The Axis of Time Trilogy is a high-paced, high-tech alternate history thriller, probably what Tom Clancy and Harry Turtledove would come up with if they were locked in a room together.
The book opens in the year 2021. The western world has been at war with terrorist extremists for decades. London and Tokyo have suffered terrorist attacks which outstrip 9/11 in ferocity, Iran and Iraq have fought a second war, and the west's military forces have become used to fighting with ultra-high-tech arms and equipment against a shadowy enemy. When extremists seize control of Jakarta and begins executing foreign nationals, the United Nations authorises a massive military response. A flotilla of ships from half a dozen nations assemble under the leadership of Admiral Kolhammer on his flagship USS Hillary Clinton (who in this timeline was President and a great champion of the US Navy until her assassination). A research vessel conducting atom-smashing experiments in an attempt to create stable wormhole technology is caught up in the flotilla when her escorts are ordered to join it. Ill-advisedly, they continue with their experiments in the midst of the fleet, and accidentally destroy their vessel by creating a 15km-wide wormhole which sucks the entire fleet into it and dumps them in the North Pacific in June 1942. Right on top of Admiral Spruance's fleet sailing to relieve Midway Island.
It's a pretty solid, high-concept basis for a novel, essentially a reverse of the 1980s movie The Philadelphia Experiment on a much bigger scale with a dash of Harry Turtledove's Worldwar saga thrown in for good measure. At first it appears that the war is going to be pretty one-sided. As is shown in several engagements, the UN Taskforce possesses weapons so advanced they can obliterate entire Japanese fleets and industrial centres from hundreds of miles away. However, their weapons stocks are finite and the industrial base required to build new ones will take decades to establish. Also, in an interesting move, the incredulity which greets the arrival of the Taskforce is amended somewhat by it being in line with Einstein's own theories (Einstein has a couple of brief but amusing appearances in the novel, and in a funny scene is given a laptop as a gift). Unlike Turtledove, Birmingham tries to keep the famous historical figures restricted to brief cameos, with really only Admiral Yamamoto and Admiral Spruance receiving significant time on the page.
Birmingham's portrait of the world of 2021 is pretty grim, showing a world where the War on Terror has grown in size to endanger the lives of everyone, with suitcase-sized nuclear bombs destroying large chunks of major cities and the world militaries becoming hardened to the point of heartlessness with regards to mass casualties and suffering. Yet he also contrasts this nicely with WWII. WWII weapons may be vastly inferior, but in enormous quantities they maul the Taskforce quite badly on its arrival. And whilst the entire world may be at war, the clearly-delineated lines between good and evil, right and wrong give the people hope for survival and eventual victory, whilst the soldiers from the future are altogether more cynical and downbeat.
This interesting sociological portrait is probably the greatest strength of the novel and is what lifts it above other identikit military thrillers from the Clancy/Brown school of writing. The other thing is Birmingham's clever depiction of futuristic technology. Since the book is only set fourteen years hence, it doesn't go too overboard, although some may feel the use of implants capable of shooting medicine straight into soldiers and sailors at AI command is a little bit more advanced than that. The US fighter jet of choice is a more advanced version of the F-22 Raptor (which has just entered service in real life), whilst the new standard US supercarrier is the George Bush-class (actually, in real life, it's going to be called the Gerald Ford-class, but the novel was written before that decision was made).
Despite Birmingham's technical proficiency and his intriguingly bleak outlook of the future, he suffers from some weaknesses. Whilst the shock the 1942 US miltary feels at fighting alongside female, black, homosexual and Asian officers is perhaps understandable, Birmingham does repeatedly make the point about the period being casually rascist, sexist and homophobic to the point where it starts to get a bit tedious. There are also some leaps in logic in the middle of the book. The first half or so is pretty much entirely devoted to the shock of the Transition (as it is called) and its aftermath and barely covers 24 hours. The second half covers another month or so and ranges over a much vaster area, from Moscow and Berlin to Tokyo to Los Angeles and Brisbane. The transition between the two styles is a little jarring. Given the size of this novel (just shy of 800 pages) compared to the two sequels (450 and 380 pages respectively) one wonders if splitting this book in half to make the change in style work better would have been a better idea.
