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    Review of END OF THE BEGINNING by Harry Turtledove


    New American Library, November 2005

    The Japanese didn't just bomb Pearl Harbor, they followed it up with an invasion of Hawaii--an invasion that succeeded, and killed or captured the U.S. garrison. That done, they crowned a new King of Hawaii, announced it was part of the Asian co-prosperity sphere, and beat back the first attempt at U.S. invasion. A year and a half has passed, however, and the U.S. is ready for more. While Japan has only two carriers, the U.S. has an armada. And U.S. submarines damage the third Japanese carrier sent to help them, taking it out of the fight. Still, the real war is on the ground, and fanatical Japanese soldiers would rather die than surrender.

    Even those who favor Japan have suffered under the Japanese occupation. Some native Hawaiians cherish their 'independence,' but American submarines hurt and everyone is hungry. Hungriest of all, though, are the U.S. POWs captured during the Japanese invasion. As they did in our own version of history, Japanese conquerors believe soldiers who surrender are worthless--and do their best to work them to death. Civilians, especially female civilians, aren't treated much better and some, including anglo women, are drafted into serving as whores for their soldiers.

    Author Harry Turtledove (see more reviews of novels by Turtledove) continues the alternate history begun with DAYS OF INFAMY (see our review). In this alternate universe, Japan followed up on its attack on Pearl Harbor, giving it an additional two years of relative security to expand its conquests in Asia.

    Turtledove does an excellent job showing the Japanese justification for war while not shrinking from the horrible crimes against humanity that the Japanese systematically conducted. Turtledove's alternate history style--which consists of showing life from the viewpoint of multiple characters including high officers, POWs, marine NCOs, navy pilots (from both nations), and civilians lets us sympathize with the Japanese even as we hope for their (inevitable) defeat.

    In END OF THE BEGINNING, Turtledove tones down a bit of his overused 'wished he could, but couldn't' language, making the reading more smooth than some of his recent books (thanks, Harry). A few anachronistic usages ('ignorance is not bliss' and 'had to destroy it to save it' may jar, however. Fundamentally, though BEGINNING is a war story. The Japanese got in the first hit, but America is striking back--and it's learned the hard lessons the Japanese taught.

    One of the virtues of alternate history is that it allows us to consider how the world might have changed if different decisions had been made. What if Hitler hadn't attacked Russia but instead concentrated on England? What if Napoleon had won at the battle of Waterloo? What if Xerxes had defeated the Athenian navy? What if the Japanese had invaded Hawaii rather than simply attacking, then sailing away. Turtledove gives us an interesting answer to that question--all the while reminding us that war, even if you're on the side with 'virtue' behind you, is an ugly business.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 1/01/05

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