June 16, 2016
Fallout, by Harry Turtledove
The novels of Harry Turtledove show history balancing on single moments: One act of folly. One poor decision. One moment of rage. In his astounding new series, the unthinkable has come to pass. The Cold War turns hot—and the United States and the Soviet Union unleash their nuclear arsenals upon each other. Millions die. Millions more are displaced. Germans battle side by side with Americans, Polish freedom fighters next to Russian fascists. The genie is out of the bottle. And there’s no telling what fresh hell will come next. At the heart of Fallout are Harry Truman and Josef Stalin. Even as Joe McCarthy rises in power, the U.S. president is focused elsewhere, planning to cut off the head of the Soviet threat by taking out Stalin. It’s a daring gambit, but the Soviets have one of their own. Meanwhile, Europe’s weak sisters, France and Italy, seem poised to choose the winning side, while China threatens to overrun Korea. With Great Britain ravaged and swaths of America in ruins, leaders are running out of options. When the United States drops another series of bombs to slow the Russian advance in Europe, Stalin strikes back—with horrifying results. These staggering events unfold through the eyes of a sprawling cast of characters: a Holocaust survivor in a displaced persons camp in Washington; the wife of a bomber pilot and her five-year-old daughter starting a new existence; a savage Soviet fighter waging war by his own rules; a British pub owner falling in love with an American pilot. In the masterly hands of Harry Turtledove, this epic chronicle of war becomes a story of human struggle. As the armies of the world implode, the next chapter will be written by the survivors—those willing to rise up for an uncertain future.
I’ve been a Turtledove fan for three decades now. For diehard fans, Fallout is another grand outing into speculative history with the master of the genre. Unfortunately, that’s the problem. The Turtledove Formulaic Doctrine is alive and well in this story. Same old Turtledove with the same old cast of characters. The same things seem to happen in every Turtledove book.
There is even a subplot in Fallout that is recycled almost point by point from Joe Steel. I’ve found that Turtledove’s non world war stories to be more engaging and better written.
It took me two weeks to slog through Fallout and that’s something since I usually can read a 300 – 400 page book in less than a week. I’m glad I picked up a digital ARC on Netgalley. I would’ve been disappointed had I purchased Fallout.
Fallout is still a decent read, and newer converts to Turtledove won’t recognize the TFD and the recycled plots. I suspect that since I’ve read everything Turtledove has ever published, I’m a bit jaded. Three stars for Fallout.
Dr Harry Norman Turtledove is an American novelist, who has produced a sizeable number of works in several genres including alternate history, historical fiction, fantasy and science fiction. Turtledove has been dubbed “The Master of Alternate History”. Within this genre he is known both for creating original scenarios: such as survival of the Byzantine Empire; an alien invasion in the middle of the World War II; and for giving a fresh and original treatment to themes previously dealt with by other authors, such as the victory of the South in the American Civil War; and of Nazi Germany in the Second World War.