Thoughts on “Coup d’État”, Book 4 of “The War That Came Early”

In “Coup d’État”, we deal with the implications of “The Big Switch”:

Which, for the most part, is to return to roughly the status quo, in a rather odd way.

A group of people in Britain — including one of our viewpoint characters — believe that the government deliberately killed Churchill, dislike siding with the Nazis, and dislike how authoritarian the country seems be becoming (although we don’t get to see much of that directly other than when the viewpoint character is arrested for sedition). They decide that the normal means of opposing the government won’t work, and so scheme to overthrow the government. The scheme is ultimately successful, and they pull out of the war in Russia promising an election to let the people decide what they want to do. I’m about half-way or so through the next book, and the decision seems to be to keep fighting Germany. This has some implications in the next book, but ultimately all that comes of “The Big Switch” is a return to the status quo: Britain and France fighting Germany in the West, Russia fighting Germany in the East, and Japan and the United States going after each other.

This return to an only slightly different version of WWII wastes a good idea, in my opinion. Like in “Joe Steele”, the work is hampered by not tinkering too much with the sequence of events of WWII, despite there being reasons to think that there might be. Once Britain and France decide that Communism is the bigger threat, we have a reason for their actions and the potential for a dramatic change from how WWII played out. This potential is completely squandered by essentially resetting everything.

And it would have been so easy to do things differently. Consider that before WWII one the hallmarks of French politics was the fact that its governments tended to be unstable, as they went through a number of governments in a surprisingly short amount of time (I remember a scene in “The World at War” where Germany makes a key move … and France, again, didn’t have a government at the time). Instead of having Britain flip and take France with it, have France flip and take Britain with them. Then have the French government get replaced with one that’s anti-Nazi. After all, it makes more sense that there’d be the sharp polarization in France since it had been swarmed over by the Germans for some time, and so it’s more likely that you’d get an anti-German movement than it is in Britain. Once you have the French turn, then this has nasty consequences for Britain. Do they turn again, or do they stay on the side of the Germans? Or do they rather just decide “Screw them all” and withdraw completely into neutrality, focusing on the moves Japan is making in Asia? Since Hitler had been trying to get Britain to be neutral for most of the war, he’d likely let them be if they made that move, and so you’d end up with Britain coming to the aid of the United States in Asia, using their Navy to do so, which is an interesting reversal. It also has consequences for Africa, as Hitler wouldn’t want Italy messing up Britain’s neutrality by pushing them out of Egypt … yet, at least. But Mussolini wanted some successes so that he could get a seat at the conference table. Where does he go? Spain, where in this series the Spanish Civil War is still on-going? Does he have to get involved in Russia, or France? There are a lot of different scenarios here, and a lot of factors to consider.

Ultimately, the work remains disappointing as alternate history. However, the characters are still enjoyable and the plot moves well. And while Turtledove does indeed often kill off characters that we’ve come to like, he manages it better than, say, Martin does in his “Song of Ice and Fire” series, mainly because he gives us related and equally interesting characters to focus on (but if he ends up changing to Baatz in that section, I think I’ll be very, very annoyed [grin]). So, so far, it’s an interesting book series, but not the alternate history I was hoping for.

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