by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen
Baen, hc, 382 pages, $24.00
ISBN: 0-671-87676-7

You have to give a bit of extra credit to an alternate-World War II novel which manages to revive Alvin York as one of its principal heroes. There are a number of other points where this fragment-of-a-novel-in-progress deserves credit: when the authors allow their points to be made through narrative and characters, the story flows well, and a number of interesting things happen. But for long stretches, characters stop to philosophize for no apparent reason, and in fact the plot of the novel ends about two-thirds of the way through, to make room for further sermonizing.

There are also significant historical problems that mar a book written by two history professors. Particularly annoying, for instance, in a 1945 in which atomic weapons have never been used (and their technology is still highly secret), is that everyone seems to be aware of the perils of radiation, and characters immediately know when they are dying of radiation poisoning. This sort of sloppiness mars a book that otherwise has some thoughtful moments, and some fascinating premises.

The plot supposes that Germany won World War II without precipitating America's entry into the war, forcing a tenuous peace on Britain that everyone knows is only temporary. The United States quickly defeats Japan, but the American public is reluctant to accept the inevitability of the coming war with Germany--which has merely been postponed while both sides develop new weapons. In America, massive spending is pumped into the development of atomic weapons, while Germany puts into production the next generation of weapons that never quite made it into the second World War. The plot largely centers around a Nazi commando attack on the US atomic facilities in Oak Ridge, TN, in an attempt to prevent the United States from bringing nuclear weapons into play. At the same time, the preparations for the new war--and for a blitzkreig attack on Britain, have been launched.

One pleasant surprise is that Gingrich seems to have had quite a hand in the writing of a novel--there are enough differences from Forstchen's other work to make that fairly clear. In these days of cynically sharecropped books, that discovery came as a pleasant surprise. Of course, the philosophic pauses leave less room for storytelling than they might--hence, I suppose, the annoying "to be continued" ending.

I wasn't particularly kind to this book, but in retrospect, I was probably kinder than it deserved. Jim Macdonald wrote a much harsher and more detailed (not to mention much funnier) review of the same book at his Red Mike site which put my capsule review to shame.

First appeared in Horror magazine, April 1994.

Copyright © 2004 by Leigh Grossman