Friday, February 8, 2013

Review: The Axis of Time Trilogy by John Birmingham

You’re in command of a U.S. Navy nuclear-powered supercarrier packed with advanced jet fighters, missiles and the latest in command-and-control systems. All of the sudden, there’s a strange electrical disturbance, a vortex opens and you’re thrown back in time decades to the eve of a great battle that will decide America’s fate.

What do you do?

Stop me right there if you think you’ve seen this one before. You’d be right. That’s how the film The Final Countdown (1980) begins with the USS Nimitz thrust back in time to eve of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

An F-14 dines on a Japanese Zero in The Final Countdown.

So you can imagine my misgivings the first time I fell across the initial book in John Birmingham’s superior Axis of Time trilogy, Weapons of Choice, where the fusion-powered U.S. Navy supercarrier USS Hilary Clinton (Hey, it could still happen!) is thrown back in time from 2021, along with a multinational fleet of similarly advanced ships with their weapons and crews to the eve of the Battle of Midway in 1942.

The alone almost earned the book the distinction of winning an airborne trip across my living room. But, fortunately, I stayed with the book and was quickly rewarded. Where in The Final Countdown, the heroes are yanked suddenly back through time through a cheap-ass deus ex machina plot device that saves the timeline just as they were about to take on the Japanese and change history; the protagonists in Birmingham’s book are under no such compunction and set about merrily changing the course of history in big juicy ways with their advanced technology.

But the bad news is some of that same technology has also fallen into the hands of the Axis and the Soviet Union.  

The commander of the time travelers is Admiral Phillip Kolhammer. Kolhammer has the unenviable task of fighting a reinvigorated Axis, all the while keeping his own 21st Century forces together and working with his contemporary allies of 1942, some of whom would just as soon take all of the technology and use it for their own gains. Kolhammer is also battling racial and moral attitudes of time. Here I think Birmingham benefits from hindsight a little too much and may be a bit hard on the Allies; they were, as he seems to forget, men – and women – of their time.

In the next two books of the series – Designated Targets, Final Impact – we see some of consequences of  - intended and not – of Kolhammer’s tampering with the timeline. Birmingham shines here with some very good speculative writing, trying to guess at the sort of strategic, technological and social changes that might be wrought by the mass landing of a bunch of technologically advanced time travelers in a less advanced era. By the end of the last book, with a cloud hanging over us, we are left wanting for more.

Birmingham is supposed to be work on a new novel in the series, so I will be happy to read it once it comes out.

I definitely recommend this series if you like military alternate history. All three books in the series are  available in paperback your local bookstore or online.

If you like that sort of stuff,  you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing 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.  And if you’re looking for an experienced marketing communications guy, do me a favor and have a look here. Thanks.

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