I found another free book for download on my Kindle: Weapons of Choice. It’s apparently the first of three books in an alternative-history trilogy that has acquired a cult following by an Aussie journalist named John Birmingham. The idea is quite compelling — in the year 2021, a United States Navy supercarrier group centered around the fusion-powered USS Hillary Clinton with a full complement of fifth-generation weaponry gets sent back in time to two days before the Battle of Midway.
I’m about halfway through the first book and I’m not sure if I’m going to keep up with it. The author did a nice job of finding a way to structure his story so that the Allies don’t have a hugely overwhelming advantage — the ships appear after a tramautic time-travel accident and the personnel are rendered unconscious for a while, and the 1942 U.S. Navy mistakes them for enemy vessels, resulting in both fleets attacking one another with devastating force for a time, while a few other examples of 21st century military technology — and the personnel who know how to operate it — fall into the hands of Axis powers.
It seems to me the intelligence the characters bring back into history with them is even more important than their technology. True warriors make a careful study of their mistakes and any warrior worth his salt would leap at the opportunity to learn from his own mistakes that he hasn’t made yet. So I’ve reached the point where Yamamoto gets briefed on how the Battle of Midway was going to turn out, and he turns his forces around and keeps his navy intact to fight another day, and the Americans have been taken back to the States and are about to brief President Roosevelt.
The concept is hugely engaging. The execution, I’m afraid, isn’t doing it for me. I hate to say it because I doubt I could have written it any better than the author did. His dialogue is about as good as I would do — which is to say, despite editing, he still has too much exposition and it all feels kind of tinny. He has set up too large a cast of characters and failed to make any of them really come alive. I’m interested in what happens next strategically, to see how he has the war play out.
But I’m about done with the racial and gender tensions themes. Not that I think people from 1942 would have been shocked and appalled to find women in command of fighting vessels in the Navy and the racially integrated military we take for granted today, but because the book dwells ont he subject to the point that the story of the alternative-history war is being lost.
I suspect the fifth-generation weapons themselves will wind up being broken down and analyzed by both sides of the war rather than used directly — that would be the smart way to do it under the circumstances the author sets up. If I were Roosevelt in this situation, I’d have to eventually appreciate that a single F-35 is only going to have so many missles on it, and each missile can only take out so many enemy planes or ships, and the enemy will always make more. Better to take the thing apart and use it to teach 1942’s engineers how to make jet engines and good radar. But I might be wrong — there are now nukes in Allied hands in 1942, and we know that historically, the U.S. was willing to use them pretty much as soon as they got them. What happens politically, however, will probably be a bigger question.