I'm not usually interested in war stories, but this book really grabbed my attention. Extremely well written and character driven with an overlapping parallel worlds angle that I found interesting. Can't wait to read the next installment.
This is a wonderful novel novel. It starts with Sam Dance hearing about Pearl Harbor on the radio. He finds out that his brother, serving in the US Navy, was killed there.This sets off the main theme of the novel, a continual rumination on why things happen and how different outcomes would have been better.
Two elements are used to give form to this continual 'why' question. One is a device, which continually changes shape to allow it to blend with the surrounding technology, and the other is music, jazz in particular, which is used to illustrate the ability to create the new by changing elements on the fly.
The device is first given to Sam by Dr. Eliani Handtz, a Hungarian physicist who will pop up again in the novel. Handtz teaches physics, and in her meeting with Sam, introduces him to her own weird synthesis of physics and biology that she believes will lead to a better understanding of human nature, and end the human race's propensity for fratricidal warfare. The device initially resembles the AA gun radar aimer that Sam and his buddy Wink are working on. By the end of the book it has passed through a variety of forms, ending up as part of a board game in the Dance household. Along the way it has also been at crucial foci like Hiroshima and a concentration camp.To add spice, the major Intelligence agencies are also after the device...
This novel sounds rather sad and grim but the jazz motif acts as a liberator of good feelings. Sam and Wink are lucky in getting to see some of the great jazz musicians of the time, although the military police jail them for being in 'off limits' clubs. What they hear inspires them to start their their own band, first playing dance music at venues in England, then more cutting-edge material after D-Day takes them to a comfortable billet at a German cafe.
After the war Sam and Wink part but at a company reunion discover that they live in different realities. Wink's world inspires Sam to hunt out his current Handtz device, which he discovers his radical daughter has been using...
The only false note of the novel for me comes with its climax in the Sixties, which seems too pat and concentrates on one obvious event too much for hindsight to credit.
"In War Times" is a great novel of ideas and action, showing why contemporary science fiction may be the most important literary genre of our time, grappling with greater clarity of thought and literary skill, the very nature of human existence, than what one usually discerns from so-called literary mainstream fiction. Katherine Ann Goonan's elegantly sparse prose captures vividly the vicissitudes of love, war, peace, and indeed, of reality itself. She weaves concepts as arcane and as dissimilar as the structure of DNA, the nature of time, and the atomic bomb, into one long elegant literary tribute to jazz, with each new unexpected development, as the tale progresses, emerging like some unexpected jazz riff played with ample conviction by the likes of Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Jazz is the perfect metaphor to describe what the reader observes in this brilliantly conceived, vividly imagined novel; the merging and splitting of alternate realities, of different future histories, as witnessed by compelling characters such as Sam Dance, Bette Elegante, Wink and others, especially enigmatic physicist Dr. Eliani Hadntz, who presents Sam Dance with the plans of a mysterious device destined to alter all of their futures. Goonan explores how time - past, present and future - can be altered by the least likely of events, sending her characters into different alternate realities that differ by the slightest changing of a few details, relatively trivial in nature, with important implications for the respective futures of these realities. Hers is a novel whose historical settings range from Pearl Harbor to the American crossing of the Rhine near the close of World War II, the Kennedy assassination and the anti-war protests as the United States enters the Vietnam War; it is indeed a novel of grand ambitions which Goonan displays via her ample heartfelt conviction and exceptional literary craft. "In War Times" is certainly one of the most notable contemporary science fiction novels of the 21st Century, and one that should be required reading by mainstream literary audiences.
I'm a fan of Ms. Goonan's Queen City stories. Her works are fantastically imaginative and exciting. The same can be said for this one. However, I have to say that I thought it was a bit longer than it needed to be. Not being a jazz enthusiast, the long descriptive passages on jazz didn't really do much for me. And there were other long passages of technical description that seemed to detract from the story. Nevertheless, I did find this to be a very enjoyable read.
Decent scifi - best part is the historical detail, as book is partly based on the author's father's war diary. The author uses modern jazz to illustrate the parallel universe/time travel aspect of the story - probably to excess, however still a decent read