Andy's Anachronisms - Time Travel Book Reviews

Weapons of Choice
John Birmingham
© 2004


The year is 2021 and a modern day multi-national flotilla of warships is steaming towards Indonesia under the command of Admiral Phillip Kolhammer and his flag ship the U.S.S. Hilary Clinton. The task force is responding to a radical uprising of a Muslim caliph which has declared a jihad on the West and threatening interests in Indonesia. A DPRA scientific research vessel the Nagoya operating off the coast of Australia finds itself a reluctant participant in the task force when its military escort is attached to the battle group. Undeterred by the growing threat of war, the scientific crew of the Nagoya forges ahead with its teleportation experiments aimed at developing a new weapons delivery system. A critical failure of an experiment causes a warping of space-time catapulting the fleet back to 1942 South Pacific and in the middle of the US fleet en route to the Battle of Midway.

Before anyone has a chance to comprehend what has happened an unprecedented friendly-fire fiasco occurs that leaves both the 1942 fleet decimated and the contemporary superior forces badly wounded. Adding insult to injury one of the lesser technologically advanced ships of the task force falls into the hands of the Japanese. The Axis powers gain a technological boost as a result of the capture and signals that the rules of engagement are about to drastically change in World War II.


What sounds like a simplistic, if almost hokey premise on paper becomes much more when masterfully handled by author John Birmingham. The first novel of a planned trilogy, Weapons of Choice, sets the tone with strong writing, decent pacing and engaging characters. Birmingham starts off by painting a picture of a near future whose timeline can easily be traced from our own and contains enough cultural/pop touchstones that it rings true. In addition to the U.S.S. Hilary Clinton, there is other such touches including a 30-something Prince Harry serving in the Royal Navy.

Weapons of Choice is a satisfying blend of time travel and alternate history and leverages the best both genres have to offer. Many straight alternate histories rely on the readers’ existing knowledge of the historical events to be able to recognize and appreciate the differences or divergent points. By incorporating time travel into the story, not only does Birmingham create his own divergent point, but also gives the reader contemporary narrators to explain some of the history and place it in context.

I also appreciated that Birmingham chose not to make his technologically superior time travelers virtually invincible. As we see in the opening battle they are every bit as vulnerable as their 1942 counterparts.

Where the novel really shines is in the characters and the simmering conflict between the two generations and their very different social and moral attitudes. In a World War II setting where the segregation of races is a matter of fact and a woman’s place is literally in the home, the thoroughly modern mixing of races and gender in a combat role is more shocking and threatening than any weapon. Separated from their own time, the multi-national force does its best to avoid antagonizing their hosts, but the powers that be are quickly deciding how best to seize control of the assets and relieve ‘unfit’ personnel (i.e. women, blacks, and alien nationals) from the ships and replace them with their own men. With the Nagoya destroyed and no way home in sight, the task forces remaining officers left to deal with such critical issues.

A thoroughly enjoyable read, it's clear that Birmingham is having too much fun taking jabs at writer's of both the techno-thriller and alternate history genre. More than once Harry Turtledove's alien lizards from the Worldwar Series are mentioned in passing and a minor character by the last name of CLANCY makes an appearance. I am looking forward to the second novel in the series, Designated Targets: a Novel of the Axis of Time, which was published in October 2005 in paperback.

R E L A T E D   L I N K S

John Birmingham - Duffy and Snellgrove Publishers

One of the first John Birmingham sites that comes up with a GOOGLE search, this is NOT the author's personal site but rather that of his Australian publisher of his earlier satrical work He Died With A Felafel In His Hand and The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco. With no mention of Birmingham's the AXIS OF TIME triliogy or Weapons of Choice specifically, it forces you to to do a double take and wondering if its even the same author.

Cheeseburger Gothic

John Birmingham's personal blog Cheeseburger Gothic with links to several of his publishers and his own sports column.

Review Posted: 2006-03-19

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