The War That Came Early: The Big Switch

Written by Harry Turtledove
Review by Adelaida Lower

In the third volume of the alternate history series The War That Came Early, Harry Turtledove brings us to 1940. The Spanish Civil War is deadlocked. The Russians have lost Vladivostok to the Japanese, and in Western Europe, the French and English are driving back the Germans and their Polish allies. As in the previous two volumes, Turtledove moves across many settings. His cast of characters include: Luc Harcourt, a French soldier; Julius Lemp, a German U-boat captain; Sergeant Hideki Fujita, a Japanese soldier guarding a POW camp; veteran Welshman Alistair Walsh, and Sarah Goldman, a Jewish adolescent struggling to survive. From a claustrophobic, foul-smelling U-boat, Turtledove jumps into the cockpit of a fighter, slides into a panzer with a scared crew, or wanders into a death camp where starving Soviet prisoners are labeled ‘logs.’ Turtledove has been called “The Master of Alternate History” for good reason. At no point does the reader wander away.

A word of advice: if you are one of those fussy devotees of single-point-of-view novels, stay away from the series. More’s the pity. I love the multi-character aspect of these books. It endows the story with an epic sweep, which fits the grand theme. Turtledove writes with devil-may-care grit and pitch perfect tone, again perfect for the subject. The characters do blend – that is true. But what emerges from the common hopes and aspirations of soldiers across war fronts, what surfaces above the political and ideological struggles and prejudices, is an orchestral composition, a world at war. Little by little, Turtledove continues to change the history of World War II. At the end of volume three, the results are ominous. I have no clue where he is heading. But, boy oh boy, I am ready to follow.