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This alternate history of the Korean Conflict starts with a bang. As Gen Douglas McArthur is losing control of the ground war in Korea, he comes to the stark realization that he must convince President Harry S. Truman to strike Chinese targets in Manchuria with Atomic weapons, to stop the tide of men and material coming into theater from the north. In the real world his pleas fell on deaf ears, in Bombs Away Truman acts on the general’s advice, miscalculating Russia’s reaction. Stalin retaliates with atomic strikes on U.S. allies in Europe and Great Britain. Will they attack each other directly or will the rest of the burn in a proxy war of atomic attrition?
Before any of you historians out there start screaming poppycock! This book is an alternate history book. Turtledove is an actual acclaimed historian who happens to write really good alternate history books, and Bombs Away is yet another one of those books. Yes, even having said that there will still be several people who will want to flame Turtledove for misleading the masses or try to find inaccurate material in a work of fiction. I do the same thing when I watch war movies. If you are a historian and can put your title aside or even if you just enjoy books like, this I don’t think you will be disappointed. Turtledove knows the actual history and when possible he blends it in very nicely with the fictional story he is telling. In some ways I can see why this would upset some readers as it gets really close to the facts without actually being factual.
History hang ups aside, this really is a book about people and how they deal with the situations they find themselves in. Normally you could say this is a bottom up view of this fictional conflict, but Truman and Marshal make several appearances. Turtledove noticeably stays out of Stalin’s head which I totally agreed with, actually Uncle Joe and all of the high ranking leadership on the Soviet side. The rest of the characters we get to know are fairly normal. I mean, sure we get to meet aircrews on each side that drop atomic bombs for their respective countries, but other than that most of the characters are normal everyday people in extraordinary circumstances. The characters include tankers, an English pub owner, a military spouse, a militiaman, and a few infantrymen. This might sound like too many characters to keep track of, but Turtledove is very adept at not only writing in this style, but transitioning between scenes involving different characters.
One of the more fascinating aspects of this book is how Turtledove delves into the very complicated relationship between the Russians and fighters from some of the satellite countries like Hungary. In the real world, some Hungarians sided with the Germans, while most fought with the Russians. In this alternate history that still happened, but now many of those Hungarians who fought with the Germans are fighting the Germans under the Russian yoke. One character is and Anglo-Russian living in a town that Russia occupied during one of many Sino-Russian conflicts. The contrast of his existence and the circumstances that caused it in real world history make this fiction seem even more real.
Bombs Away is very typical for a Turtledove novel, he switches between several characters to create an idea of the bigger picture. Overall the story is paced well, but there are a few times when things felt a bit slow. Those slow times always had a purpose, but slow is slow. This is a story about war, but it is far from a war story; don’t expect page after page of descriptions of battles and life on the front. With Bombs Away you get some very interesting human interest stories that occur during an odd conflict that seems to want to escalate beyond all human understanding. Yes there are scenes that take place during battles and they are sprinkled around enough to keep most military minded readers satisfied. While there is violence, rarely does Turtledove resort to graphic descriptions to convey the horrors of war.
If you like alternate history, you should enjoy this book. If you are more of a human interest person, this book has quite a bit for you as well; the history is close enough where you will still be able to relate to what is going on. Turtledove has sold thousands upon thousands of books for a reason and Bombs Away is a great reminder of what happens when an author says, “What if….”