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The Axis of Time:
Weapons of Choice

by John Birmingham

(Del Rey Books, US$15.95, 416 pages, trade paperback, June 2004, ISBN 0-345-45712-9.)

Review by Peter D Tillman

cover scanThis is a new twist on that perennial alt-hist fave, rerunning WW2. Here a naval task force from 2021 is diverted to 1942 by a DARPA teleportation experiment gone spectacularly wrong. In the ensuing confusion, the moderns sink most of Admiral Spruance's fleet, en route to Midway. Oops....

This is a first-rate piece of AH/mil-SF, marred by: being #1 (of 3?), pacing problems, and some odd auctorial choices. His 2021 is a rather grim place. The interactions of 2021 with 1942 are very nicely done.

There's a HUGE logical flaw in the denouement of vol. 1, which needs spoiler-protection, and which wasn't immediately obvious, to me anyway (but I'm slow, and sick):




Islamic jihadists hijack an 'old' 21st Century frigate, try to ram the supercarrier. Which finds its guns won't depress far enough to blow same out of the water. After 20+ years of fighting suicide jihadis, the Navy hasn't figured out an effective close-range defense??? Worse, they have one ('MetalStorm'), but Birmingham ignores it to make a cute plot-twist: the "Hillary Clinton" is saved by a 1942 fighter! Bad, bad author. What was he thinking? That his readers are stupid? Editor asleep at the wheel?

[END of Spoilers]



Nevertheless, I recommend Weapons of Choice to mil-SF and alt-hist fans, as the best of same I've seen yet this year. Gripping reading, when it gels. Well above average: "B+".

Paul Di Filippo's enthusiastic review led me to read it. He gives Weapons of Choice a solid "A":
"Perhaps Birmingham's biggest accomplishment is the clash of civilizations he brilliantly limns. I'm not talking about Muslim fanatics of 2021 versus the rest of the world, but rather the culture of 2021 versus that of 1942..."

Axis of Time #2, Designated Targets, is due out in October 2005, per Amazon. I'll be reading it [makes note to ask for ARC].

Birmingham is a well-known Aussie humorist, making his first venture into SF here. Interview:
"Birmingham is the foremost chronicler of Australia's fringe culture. He rose to fame with the 1997 novel He Died with a Falafel in his Hand. This was the semi-autobiographical story of JB and his many housemates drinking beer and bong water if too broke for pot, while chasing after the opposite sex in the streets of Brisbane."

Jonathan Strahan's interesting thoughts on Weapons of Choice, the perils of AH (6-18):
WoC is "romantic, tough-minded at times, and very funny."

Author's website:
[nothing re Weapons, as of March 31 2005]

Happy reading.

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