duel with German snipers. The fate of Peggy Druce, an American stranded in Berlin after the war began, was also of interest. Other viewpoint characters include English, Welsh, French, German, and Russian military officials and a Jewish family in Germany. Though  the characters' stories interested me, I'd hoped to see more overall plot development. This is the second of a planned six-book series, though, so it's not altogether surprising development is so slow. Hopefully the events here will be the germ for more interesting developments later on. I'm especially interested on the Russo-Japanese war's impact on Japan's Pacific ambitions, and whether or not Germany will rally to continue to be the villain through the remaining four books. I'm sure Turtledove can pad out a long retreat through four books, but mixing things up -- having an early German defeat followed by an immediate cold-war-turned-hot featuring Russia and Japan as twin evils, for instance -- would be an improvement over a so-far predictable recounting of historical events with a slight twist. I'll read the third when it comes out, but I'll only finish the series if the divergence widens.

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