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    Review of WEAPONS OF CHOICE by John Birmingham


    Del Rey, June 2004

    A United Nations-sponsored force lies off the coast of Indonesia when a science ship brought along because its escort was drafted into the impromptu force runs a test--and accidentally cascades the entire fleet back into 1942--just off the island of Midway. The local US navy responds instantly, believing that the Japanese fleet had somehow come into range and a bloody battle ensues. Resolving the misunderstanding doesn't resolve more basic issues, though. By the standards of 2021, the local Americans are hopelessly racist, sexist, homophobic, and ignorant. By the standards of 1942, the Americans and others of the future are arrogant killers (with a peculiar fetish about rescuing prisoners).

    Although the main fleet, lead by American Admiral Kolhammer, ends up allied with the local Americans, the Japanese are lucky enough to stumble onto two smaller and less well-equipped ships--ships that give them an idea of what they face in time for them to abort the Midway offensive. They, and their German allies, decide to learn from the future. Japan draws back from its Chinese offensive and the Germans seek to end their costly war with Russia. Given time, and the rate of weapons usage by the future fleet, they just might be able to use what they've learned from the future to develop technologies to allow them to win the war--at a minimum, they can avoid the disasters (from the Axis perspective) of Midway and Stalingrad.

    Author John Birmingham (see more reviews of novels by Birmingham) does an excellent job describing the near-future weapons of 2021, and contrasting them to the strikingly dumb weaponry and defenses of 1942. The real strength of the story comes not from the techno-thriller aspect of future weapons, however, but from the clash of culture between the integrated (but desenitized to death, torture, and ignoring the rules of war) forces of the future and the bigoted (but in some senses more honorable) military of the past.

    Birmingham set up the situation for a conflict between the down-time governments (the British, for example, wanted the British elements of the UN fleet returned to Atlantic waters and to down-time naval control), but didn't really develop it--perhaps this will follow in future volumes of the Axis of Time trilogy. I thought he missed a chance to let the future warriors to see World War II as not really involving them. With a largely black force, the legal racism within the U.S. could have at least let them question whether to support either side. Certainly they would have been strong enough to stand back--or perhaps even force a solution on the battling forces. I also thought Birmingham missed a chance to look into the mixed emotions with which the Japanese contingent in the UN force might have been faced.

    WEAPONS OF CHOICE made compelling reading--and set the stage for more stories set in this world. There were some loose ends, but I'm looking forward to them being resolved as the trilogy plays itself out. I especially like the fact that the Japanese and Germans have their own chance at the technology. With Germany's lead in rocket science, and American resentment of the women and minorities represented in the future UN force, it'll be interesting to see how the battle for technological supremacy unfolds.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 9/25/05

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