Thursday, July 10, 2014

Book Review: V-S Day, by Allen Steele

This month, I’m reviewing Allen Steele’s alternate history novel, VS-Day.
We all know that towards the end of the Second World War, Nazi Germany was hell-bent to develop potentially war-winning secret weapons such as the V-1 flying bomb, the V-2 rocket and the ME-262 jet fighter.  Another weapon that was proposed and thankfully, not developed, was an incredible scheme to build a space bomber – Silverbird - to bomb the United States from orbit.
Wind tunnel model of Silverbird: this was as far as it got in our history

Silverbird was first proposed to the Luftwaffe by husband and wife engineers Eugen Sanger and Eileen Bredt in 1941 and in our history, not much happened beyond that.  Steele imagines that Silverbird gets greenlit by a Nazi high command desperate to score a knockout punch on America.

The Americans get word of this and under the guidance of space pioneer Robert Goddard, race to build their own spacecraft to intercept and hopefully shoot down the Nazi ship. 

VS-Day is in itself, an expansion and a rewrite of Steele’s earlier short story, "Goddard’s People." And therein may lie part of the trouble.  I really, really, wanted to like this novel a lot.  There’s a lot in this book to like – Steele has done a lot of homework – but the problem is that the book – written in a flashback sequence, so even the element of suspense is not as strong as it could be – reads exactly like someone tried to expand a short story into a novel.  Although the plot of the original short story has been expanded, with additional scenes and more action, the plot seems very sparse.   The action does move along in a very deft, assured manner, but compared to his other books – especially Steele’s other entry in his Alternate Space series – The Tranquility Alternative, it lacks the depth and grit of that earlier novel.

Another fact that didn’t exactly endear this book to me –admittedly I am a stickler – but the book had several factual errors in it that should’ve been caught well before galley stage, including this one: “P-51 Warhawk.” Last time I checked there was a P-51 Mustang and a P-40 Warhawk. Hopefully, this and the other gaffes will be cleaned up in time for the mass-market paperback: they get in the way of the devoted fan’s reading.

Beyond that, there are some positive things to be said about V-S Day. For example, the central concept and question– what if the Space Age got off to an early start – is definitely worth examining. I do like the way Steele brings the characters -- including Goddard -- to life. Now would I recommend it even it, even with these caveats? Yes, the book is still an entertaining read.

I’ve just finished reading the latest installment in Taylor Anderson’s long-running Destroyermen series, Storm Surge. Anderson keeps a deft hand on the action and the characters. The series stars the captain and crew of and the USS Walker, thrown into a parallel universe, as they fight alongside their human and Lemurian allies against the inhuman Grik. If you aren’t familiar with this series, you need to be.  It only remains to see how Anderson will wrap up the series that seems to be building to a crescendo.  Highly recommended.

Right now, I’m reading C.J. Samson’s Dominion, which takes place in a 1952 Great Britain that signed a peace treaty with the Third Reich in 1940.  It’s very atmospheric, very well-plotted, very enjoyable reading. More on this in a later post.

In the meantime, have a look at my own books, Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.   Thanks.

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