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    Review of WEAPONS OF CHOICE by John Birmingham


    Del Rey, October 2005

    The World War II allies are working hard to integrate 21st Century technology into their armies, but Hitler and the Japanese are doing so as well. Although the bulk of the United Nations task force, and the huge majority of its fighting men and women, ended up together, in allied territory, the Germans, Japanese, and Soviets all have their own ships to investigate. Unlike the allies, whom history showed winning the war, the Germans, Japanese, and Soviets know the judgment one timeline's history made on their rule--and are committed to changing it.

    The Japanese have pulled their armies out of the quagmire of China and have launched an offensive against Japan--but are quickly bogged down by futuristic weapons. The Germans have patched up a cease-fire with the Russians and are massing on the channel, and the Japanese are preparing for another go on Hawaii. If they are successful, they'll move America out of striking range--giving their own scientists breathing room to integrate future technology into their forces.

    The allies aren't standing still. The UN forces have taken over the San Fernando Valley, creating a zone where their own laws apply. Working with Douglas, Boeing, and other engineers, they are building better planes, introducing technologies that didn't actually arrive until late in the war or even Korea. Still, with so many of their forces involved in training, and so many of their munitions depleted, their force effectiveness is highly degraded. J. Edgar Hoover and others in America, like Hitler and Stalin, see their doom in the future and are as intent as the axis leaders to eliminate the threat--no matter what the cost.

    Author John Birmingham (see more reviews of novels by Birmingham) continues his Axis of Time series with the second novel. In DESIGNATED TARGETS, the axis powers hold the initiative, by virtue of reacting more quickly to the future technologies than did the allies. Yet, even where they hold advanced technology, their efforts to use it are sabotaged by the future warriors who came with them.

    As with WEAPONS OF CHOICE, the first book in the series, this book is strongest where it shows the clash of civilizations between the Americans of the future and those of the 1940s. Hardened by decades of 'war against terror,' the future warriors are indifferent to death, torture, summary executions, and the use of weapons banned by the Geneva accords. As a few of them recognize, their war has made them become more like the enemy they once faced, and more like the enemy they currently face, than the Americans, Brits, and Australians of the 1940s. On the flipside of this clash of cultures, 1940s America remains a segregated and sexist nation, with a perverse pride in the way it oppresses its minorities and a horror of the future the future warriors display.

    With powerful social forces at work, and plenty of cute cameo appearances by historical figures (John F. Kennedy on his PT Boat, Marilyn Monroe, etc.), there's a lot to like about DESIGNATED TARGETS. I thought the actual battles were a bit of anticlimax. The Japanese and German attacks were sabotaged and betrayed a bit too completely; Prince William showed up a bit too often to save the day; and the US domestic issues were dismissed too quickly. While a military conflict between past and future generation weaponry would be one-sided, surely the Germans could have done better.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 10/01/05

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