Saturday, October 1, 2016

Book Review: United States of Japan, by Peter Tieryas

The concept of a world where the Axis won the Second World War has been an evergreen topic among writers in the alternate history genre.  With the popularity and critical acclaim of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, the adaption of the Philip K. Dick novel of the same name, this has become an even more popular area for writers to explore.

It’s not just because of High Castle, of course: The Second World War remains a defining event of the last century and is cast as the Good War, the ultimate battle between Good and Evil.  So it’s no wonder that writers continually return to this subject to find new areas to explore.

Peter Tieryas’ United States of Japan is one such new and welcome entry.  A multilayered novel that weaves back and forth between the years since the United States’ capitulation to the Axis in 1948, the action takes place in the titular area that Imperial Japan has carved out as a puppet state for itself on the west coast of North America. The United States of Japan is a country both militarily and culturally under the thumb of Imperial Japan. The primary antagonist is Captain Benjamin Ishimura, who is a video game censor for the Imperial Army. He is called in to help investigate USA, a subversive video game illegally distributed by the George Washingtons, a fanatical guerilla group that depicts among other things, an American victory during the Second World War and the wartime conduct of Imperial Japanese forces that many would just as soon have forgotten.

We follow Ishimura – who is a well-drawn character not without his own faults and a past – through a richly detailed universe that pays homage in its own way to such works by Philip K. Dick as The Man in the High Castle and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Indeed, the video game that Ishimura spends the much of the novel hunting is much like The Grasshopper Lies Heavy from High Castle as it depicts another reality where the Axis lost the war and shows how fluid our reality can be. Comparisons between High Castle and the United States of Japan seem almost inevitable.  I don’t find this troublesome as these are deftly handled and are mixed in with other references such as the giant mecha who regularly stomp through anime.

I enjoyed reading United States of Japan. It is a particularly well-written and rewarding exploration of an aspect of history, which like the best of this particular genre, uses fiction to reveal fact, which as mentioned earlier, some would prefer to ignore and where the shoe is definitely put on the other foot.  Heartily recommended.

What’s Next?

Next month, I’ll have my review of the first book in paperback of Harry Turtledove’s Hot War Series, Bombs Away. After that, I will be reviewing the latest instalment in Charles Stross’ Laundry Files series, The Annihilation Score.  Next, I have my review of a trifecta of Robert Conroy books: 1882: Custer in Chains, Germanica, and Red Inferno: 1945.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, you can  purchase 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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