At heart, this book is an above-average military blockbuster with an interesting SF twist and better-than-normal characters. As the series progresses and moves further away from real history, I suspect the books will get less interesting (as happens with most Turtledove series), but the first book leaves enough cliffhangers and unresolved plot points to make the sequel, Designated Targets, worth a look when Penguin publishes it (presumably at the end of 2007). I'm particularly looking forward to seeing how Britain's Prince Harry - in the novels an SAS Captain in his late 30s - is treated in the sequels, where he apparently plays a bigger role.
Australian author John Birmingham makes his debut in the United States with not just a splash but a tidal wave. If Tom Clancy's a fav, you'll find Birmingham right up there with him when it comes to crafting action packed scenarios, volatile confrontations, and sheer drop-off suspense. Weapons Of Choice is 434 can't-put-down pages - promise!
Our saga opens on January 15, 2021, just off of East Timor. U.S. ships and are set to take down an Islamic revolutionary government claiming 17,000 islands by Allah's decree. Thanks to battalion logistics officer Lieutenant Colonel Nancy Vivani the marines have "the very best equipment other people's money could buy."
As for the ships - quite diverse, among them the USS Hillary Clinton, and with one you couldn't miss: "The Joint Research Vessel Nagoya was a purpose-built leviathan, constructed around the frame of an "eighty-thousand-tonne liquid natural gas carrier."
All set? Not quite. A military experiment goes awry, very much awry, throwing this armada back over eighty years to 1942, and where? Smack in the center of the naval task force non-stopping to Midway Atoll.
What are the 1942 seamen to think of the time travelers who suddenly appear in their midst, and how will they react to weaponry they could not even imagine? As for the fighting men of 2021 suddenly jettisoned into the past, what must they do? Perhaps even more importantly, did an enemy come with them?
The first in a planned Axis of Time trilogy, Weapons Of Choice is riveting alternate history.
- Gail Cooke
on 21 October 2004
A 2021 task force are ripped from their own time and flung unceremoniously into 1942 a matter of hours before events are due to kick off at Midway. I ordered this book from Amazon because of a review in Locus Magazine. I wasn't disappointed.
It's action packed, at times bloody hilarious ( like the monkey trying to shit on the terrorists head in the first paragraph - a discerning monkey of course ). It always moves and the action sequences are fabulous. Perhaps he harps on about the race side of things a little too much but I don't care. This is the first book that I have genuinely struggled to put down in months.
Also check out Prince Harry! Yes our little guy in a SAS unit! You also get to meet all the major characters from the war you could think of and some that you might not have unless you are a bit of a WWII buff ( like Otto Skorzeny ) like me!
This is a beleivable view of what would have happened had such technology fell in the laps of the combatants in WWII. Birmingham has clearly done his research too. The characters are portrayed realistically and no punches are pulled. The guys from the future seem hard nosed and uncaring in war which is an approach contrasted with the passionate rascist attitudes of 1942 USA.
No news yet on the next two books but I wait for them like a pining puppy....
on 18 December 2011
If possible I would rather give this book a 3.5 rather than a 3, but it is definitely more 'just ok' than great.
That's not to say there is not plenty to like here. On the contrary, I found the book to be fast paced and based around a very interesting idea which for the most part was enjoyably explored. I got through the book in one sitting, so can have no complaints about its ability to draw in the reader and, though not hugely deep, it did have some good thoughtful moments to complement some fun action and technobabble, as well as the contrast between the clashing cultures to appreciate.
Unfortunately, I found the potential of the book to be higher than the book itself; the execution could have been far better. The central premise was good and there were good moments, but on the whole I found it hard to care a great deal about the predicaments of the characters, of which there were far too many. In of itself this would not be a flaw, but the deliberate short, punchy scenes that contribute to the fast pace of the book also make it hard to spend any amount of time with any one individual or group of characters, and the narrative flow does have a tendency to jump around a great deal as a result, and the dialogue and exposition has to be, at times, far too terse and obvious to get things moving.
It was more of a style issue than a deal breaker, however. I would have preferred a more limited cast, or more time devoted in longer sections to developing plot points and characters, but it was still an easy to read romp with a fascinating concept and oodles of potential for the author to explore, and I am looking forward to seeing how they develop things further in the series.
on 8 March 2014
Do you ever struggle to find the balance between a fast, entertaining thriller and a smart thriller? Do you hate nazis? Are you fan of time travel? do you like "what if" stories? If the answer to even some of these questions is yes, you are in for an absolute treat.
