06 April 2009

Japan Didn't Know When to Quit - Review of 1945: A Novel

1945: A Novel 1945:_A_Novel by Robert Conroy

My review rating: 2 of 5 stars


My wife mocks my reading of Harry Turtledove because it's so far from literature. To her, the flat characters and forced plots pull her out of the story to often to enjoy the ideas or just the ride. Conroy shows me much more of what that must feel like for her.

In a lot of ways, I don't blame the othor for most of the problems in this book - I blame the editor. It's the editor's job to point out when the author swaps point-of-view in the middle of a conversation. It's the editor's job to put in this extra line breaks between shifts of focus and to try and balance the chapters to some form of consistency. It's the editor's job to cut unneccassary referrence to future events (a bomber called "the Polish Pope"?). I really feel like the editor said "It's alt-history, who cares if it's badly edited, these morons will read anything."

So am I a moron for reading it?

The idea that Japan would fail to surrender after the triple-blow of two nuclear bombs and a declaration of war from the Soviet Union seemed like a stretch to me when I first picked up this book. I was not aware of the Kyujo Incident, an attempted coup to prevent Emperor Hirohito's surrender to the Allies. With a successful Kyujo Incident as his point of departure, Conroy spins a believeable history right up until his characters become a bit too involved. Then we get a deus ex-machina (or emperor ex-helicopter, as the case may be) ending that leaves reader scrathing their heads feeling a bit as if they've been robbed.

Nope, Conroy is not my new Turtledove. More's the pity.

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01 April 2009

Monty's Folly: Review of "A Bridge Too Far"

A Bridge Too Far A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This account of Operation Market-Garden is considered a classic for a reason. This a pretty comprehensive take on what probably the most complex combined-arms operation of the Second World War. The narrative is well organized, covering all three airborne divisions' actions, leading armored units of Montgomery's 2nd Army, the German forces that opposed them, and the Dutch civilians caught in-between. Even with all this information, the writing is very accessible.

Operation Market-Garden itself was an amazingly complex and ambitious undertaking. German High Command initially discounted reports of massive airborne landings on the Nijmegen-Arnhem corridor because they never expected such an audacious move from the otherwise conservative Montgomery. "A Bridge Too Far" makes the argument that the operation was doomed from the start, mostly due to its complexity and lack of proper intelligence.

Beyond the complexity and intel problems, the communications breakdown, especially with the British First Airborne in Arnhem, ensured that this division would not be able fulfill its objectives. The final collapse in that area including the delayed drop of the Polish Parachute Brigade was a particularly harrowing read.

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