You think covers don't sell books? Show me a book with a futuristic, swastika bedecked Nazi helicopter on the cover and you're making me buy it. I'm a sucker for WWII stuff. I'm also a sucker for alternate history stuff. You want to sell me a book that combines both of these genres? Let me get my wallet.
I stumbled across FINAL IMPACT (2008) by John Birmingham on the shelf of the Georgetown Public Library's Second-Hand Prose used bookstore. They wanted a buck for it. Sold. Trouble was, it was the third and final book in a trilogy and I couldn't read it without having first read the first and second books in the Axis of Time series. In this day and age of eBay, acquiring those books, WEAPONS OF CHOICE
and DESIGNATED TARGETS
was no problem. I found used copies of both, bought 'em and have spent most of this summer plowing through this massive WWII alternate history epic. I finished FINAL IMPACT yesterday and I thoroughly loved the series.
As a rule, I don't read series like this. I don't like to be locked into reading something that, if it's successful, may never end. As an example, DUNE by Frank Herbert, was originally published in 1965. That's more than 50 years ago. They're still publishing DUNE novels. I think the latest was NOSE PICKERS OF DUNE. I like to read books that allow me to get in and get out relatively quickly. Oh sure, I do read series but things like the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child or John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee adventures, don't require you to read every one of them in a strict order. A trilogy, like Axis of Time, is designed to be told over the course of three books (even though the ending sets things up nicely for a yet to be written sequel). Three books I can commit to, especially if the story is well told. This one is.
The concept is simple. In the year 2021, a multinational naval task force is operating in the South Pacific. It's a fleet of ships from many nations, the majority from the U.S., all sporting state-of-the-art technology and weapons systems. A research ship conducting top secret experiments accidentally opens a wormhole in time which transports the modern ships back in time to 1942 at the beginning of the battle for Midway. A huge naval battle ensues before the contemporary navy realizes the men, women and ships from the future are on their side. Of course, the presence of futuristic weapons and technology changes the course of the battle. Oh, and not all of the transported ships land in the same place. Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and Russia all retrieve 21st century ships. Thus, the balance of power is radically shifted and World War II as we know it never happens.
What's different? The rescue of Allied prisoners of war from the Japanese camp at Cabanatuan takes place in 1942, rather than 1945. The Japanese invade Australia where they are eventually defeated. The Japanese also launch another assault on Hawaii, briefly occupying the islands before being repulsed. Nazi Germany launches an attack on Great Britain across the English Channel. They are defeated. Russia, meanwhile has sued for a temporary cease fire against Germany and sits out much of the war, only to reenter the fray in a major way in the third book. The Russians have atomic weapons and they're not afraid to use them. The U.S. also uses A-bombs, while Nazi Germany unleashes nerve gas and chemical weapons. At the end, the world is a vastly different place than it was in the real war. Although hostilities have ceased, the threat of another war looms on the horizon.
The books do a great job of mixing real people with well drawn fictional characters. All of the major players from history are here: FDR, Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, MacArthur, Patton, Hitler, Himmler, Stalin, Beria, Churchill, Yamamoto, Spruance, J. Edgar Hoover and others all appear in the books. In a clever twist, Great Britain's Prince Harry is part of the displaced 21st century troops. He quickly goes to battle for his country in WWII. There is initial resistance to the people from the future. After all, there are men and women in positions of command (the one submarine that made it through is skippered by a woman) as well as various nationalities represented. This comes as a shock to the largely sexist, racist and xenophobic people of 1942. Two 21c people, a black woman and a Japanese man, are murdered in the first book but the killer isn't revealed until the end of the third book. There's a gutsy female reporter from the future who embeds with various forces to cover battles in various theaters. A research and development area known as The Zone is set up outside of Los Angeles to incorporate future technology into weapons systems, armaments, vehicles and other military, as well as civilian, purposes.
Birmingham does a great job juggling a very large cast of characters and moving the action literally around the world. There are battles in the South Pacific, Europe and Russia. There are also quieter moments in which the 21st century warriors contemplate the world they've lost and the world they're building. One interesting touch: one of the vessels sent back in time is a gigantic aircraft carrier named The Hillary Clinton. It was named for President Clinton. Prophetic? Time will tell.
The Axis of Time series reminds me of the 1980 film, THE FINAL COUNTDOWN.
In that film, only one modern day carrier was sent back in time to just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Axis of Time operates on a much wider scale and it's a page turner from beginning to end. If you like WWII, if you like alternate history, you'll like this series. Thumbs up.