Birmingham (who despite the english name is actually Australian) seems to have locked Tom Clancy and Harry Turtledove in a small room and threatened not to feed them unless they give him ideas, and then edited out the flaws of each- the overcomplexity frequent to Clancy novels, and the tedium and constant, book lengthening repetition of turtledove are both absent here, Yet Birmingham creates something that seems to float in the void between them. a fast, complicated and intelligent story, that feels (mostly) well grounded in realism, with excellent characters and outstanding action. He is also very able in his ability to manage multiple, separate plot strands and characters that never meet, yet create a brilliant overall story.
The simple premise of the trilogy is that, whilst in preparation for an invasion of Indonesia in the 2020s, a Quantum tunnelling experiment goes disastrously wrong, dumping a massive UN task force in 1942. Right in the middle of the US fleet on it's way to midway. From this point on, events begin to spiral out of control very rapidly, as both sides are aware of the mistakes that they have, are making and are going to make, and both sides make immediate moves to correct them. The first story is primarily focused in the pacific theatre of the war in the few months after the event, but it links to events in Europe later on in the story. Even better than the way that the war is altered by the foreknowledge is the social effects that a couple of thousand people from the future would bring to the 1940s. These were days of stiff conservatism, of social inequalities, racism and prejudice, and the very modern "uptimers" are dumped right in the middle of it. The foreknowledge of everything to come is also explored well, and in a very entertaining manner as well. The sequels explore the themes to an even greater extent, and this leads to an extremely entertaining trilogy which has a firm place on my bookshelf.
on 23 November 2012
...for a whole host of reasons. I'll be honest, I bought this having read about it on TV Tropes, and I think the line which sold me on it was 'time traveling, SAS Prince Harry'. Well you certainly get that!
Beyond that however, this is a very well written book, and in terms of the ideas explored in across it's pages, fascinating. It does show it's age somewhat (like most books set 20 minutes into the future tbh), but even so it gives us a somewhat chilling vision of a world of 2021 as if the War on Terror had actually extended into an all up war that had rumbled on for decades (along with the consequences of such warfare on the world's militaries and the continuance of social trends of today), then goes ahead and juxtaposes that brutally with the martial and popular culture of the 1940s. Could have gone so wrong, so easily, yet it works brilliantly.
Which leads me onto the other thing about this book (and it's sequels for that matter): it gives us a very close look at the social attitudes of the 1940s and the heroes of WW2. All too often, literature (and just about every form of media) tends to look back on that time as a golden age, where for the Allies, all was noble and grand, and where the figures were genuine all-round heroes of legend, whilst for the Axis, all was oppressive and evil, and all of their soldiers and scientists and leaders were utterly inhuman monsters. This book doesn't. It shows us it all, the heroism and the racism and the sexism, the heroes, the lunatics, the geniuses, and the... well, bastards. Even more refreshingly, it does that for both the Allied and Axis powers, and doesn't pull any punches for either of them.
And yet along with all of that, it still manages to retain a sense of humour (such as that wonderful moment involving FDR, Eisenhower and a comment about how since he wasn't president yet, Eisenhower still had to work for a living), and despite the introspection, the action sequences are some of the best I've ever read.
So, all told, this book it very much recommended.
on 11 October 2012
Two things this book isn't; 1) a standard time travel story of altering history and having some paradoxical twist, or 2) a Clancy-esque techno thriller. Indeed the battle scenes are for the most part fairly briskly described and underplayed. The exception to this is the scene where the 21st century fleet transitions to 1942 and the allied fleets first meet. Too long. The book is really more about the differences of throwing together these 2 armies that are 80 years apart technologically but light years apart culturally. The multinational, mixed race, mixed gender army of opportunity and position for all clashing, with neanderthal prejudices of sexism, racism and any other -ism you care to mention. What was reflected well were the differing perspectives and attitudes to war that the 2 groups had, with the 21st century crew seeming at times de-sensitised and distant to the death and destruction, reflecting the nature of a 24 hour news and video age culture, but also highlighting the fact that they are professional fighters rather than conscripts. The future technology is plausible and not outlandish, and pretty much a logical extension of todays. I liked the idea of bringing 21st century terrorism into 1942, and the way it was exploited. Maybe highlighting that things haven't changed that much, and I particularly like some real life thinking whereby a "temp" see's the arrival of the future as an opportunity to further his own ends. On the negative side; there were a number of loose ends left unresolved, which could have been tied up, there were a few characters whose purpose added nothing to the overall story, the British "temp" characters in particular were heavily sterotyped and straight out of 1940's Hollywood and overall there were just too many characters to actually allow you to invest emotionally in any of them. There were a couple of references to trying to get home, and I'll be interested to see if subsequent books explore that further, or rather explore the challenges of integration and co-existence between these disparate groups. I would be interested in seeing a bit more of how the historical information and perspective is used in the war and how or if that actually changes recorded history and in seeing more time given to the political impacts of the new arrivals, which again was aluded to in passing but never explored more fully. Again maybe books 2 and 3 cover some of these aspects. Overall the book has a lot of potential, but it's only scratched the surface of some of the teasers and ideas its thrown out there.
