Book Review: Bombs Away by Harry Turtledove

Posted August 24, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 2 Comments

Book Review: Bombs Away by Harry Turtledove

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Bombs Away Genres: Science Fiction, Alternative History
Published by Del Rey Books on July 14, 2015
Pages: 449
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley

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In his acclaimed novels of alternate history, Harry Turtledove has scrutinized the twisted soul of the twentieth century, from the forces that set World War I in motion to the rise of fascism in the decades that followed. Now, this masterly storyteller turns his eyes to the aftermath of World War II and asks: In an era of nuclear posturing, what if the Cold War had suddenly turned hot?

Bombs Away begins with President Harry Truman in desperate consultation with General Douglas MacArthur, whose control of the ground war in Korea has slipped disastrously away. MacArthur recognizes a stark reality: The U.S. military has been cut to the bone after victory over the Nazis—while China and the USSR have built up their forces. The only way to stop the Communist surge into the Korean Peninsula and save thousands of American lives is through a nuclear attack. MacArthur advocates a strike on Chinese targets in Manchuria. In actual history, Truman rejected his general’s advice; here, he does not. The miscalculation turns into a disaster when Truman fails to foresee Russia’s reaction.

Almost instantly, Stalin strikes U.S. allies in Europe and Great Britain. As the shock waves settle, the two superpowers are caught in a horrifying face-off. Will they attack each other directly with nuclear weapons? What countries will be caught in between?

The fateful global drama plays out through the experiences of ordinary people—from a British barmaid to a Ukrainian war veteran to a desperate American soldier alone behind enemy lines in Korea. For them, as well as Truman, Mao, and Stalin, the whole world has become a battleground. Strategic strikes lead to massive movements of ground troops. Cities are destroyed, economies ravaged. And on a planet under siege, the sounds and sights of nuclear bombs become a grim harbinger of a new reality: the struggle to survive man’s greatest madness.

First in The Hot War alternate history science fiction series and revolving around the Korean War.

This ARC was sent to me by NetGalley and Del Rey for an honest review.

My Take

What IF the war was going so badly for the UN troops in Korea that Truman decided to drop multiple atomic bombs on cities in China that were providing men and supplies to the North Koreans?

What IF Stalin does decide to come to the aid of his “allies”?

And the Americans are caught with their pants down and fast asleep?

Oooee, Turtledove does not like MacArthur! I don’t know much about MacArthur or the truth of his actions in either World War II or Korea, but if those actions were anything like the generals of World War I, I wouldn’t blame Truman for being pissy.

The bombings in the United States could probably have been lessened if people hadn’t been so complacent. Just like the 9/11 bombers who got through, our intelligence community screwed up as much as the military did. How could they not think that Stalin would retaliate? If they didn’t think he would, why wouldn’t they take extra precautions? Just for the fun of it? It’s just too bad that the enhanced bombs don’t do anything like what Truman or MacArthur expected. They’d have been better off with regular bombing runs. They could’ve got the Lubyanka anyway and spared those lovely onion domes.

“Einstein … was supposed to have said, that he didn’t know what the weapons of World War III would be like, but that he did know … [they would fight World War IV with rocks].”

I loved the tone Turtledove set in this. I knew I was reading this on a Kindle, but it felt as though I were reading a 1950s paperback with those fragile yellowy pages and the smell of an old book, all through the words and the burbly 1950s setting he created back in the U.S. Turtledove has the language, the culture, the fashion, and the mores down pat. It’s a lovely complement to his switching back and forth between the cozy domestic homelife of Americans with Vasili’s struggles in Manchuria, Daisy’s worries in Fakenham, Ihor’s inner thoughts in the Ukraine, and those of the soldiers and families in Germany.

Turtledove brings to life what survival means in a refugee camp, what war does to a conscientious man’s psyche. He also provides insight into one good reason for smoking, lol. It made me wonder if it was war that made smoking so very popular. I have to admit, it was weird reading a story in which so many people are lighting up for a smoke.

It is a complex cast of characters, but one well used to provide us with a round of domestic and martial views on both sides of this war. Marina and Aaron provide the look-in at the domestic American side of life with Marina and her daughter representing the American refugees and Aaron the softer side of survival in the U.S. Daisy represents the English struggles with life after World War II. Ihor and Vasili provide that same peek at the Russian and Chinese domestic life with Vasili’s delving deeper into life after an A-bomb attack as one of the few Russians in a Chinese-dominant enemy city. Curtis and Bill show us the American martial side in Korea while the rest of the men cover both the German and Russian/allies side.

