Review of HITLER'S WAR by Harry Turtledove (see his website)
Del Rey, August 2009
The British and French are about to sign Czechoslovakia to the Germans when the leader of the Sudeten Germans is assassinated. With Hitler pushing for more concessions, the French and British balk, unwilling to believe he didn't arrange the assassination himself. Which means Camberlain doesn't sign the Munich Accords, and war breaks out years earlier than in our own history.
The Germans were far less prepared for war in 1938 than they were a year later, but so, too the French and English were less mobilized. And with Poland intact, Russia is not in direct contact with Germany at all. Likewise, in Asia, the Japanese are already bogged down in China, but they haven't committed to War with the US. Russia has long been a Japanese rival and with Russia involved in war with Poland, Japan might be able to snap up its Asian provinces.
Historians and politicians have argued that Chamberlain was a fool, that Hitler never would have dared war with the Allies if he'd stood firm. But Hitler was hardly a calculating bean-counter. He wanted a war, needed a war. Author Harry Turtledove (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of speculative fiction by Turtledove) builds a convincing case that war would have occured, that Hitler and the Germans would have been a powerful and dangerous foe even if war had come a year early.
Rather than relay dry counter-historical events, Turtledove shows us what might have happened, from the viewpoint of soldiers and civilians on all sides of the war. Czech infantrymen, Spanish Nationalists, International Brigade fighters, Russian and German air force pilots, all combine to give us a close-up of a war that could have happened. By giving us the war from all sides, Turtledove lets us see the human similarities between people, regardless of the uniforms they wear.
Turtledove has a distinctive style--one that (to me at least) over-relies on a few turns of phrase and on repetition (every time French artillery comes on stage, we are reminded that their 75mm is outdated but fast. When French infantry are discussed, they're always in old-fashioned-looking uniforms. When French machineguns are mentioned, we re-learn that they fire more slowly than their German counterparts. When German divebombers are in the picture, we're told again and again that they're slow compared to the fighters the British and French send against them). Perhaps Turtledove picked up Homer's trick of using the same descriptors for each character (ox-eyed Hera). At any rate, I wish he'd bring in a few more similies rather than continually re-hash the old ones. Style points aside, HITLER'S WAR is an enjoyable and intellectually intriguing story set in a compelling alternate history.
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