I’m going to try and keep this a spoiler-free review of this novel, so it will be relatively short. In his first novel in this series, Bombs Away, Turtledove laid an intriguing twist…what if we had used nuclear weapons in the Korean War? How could that have played out?
The answer is a world where B-29’s drop bombs fresh from the factory. This is not Wargames version of global thermonuclear war…it is slow, grinding, ponderous and painful. It is a bomber war.
In book two, Fallout, we see the results of this war lumbering forward. There is no quick victory here for the characters. As with all Turtledove novels I’ve read, he’s got multiple story lines and perspectives in play. The nature of the war shifts in Fallout, bringing rise to the use of nukes on the battlefields. Several of the story line characters are on those fields of war and experience first-hand the kind of war we only speculated as children.
Both sides start to break out their WWII surplus tanks and weapons to replace losses. I know some readers found that far-fetched but in reality, up through the 1960’s, the Soviets maintained a large stockpile of T34/85’s from WWII, just for such an eventuality. I learned that in my research for my own military history book, The Fires of October.
Personally, I would have enjoyed more battle scenes. There are some story lines I found myself drawn to. The woman sent off to the gulags is an angle that is proving interesting and is something of a departure for typical Turtledove characters. I also love the cliffhanger moments with the English woman who owned a bar in Bombs Away. I came away from the book thinking about how cursed some people are to having bad things happen to them.
The politics of the war and the rise of Joe McCarthy get some reader-time, but don’t seem to add much to the novel. I wish that had been explored more as a source of tension. Then again, knowing Turtledove, he could be holding back an “October Surprise” for us fans.
The book does have a big escalation moment near the end – which I won’t spoil. It was good – damned good. It could have been more – but it was still pretty awesome.
People love to take shots at Harry Turtledove’s work, as one of the fathers of contemporary alternate history. Going after his style, his repetition, his character arcs, etc., is almost cliché at this point. I won’t go there. People like to take shots at the people at the top of their game – there’s something very American about it. I won’t. I’m enjoying the series.
If you liked Bombs Away, you’ll find Fallout as a good solid novel. Four out of five stars in my opinion.