Weapons of Choice
by John Birmingham
Del Rey, 2004, ISBN 0-7394-4602-9
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
It’s January 2021, and an international task force headed up by the USS Hillary Clinton (a George Bush class supercarrier), is off Indonesia, responding to a political crisis caused by the overthrow of the legitimate government and its replacement by the extremist Caliphate. Because of the haste with which the task force was thrown together, they’ve got with them a research ship that had to come along with its protective escort—no time and no spare forces available to send it off to a safer distance. While the rest of the task force waits and prepares for action, the scientists continue their experiments—which, contrary to the official story, do not involve sea floor mapping. Something goes horribly wrong, and major pieces of the task force find themselves someplace else, surrounded by unfamiliar ships behaving in a hostile manner. It’s now 1942, and the unfamiliar ships turn out to be very familiar, once the naval history buffs recover enough to identify them. It’s the US fleet steaming toward Midway. Unfortunately, the two fleets do major damage to each other before the 21st century officers realize they’re all ostensibly friendlies, and then manage to convey that message convincingly to the 1942 Americans.
Conveying this message convincingly is somewhat hampered by the fact that they’ve got a Japanese ship with them, as well as some German officers. And of course life is further complicated by the racially mixed crew, and the fact that both women and blacks are well-represented among the officers. But with major damage to both fleets, including the fact that some of the 21st century task force apparently didn’t make the trip successfully, they have to learn to work together if they’re going to prevent a disaster at Midway.
It’s extremely well-done, fast-paced and exciting. The characters, from Admiral Phillip Kolhammer on the Hillary Clinton, down to Able Seaman Slim Jim Davidson, on the USS Astoria, are mostly well-rounded and convincing (although some of the 1942 British officers do seem to have been cobbled together out of left-over cardboard. Birmingham, by the way, is Australian.) And mostly the history seems correct, up to the point where it starts changing, and if any of the military details are wrong, I’m not knowledgable enough to catch them. There is one minor error, though, demonstrating why it’s dangerous for British and Australian writers to assume that America is as much like their homes as the language sometimes suggests: At one point, Birmingham has two of his 1940s American enlisted seamen, Moose Molloy and Slim Jim Davidson, talking about American “Girl Guides.” While it’s perfectly correct that the organization was originally founded as “Girl Guides of America” in 1912, they changed their name to “Girl Scouts of America” in 1913. Moose and Slim Jim would never have heard the name “Girl Guides,” much less used it in casual conversation. This is such an obscure bit of information that googling “Girl Guides of America” takes you to the Wikipedia article that explains this in its first few sentences: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girl_Scouts_of_the_USA This does give me some concerning, wondering what other details he missed that may be glaring to someone else.
Nevertheless, it’s a fun book and I recommend it.