There certainly isn’t any love lost for the Russian government. With good reason. They did then, and still do, take what they can get from their citizens and those subject to the Soviet Union. Not caring how or if those people survive.

“Nice of the Russians to give us the chance to die for their country.”

There’s a complexity to Bombs Away, a fearsomeness. Those Germans in the American Zone are thrilled to be there as opposed to being in the Russian one, but it doesn’t mean they like the Amis, the Americans. The fighting Russians also remember how the German army treated its people during World War II, and it adds an extra impetus now as they battle their way across Germany. But as much as they hate the Germans, they hate their own government as well, for they well understand how awful Stalin is. It did crack me up “listening” to the Russian soldiers and their allies re-interpret the slogans they have to spout.

“What were innocent children doing playing in a park in the middle of a nighttime air raid?”

As for the fear, this whole story is too possible. It feels so real! Cade’s escape across Korea, the soldiers’ reactions and fears on all fronts, Vasili’s problems in Harbin. But what’s bad is how Turtledove leaves us, desperate to find out what’s left.

There’s a beautifully Christian act in this one. One that makes Cade Curtis reflect on the lack of true Christianity back home. It’s both sad and funny that the Christians Cade meets up with use Latin to communicate with him.

It’s also an interesting look at bigotry. Hard to believe that intelligent people did (and do) think this way.

I do wish Turtledove had used some kind of text separator between the various groups.

“He would have to keep turning the pages of his life to discover [the answer].”

The Story

It didn’t matter that the enemy was so poorly equipped: They had the men to spend, and their generals were willing to splurge. It only seemed practical to drop a few A-bombs to distract the Chinese.

Only Stalin didn’t ignore the challenge to his allies, and he retaliates with his own A-bombs.

The Characters


Lefty didn’t make it out of the Choisin Reservoir. Lieutenant Cade Curtis did and is now a first lieutenant with a company of his own. Staff Sergeant Lou Klein could run it better. Sergeant Bernie O’Higgins is in charge of the guns. Major Jeff Walpole is the battalion commander.

Pusan is…
…where First Lieutenant Bill Staley is a co-pilot on a B-29 with Major Hank McCutcheon as the pilot. The rest of the crew includes Sergeant Hyman Ginsberg on the radio, Roger Williamson as navigator , and Steve Bauer. Brigadier General Matt Harrison is the base commander.

Douglas MacArthur is in charge of the Korean War. Colonel Linebarger is a psy-ops man whose family is high-up — Sun Yat-sen was his godfather.

United States

Everett, Washington, is…
…where the Staleys live. Marian Staley is Bill’s wife; they have a daughter, Linda. Fayvl Tabakman is a cobbler and a concentration camp survivor.

Camp Nowhere for Washington survivors is…
…officially Seattle-Everett Refugee Encampment Number Three. Fayvl’s friends include Yitzkhak and Moishe. Daniel Philip Jaspers is a teenager who tried to rob Marian’s car.

Bill Devin is the mayor of Seattle.

Glendale, California, is…
…where Aaron Finch lives and delivers washing machines for Blue Front, which is owned by Herschel Weissman. He’d tried to join the army, but they’d refused him for being nearsighted and too old, so he joined the merchant marine instead. It still didn’t make him eligible for postwar benefits. Ruth is his wife, and they have a son, Leon. Martin is his well-to-do brother married to Sarah, a Phi Beta Kappa who has faded under Martin’s shadow. Olivia is Martin’s thirteen-year-old daughter. Caesar is their vicious German shepherd. Roxane Bauman is Ruth’s first cousin married to an unsuccessful actor, Howard Bauman. They’re both pinkos.

Finch will capture one of the ejecting Russian pilots, Lieutenant Yuri Svechin, a navigator. Lieutenant Colonel Del Shanahan is with Air Force Intelligence.

Jim Summers is Aaron’s lazy partner. Elizabeth and Krikor Kasparian raise chickens and sell their eggs. Quite a lucrative business in a bomb-torn city.

Harry Truman is the U.S. president. Fred is an aide. Stephen Early replaced his former press secretary, Charlie Ross. Then Early is replaced by Joseph Short. George Marshall is the secretary of defense. Rose Conway is Truman’s personal secretary. General Groves had ramrodded the Manhattan Project through.


Konrad Adenauer leads the Federal Republic of Germany.

