Just Finished Reading: Weapons of Choice by John Birmingham (FP: 2004)
East Timor: The Year is 2021. Off the coast a mixed fleet of Coalition warships prepare for their attack on rebel strongholds on the island. Nestled in the middle is the scientific research ship Nagoya, pulled in at the last minute when it’s guardian missile cruiser was needed elsewhere. On board experiments continue on a weapon that could change the nature of war forever. Hours before the attack is due to take place the planned experiment goes horribly wrong destroying the ship and killing everyone aboard. Seconds later a torn and distorted wave of space-time crashes into the Allied fleet and hurtles them back in time – to 1942 and right in the middle of the American fleet on its way to Midway and the decisive naval engagement of the Pacific war. In the confusion the 1942 fleet open fire on their uninvited guests only to have the AI systems on the 2021 fleet respond in kind in self-defence. In the minutes between first contact and the stunned officers on the fantastic future fleet come to their senses half of the American fleet is either sunk or sinking. When the firing stops and messages are passed between the two fleets the shock is only just beginning to sink in. One thing is clear, the arrival of the ships from the future may have just lost America the war….
On the face of it this book pushed a good number of my reading buttons – Time Travel, Combat SF with ultra-modern weapons and Alternate History. It looked to be a hell of a romp and I was fully prepared to disengage my brain and enjoy the ride. It came as quite a surprise therefore when I discovered that this was anything but a light mindless read. For one thing the first volume in this trilogy (only half-jokingly called World War 2.1) is just under 500 pages long so there was lots going on here – on a global stage. The second, rather massive, surprise was that the initial fire-fight between the two fleets which ran for about 20 minute’s real time was told in about 100 pages of the book! That was honestly stunning and has just probably turned off some of the would-be readership right there. It was relentless and honestly left me breathless. Stunning is definitely the word I’d use. But the whole thing is far, far more than that. Agreed there’s a lot of combat in the book – as you might expect from something largely based in WW2 – but there’s also a lot of thought here. I couldn’t actually fault the author on any of his speculation or on his ideas of how both sets of people would react. That’s what most of the book turned out to be about – the explosive mix of 2021 and 1942 people which proved to be far more problematic and the sudden mix of technologies (especially pre-knowledge of the ‘future’).
I don’t know enough about the time (1942 that is) to comment but the failure of most people of that period to cope with, and sometimes even acknowledge, leaders who were either women or non-white (or both) flummoxed me. Where people really that racist, misogynistic and homophobic back then or am I being more than a little naïve? The differences in attitudes to almost everything between the 1942 and the 2021 characters was profound and disturbing if sometimes rather funny – especially in sexual politics and feminism which came as a shock (understatement of the century) to 1942 men. Of course whilst all this was being worked out the Axis Powers are affected by the ripple effect of the arrival of ships from the future and change their plans accordingly – more so when some of the advanced technology falls into their hands. That’s yet another fascinating part of the book – the military and political fallout of this very sudden change of events. WTF will happen next I couldn’t help asking myself. There are so many new ripples (and wrinkles) in the pool that no one will know what the consequences will be. Luckily I am already in possession of the next two books and they have been seriously upgraded in the ‘read soon’ list. I just need to know what happens next! If you’re in the market for a cracking good read that will inevitably mess with your head and twist your thoughts and ideas every which way this is definitely the book for you. Clever, thoughtful and thought provoking with a great cast of characters I loved almost every turn of the page. Highly recommended.