Bombs Away by Harry Turtledove
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
There's a lot of this novel that's good, if not particularly my taste, but then again, there's a lot that I had to slog over.
First, the good:
This history of 1951 diverges immediately, and we get immersed in a multitude of characters from around the world, from China, Hungary, Russia, Germany, as well as a host of locations in America, including Seattle, California, and parts of the East Coast. I felt like I was a part of the world as a whole, steeped in not particularly deep descriptions of the locales, but at least enough to get the general feel.
The Atom Bomb drops in Korea, followed by a retaliation from Russia in Alaska, followed by American's retaliation in a podunk Chinese town, followed by an escalation followed by an escalation, until we have a hundred low yield city-busting Atom-Bombs littering the world and taking out all the major cities. Neither Stalin nor Truman can stop the tide, nor do they want to. The bomb dropping, although strictly horrible, is probably the most interesting thing about the novel, because we get seemingly real people's reactions to it, the hardening of their hearts, making do, and continuing to live through all the mess of the world. "I Serve the Soviet Union!" was perhaps repeated too many times, or at least the meaning behind it was.
The novel is served best upon reflection of its reading. I liked remembering all that had actually happened in retrospect.
And now, the bad:
There was way to many characters to ever truly get invested in any, although a few came close. I discovered late in the reading that I may as well treat the book as a survival type horror. Don't get too close to anyone, because they'll probably not be around too much longer. That's fine if that's what you were expecting, but I'm a type of reader that actually likes good character and heroic (even semi- or quasi-heroic deeds). There was remarkably little of any of that in the novel. It was just long parade of characters getting through the changed world, either setting up for another bombing run, running a tank, taking care of the kids, or making a living as a stranger in a strange land. It was okay, but to me it was pretty meh.
It felt like a never-ending list of name dropping, whether it was location or people, and I was very bored and distracted for the main duration of the novel. I had to pick up a caffeine addiction just to keep my mind on the book. I felt like I wanted to do anything, anything at all, OTHER than read this. I'm sorry, but WWII does NOT do anything for me, and neither does the Korean war, or modern war in general. It never has. That isn't to say I haven't tried, of course, and I can list a long number of documentaries, movies, non-fiction, and fiction that I've slogged through to try to "get" the war bug. I never did. And I probably would have DNF'd this after the first thirteen pages, honestly, if I didn't have such iron-self control and dedication to reading through every single novel I finally decided to start reading.
It just wasn't for me, but seeing a protracted atomic war right out of the infancy of the tool IS quite interesting. At practically no other time in history would anyone possibly have a hope to pick up and continue on with their lives. The later explosive yields would have precluded much of that.
It wasn't the end of everything, but it certainly showed the world a fresh hell. Like I said, I like the novel in retrospect. I like thinking about what it accomplished for me without ever wanting to slog through anything like it again.
As for ideas, I think the novel did a great job. As for writing, or getting into the characters... not so much. I would have much preferred a few primary characters going through all those locations, growing as individuals and watching their comrades or friends die, or die themselves, rather than spread too little butter over too much bread the way it was.
Do I recommend this? I'd say yes, if you're the type of person who likes alternate histories, lots of characters showing off lots of locations, and a good appreciation of close-to-reality worldbuilding. Otherwise, no.
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