Friday, September 28, 2012

The "Destroyermen" Series: A Review

I’m back this month with a review of Taylor Anderson’s admirable Destroyermen series.  The seven book (so far) series tells the saga of the elderly "four stacker" destroyer USS Walker thrust into a parallel world though a bizarre storm. It’s clearly an out-of-the-frying-pan and into-the-fire experience for the Walker and its crew as they are catapulted from being on the losing end of the Battle of the Java Sea in the early days of the Pacific War, into a strange world where a life-and-death battle is being waged between the reptilian Grik hordes and the mammalian Lemurians. 

Of course, the Walker, skippered by the chief protagonist, Lieutenant Commander Matthew Reddy, isn’t the only ship to make the transit. The Japanese battlecruiser Amagi has followed the Walker through and it crazed commander has allied the ship with the Grik.

This sets the stage for a truly epic tale. I won’t spoil it here. The only thing I will say is that I have immensely enjoyed the series so far. I will observe that it seems to take place in a parallel universe of an alternate universe for several reasons. First, as Anderson himself readily points out, the Walker was disposed of in 1941, after being reduced to hulk status for some time. Meanwhile, the original Amagi, which was slated to be converted to an aircraft carrier was destroyed on the stocks during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, so the incomplete battleship Kaga took her place. As our history relates, the aircraft carrier Kaga was part of the task force that struck Pearl Harbor in 1941, only to be later sunk at Midway in 1942.  

It's obvious Anderson has some sympathy for what could've been here. Launched as a Wickes-class destroyer, in 1918 USS Walker, DD-163 had a rather uneventful career. One the highlights of her service was that Walker acted as a picket ship for US Navy NC class flying-boats on their long-range Atlantic flights; something that Anderson drew upon for material in his books. After a short time in service, Walker was placed in reserve only to be reactivated for use as a damage control hulk. She was scuttled by naval gunfire on December 28th, 1941. In Anderson's novels, Walker has a far better time of  it.

USS Walker, DD-163
But the real joy is in how Anderson puts things together. The writing is first rate, as is the action and characterization.  With so many individual characters in play, Anderson manages to give us real people (both human and not) with real relationships that we actually care for and want to get to know. It’s this combination that makes each new novel in the series a treat to read. Adding to the fact is that the author seems to have a genuine feel for history and his subject.  As a world-builder, Anderson pays great attention to his setting.

I have one concern. As Anderson builds out his series, adding new plot elements as he goes (and there are many) my hope is that can successfully resolve all his plot points without losing the interest of his reader.   I also have bone to pick with the publisher – that’s you Penguin Books – of withholding release of the paperback version of the sixth book, Firestorm, for so long.

Nevertheless, I do give the Destroyermen series an unqualified recommendation. For alternate universe high adventure at its best, you couldn’t go much further. Here's to more adventures of the good ship Walker and her crew.

In the meantime, you can purchase both Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 (both are free to preview). Both books are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.

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