Alternate-world warrior extraordinaire Turtledove (Last Orders, 2014, etc.) delivers the opening barrage of a new speculative conflict: What if President Harry Truman had ordered nuclear weapons to be used in the Korean War?
He might well have done so. Gen. Douglas MacArthur certainly urged him to. Here, asserting that Stalin would not retaliate and didn’t have that many atomic bombs anyway, MacArthur persuades Truman to strike Chinese cities in Manchuria. It proves to be a disastrous miscalculation. The USSR immediately attacks cities in Britain, France, and Germany. Escalation follows retaliation, and before the world’s leaders have quite grasped what's happening, a nuclear war is underway. Those familiar with Turtledove’s distinctive method, however, know the focus will remain on ordinary characters and how they cope with their particular circumstances. This time they fall naturally into three groups. There are the pilots who drop the bombs, such as Air Force 1st Lt. Bill Staley and Boris Gribkov of the Soviet Union. Combatants on the ground include, in Europe, ex-Wehrmacht man Gustav Hozzel and Soviet tank man Konstantin Morozov, while infantry Lt. Cade Curtis becomes stranded behind enemy lines in Korea after his platoon gets wiped out. And there are civilians who must find ways to survive nearby atomic blasts. Seattle housewife Marian Staley hasn’t seen her husband for more than a year. Washing machine installer Aaron Finch of San Francisco captures a downed Soviet flyer. World War II widow Daisy Baxter owns a pub near Norwich. Ihor Shevchenko labors on a Ukrainian collective. And ethnic Russian Vasili Yasevich helps clean up Harbin. Readers who savor the patient accumulation of detail around each one will find it easy to become thoroughly addicted.
Definitely worth a try for Turtledove fans and armchair warriors in general.