And it delivers!
This is an awesome book, a real page turner and a big book for the cover price. I bought it upon release in an airport and only got around to reading it recently, which brings me to why I had to give this book four rather than five stars.
While the pace, style, characterisation and world building are great (seriously I'd expect this to appeal to thriller readers, sci-fi readers, genre fiction fans or historical and war novel readers all at once) it is pretty unambigiously the first of a series. There's a lot of loose ends at the finish and the snippet from the following book in the series doesnt shed any light on them at all really, apart from letting the reader know that one of the less likeable characters will feature in the next book.
The story begins in a war torn and pretty apocalyptic future (more details about this future, including cities being totalled by suitcase bombs, LA being wiped out by germ warfare emerge during the narrative later) and a multinational fleet intervening in a failed Indonesian state, one of the ships in fleet is a research vessel doing some freaky manhatton project style space and time experiments which results in the future fleet being sent into the past.
There's some cool speculative sci-fi and future tech material in this, about body armour, futuristic seapower, sub-nuke super missiles and the like but what's more interesting is the contrasts and cultural clashes. These can be to do with race and gender roles, its surprising to be made to realise just how unenlightened the allies where themselves albeit the great hope against the greater evils in the world at the time. This is done pretty fairly though and none of the characters appear to be one dimensional, it never lapses into conceited "bashing the past" and there's lots of great reflections on the culture of the future fleet, for instance the normalisation of battle and its refinement, even among embedded civilians.
I'm a major fan of some high tech war fighting writing but this is more than that and I think can encourage reflection and give a pause for thought aswell as being a lot of fun to read. I was truly sorry to reach the finish and while I'm pleased there's more books in the series its not really a stand alone book, you'll just want to know how key plot lines get wrapped up. Recommended.
on 12 February 2012
The concept for this book is brilliant, an alternative history of WW2. This is set a short jump into the future 2021. A combined coalition force is sent back to 1942 by a freak accident. Some major character's from WW2 are in this novel, plus ones from the present, including Prince Harry!
I don't want to embellish on the story to much for potential readers, needless to say this is a good read, with a clash of technology and cultures. There is some very good black comedy thrown into this book too, particularly around the cultures and truly shows how things have changed where this is concerned.
Only the 3-star for this, not because i don't feel it's a good read, but there are flaws in the detail. mainly the technology that the character's in 2021 are using, bearing in mind that's only nine years away (15 when the book was written); body armours, linked computer systems, but mostly the ship type's, this all fits into a era that would suit's 2041 better. You can't help thinking this every time you read about the ships/technology. There are also way to many characters thrown into the plot, which leads to you losing track of characters and not really caring about them. The last problem is the scene jumping, way to much of this throughout the novel.
I will be reading the next instalment, as i do want to know how the main story progresses.
I have been a longtime fan of time travel and alternative history, and this novel brings together the best of both. While this isn't the first time such an "accidental temporal traveler" tale has been written - the tradition goes as far back to at least L. Sprague De Camp's superb novel Lest Darkness Fall & To Bring the Light - Birmingham's book is among the best of the type. His pacing is excellent, with gripping action scenes and fascinating depictions of tomorrow's naval warfare technology in action. Moreover, the development of his characters belies the "Clancyesque" blurb on the cover - Clancy can only dream of writing characters as interesting as the ones in this book.
What makes this book truly remarkable, though, is how well Birmingham brings off the differences in perceptions, particularly the contrasting perspectives about war. As much as the technological or social differences, it is the different attitudes and views that would stand out in a scenario like the one that he establishes. Today we fight wars that are dramatically different than we did in the 1940s, as are the goals and priorities that we use to fight them. Birmingham develops this brilliantly by imagining a culture shaped by the horrors of the twentieth century and two decades of our modern "war on terror" projected back into a time when life was based on different standards and war meant something completely different. It's his development of such an oft-overlooked contrast that elevates this book into a time travel novel of the first caliber, one that every fan of the genre should read.