The War that Came Early: Last Orders
© Harry Turtledove
Good things come to those who wait. Such is the lesson of Last Orders, the sixth book in an alternate-history series that, so far, has performed like the Kaputnik rocket. Despite some promising left turns, The War that Came Early has always disappointingly drifted back into the wake of real history. Beginning with the 1938 Munich Conference ending in a general European war, as of the fifth book Germany is fighting the allies in France and Russia, while the United States holds its own against the Japanese and slowly turns the tide. Sound familiar? Last Orders leaves things in a decidedly different state, however, but such is a mixed blessing given that the series has only gotten interesting now that it is over.
Unlike the previous books, Last Orders is largely taken up with political turmoil. Aside from an American paratroop drop on Midway Island, the war remains background noise while the characters engage in the exciting activities of everyday life — complaining about officers, complaining about the lack of women, getting shot, shooting others, complaining about politicians (complaining in general, really). Other novels have been more eventful, war-wise, but here the Big Happenings are the triumph of one revolution and the beginning of another. At least two regimes have toppled by novel’s end, and the polities that will emerge from them are so promising, storywise, that this series’ end is frustrating. There were books in this series where nothing of consequence happened, and now that we’ve got genuine alt-history on our hands, peace treaties are being signed. Ah, well. If nothing else, it was good to read of the Spanish Republicans triumphing against the fascists, and equally satisfying for other fascists to get their just desserts. The characters, Turtledove’s usual motley crew of irregulars, soldiers and civilians, hounds and heroes, Axis and Allies, have carried this series through utter tedium and flourished in its intermittent exciting periods, and they continue solid duty here; some even find the ending they deserve, whether it’s a spot on the casualty lists or a tearjerking return home.
Although I enjoyed this novel well enough, the series as a whole needed sharp editing. At some point the books seem like potboilers, and it doesn’t help that the book covers have gotten similarly unimaginative — compare Last Orders‘ with that of books four and five, Two Fronts and Coup d’Etat. Even the titles have gotten tedious; the Timeline-191 WW2 books sported titles like The Center Cannot Hold, In at the Death, and so on. That series at least acknowledged the implications of its ending — but there’s nary a word here despite the fact that England is being run by the military at this point and Europe is still buzzing with fascists despite the peace. Last Orders is frustratingly “OK”.
If you want the book’s big spoiler, either click here or think….valkyrie.