© 2009 Harry Turtledove
The year is 1938, and war wages in Spain between the Popular Front — a collection of democrats, liberals, socialists, communists, and anarchists — and the Nationalists, those supporting the attempted military takeover of the Second Spanish Republic. German chancellor Adolf Hitler, who has recently remilitarized the German border with France and effected the annexation of Austria in violation of the Treaty of Versailles, is meeting in Munich with representatives from the British and French governments over the fate of Czechoslovakia. The western powers created Czechoslovakia following the Great War, and its mountainous border regions are peopled by Germans whom Hitler believes belong in the Fatherland. He expects the allies to concede these regions and more to him, and the unexpected political assassination of those Czechoslovakian Germans’ leader seems a godsend to his cause.
He does not anticipate Chamberlain’s reaction, for the British prime minister sees this assassination as an obviously staged event on the part of the German ruler. Angered by the Chancellor’s arrogance, Britain and France affirm their support of Czechoslovakia. The political leaders leave the room and return to a Europe at war: soon, Russia will join the Allies in condemning this fragant display of imperialism. World War 2 has begun. While Hitler’s newly-revived Wehrmacht goes into action in the Czech mountains, French and British troops gingerly tip-toe into Germany to run over a few mailboxes and blow raspberries. Meanwhile, smaller nations bordering Czechoslovakia join Germany in its evisceration and tensions rise between Russia and the “fascist” state of Poland.
As the struggle develops, people continue to live their live — and it is their story told here. Some are soldiers who fight in the various conflicts — a German tanker, Republican and Nationalists in Spain, French and British infantrymen, fighter pilots, and submarine commanders — that emerge after Munich, but others are innocents caught in a miserable situation. As is typical for Turtledove, these viewpoint characters are multi-national and range the moral spectrum. Some even existed in reality, as did their triumphs and humiliations. Although Turtledove is tasked with making only a small derivation from the standard course of history interesting, those minor changes force the conflict to develop in a wholly different way by novel’s end. Hitler’s War is typical Turtledove in style, strengths, and weaknesses, and is the first in a six-volume series. Although initially unimpressed except by the novel’s depiction of the Spanish Civil War, the book’s final fifty pages whet my appetite and I am eager to see what develops from here on out.