The War that Came Early: Coup d’Etat
© 2012 Harry Turtledove
Coup d’Etat is the fourth book in Turtledove’s War that Came Early series, in which World War 2 begins at the 1938 Munich Conference when the Allies call Hitler’s bluff. Soon joined in his invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Polish, Germany found itself engrossed in a two-front war after Russia rushed to the tiny republic’s defense. But in 1940, Hitler pulled off a diplomatic coup, convincing Britain and France to join him in a war against Stalinism by offering to withdraw the Wehrmacht from the low countries. Considering that the Soviets were also under attack by the Japanese empire, the Big Switch was making World War 2 out to be a general dogpile against the the Russians — but in Coup de’Etat, the alliance between Hitler and the west breaks down after an “extralegal” change of government in Britain, and what was shaping up to be a vastly different war is now simmering down to an only marginally interesting conflict.
Like Supervolcano: Explosion, Coup d’Etat succeeds initially purely on premise alone. The Big Switch completely recovered this slow-to-start series for me, and the new set course of events it initiated carry the novel: with the Allies and Germany both pouring resources into Russia, it’s as if we’re seeing the Cold War served hot and early. Will Russia collapse? What will Europe look like with Stalin gone, but with Hitler still reigning? Unfortunately, that question becomes moot by novel’s end. Not only are we back to the same basic World War 2 we know — complete with Italy invading British Africa, being turned back, and then aided by the Germans — but the dramatic event that restores the status quo isn’t even dramatic. One minute a character is being interrogated by British intelligence for planning to take over the government, the next minute he’s free because his cohorts have done it. Whoopee. How did they do it? The reader isn’t shown. The ramifications of a military coup of Britain aren’t explored, either: the new powers-that-be simply inform us that they have to be very discrete to avoid popular sentiment turning against them. The war in the Pacific isn’t any more interesting, perhaps because the American war engine is only starting to rev up. With Hitler at war with Britain, France, and Russia, and about to waste his resources in Africa, and the Japanese already weak after also taking on Russia, the end-game seems as though it will be inevitably similar to our own. And if that’s the case, what’s the point of a writing an alternate history novel?