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on 9 June 2016
What a bonkers premise. Due to a scientific disaster, an ultra modern international navy fleet is transported back in time to the second world war, say what!! The obvious happens and the fleet intervenes on the allies side and fundamentally changes the military, scientific and social fabric of the 1940s. There is a raft (pun not intended) of characters and plot lines, that at times seem to get out of hand, but the author manages to keep the whole thing afloat (I couldn't help it....sorry) by careful use of cliffhangers, plot twists and ultra violence. The whole thing rumbles along in three massive volumes, which kinda surprised me to be honest, because when I finished volume three, I thought, "is that it...." as there could have easily been another three written which would have kept me happy.
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on 7 May 2017
Stunning concept, well crafted. An excellent blend of fact and fiction with the politics and social mores of 1942 blended into a cracking yarn. Now this is how to write quality science fiction.
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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.
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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.
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on 27 July 2015
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on 1 September 2015
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on 8 June 2016
My son enjoyed these
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on 2 January 2015
Goods received promptly and as advertised = no problems
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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....
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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.
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