The Hot War #1
by Harry Turtledove
Del Rey, $28.00, 448pp
Published: HB - July 2015; PB June 2016
Harry Turtledove’s latest foray into alternate history starts with the Korean War as General MacArthur convinces President Truman to use nuclear weapons in a bid to shut down the Chinese aid to North Korea and end the war. This decision is a major miscalculation on both the General’s and the President’s parts as Russia retaliates with nuclear strikes in Europe to avenge the US attacks in Manchuria.... and things get worse from there as each side takes turns upping the ante until we are in a full-scale nuclear World War III.
The cast of characters is large, actually too large - unless they become vital in the following two books we could have easily done without quite a few of these characters. We have so many viewpoints at times it becomes confusing and, with the exception of Truman, all are just ordinary people at the mercy of the war. Some we are genuinely interested in, some, like Bill, mostly seem to exist to set up where bombs in China and eastern Russia fall as well as to set up his wife Marion’s storyline. Of all the characters, I believe Marion annoys me the most for her constant self-pity and lack of willingness to help herself preferring instead to sit for months in a displaced person’s camp whining she cannot do anything to make things better for herself or her child. She even has the audacity to compare her plight (shelter, warm clothes, three meals a day, school for the kids) as being similar to being in a WWII concentration camp.
I’ve read some early Turtledove and, most recently, the Supervolcano trilogy and it seems Mr. Turtledove’s writing has lost that early spark. The characters in Bombs Away are almost like stock characters being recycled from Supervolcano and given a different disaster. Again, we have a major catastrophe and yet, for the majority of those not directly involved in combat or inside an active war zone life goes on much as before, no food shortages, no problems with utilities, no civil unrest... there is less apparent disruption to life in Los Angeles after it is hit by two atomic bombs than there is after one mid-sized earthquake. This also needed some serious editing as the repetitive explanations of what Amat or Amaskirovka is, the kind of cigarettes being smoked, the type of alcohol being consumed and how it compares to vodka became very tiresome very quickly. And the constant iteration of who is a Jew over and over again when it had no relevance to the scene quickly became somewhat creepy.
I already have the second book, Fallout about half read and I will persevere with book three in 2017 just as I forced myself to finish the Supervolcano trilogy but overall this is a really good story idea that needed serious editing to make it into a tight, interesting story instead of a long-drawn out mish-mash. ~~ Stephanie L Bannon
For other titles in the Hot War trilogy click here