Fulda is…
…a city in the American Zone. Gustav Hozzel had fought in World War II on the Eastern Front. Now he fights the nightmares alongside his wife, Luisa. He now works for his old commander, Max Bachman, who owns a print shop. Willi Stoiber is the Burgomeister. Horst is the grocer. The aggressive Rolf was with the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler and the Waffen-SS during WWII. He still fights like a homicidal maniac.

Meiningen is…
…on the American-Russian border. Sergeant Konstantin Morozov is a tank commander in the Red Army. Mikhail “Misha” Kayanov is the driver, Pavel Gryzlov is the gunner, and Mogamed Safarli is the loader. Comrade Captain Oleg Gurevich is the company commander. Yevgeny Ushakov will be the replacement driver. Corporal Igor Pechnikov‘s father made brick stoves. Captain Arkady Lapshin is handing out tanks and assigns Morozov a new crew: Juris Eigims, Gennady Kalyakin, and Vazgen Sarkisyan.

The Hungarian People’s Army squad squad has…
Sergeant Gergely in command and includes Privates Tibor Nagy, Isztvan Szolovits is a Jew who proves himself to Gergely, Gyula Pusztai is as stupid as a bull, Ferenc‘s family went up in Szekesfehervar, and Andras Orban.

Admiral Horthy had tried to escape the German conflict once he saw what it was doing to his country. Too bad he didn’t consider this when he first courted the Nazis in his zeal to recover lost Hungarian territory.

Outside Munich is…
…where Gribkov will land his plane next. Colonel Madinov commands the base there. Klement Gottwald will take Asakov’s seat for the Paris attack.


Fakenham is…
…where an air base is located with English and American pilots like American First Lieutenant Bruce McNulty. Daisy Baxter runs the Owl and Unicorn alone since her husband Tom‘s tank blew up at the end of World War II six years ago. Wilf Davies is the one-handed mechanic in town; his father had been the town blacksmith and farrier.


Arnulfo Arias is the president of Panama.


The Russians are known as Ivans. Joe Stalin rules with a very heavy hand. Molotov is a hard nose. Gromyko, a.k.a., Mister Nyet, Grim Grom, is the U.N. ambassador from Russia. Yuri Levitan is the Radio Moscow broadcaster whose replacement is Roman Amfiteatrov. Kuibishev is the alternate capital for the USSR.

…is a base commanded by Colonel Doyarenko until the Americans drop a bomb on it. Boris “Pavlovich” Gribkov pilots a Tu-4, a dead ringer for a B-29. Vladimir “Volodya” Zorin is his co-pilot. Alexander Lavrov is the bombardier. Gennady Gamarnik is the engineer while Leonid “Abramovich” Tsederbaum is the navigator and Andrei Aksakov is on the radio. Colonel Fursenko is the air-defense commander.

Commander Anatoly “Ivanovich” Edzhubov captains the destroyer that picks up the Russian fliers.

Lieutenant Colonel Osip Milyukov is the base commandant outside Leningrad.

Outside Kiev, Ukraine, is…
…the site of one of Stalin’s inefficient farm collectives, a kolkhoz. Former Sergeant Ihor Shevchenko is married to Anya. Nestor was a fine tasty pig. Pyotr. Olga Marchenkova is Volodymyr’s wife. Orest Makhno rode off to see what was left of Kiev. Mykola is their best fixer. Petro Hpochka is the collective leader, er, I mean, kolkhoz chairman. Irina is his wife. Gavrysh Bogdan Stepanovich is married to Elizaveta.

Stepan Bandera and his nationalist band still skulks across the Ukrainian countryside. Vanya and his partner are MGB Chekists “recruiting” for the Motherland.


Harbin is…
…an important city in Manchuria now in the hands of the Communist Chinese. Vasili Yasevich works as a carpenter although his chemist father had taught him to compound drugs. His parents swallowed poison when the NKVD rolled in. Mei Ling is the serving girl Vasili is sweet on.

Commissar Wang is the husband madame wants to keep going. Wu is not someone to trust.

I think rodina means Motherland. A cosmopolite is a polite way to say kike *eye roll*.

The Cover and Title

The cover has a very 1940s feel to it with the silhouette of a bomb and the lightning bolts sizzling out from its point of impact. Speaking of impact, that black background with the worn brown around its edges and the distressed gold of the text is enough to tell me this will be a grim story.

The title is too accurate, for once that first bomb is dropped, it goes on with more Bombs Away as this Cold War goes hot.

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2 responses to “Book Review: Bombs Away by Harry Turtledove

  1. It’s so interesting to see how creative an author gets with an alternate history like this. And that says a lot that it transported you like that. I bet my son would like this book. Great review.

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