Book Review: 'WorldWar: In the Balance'
“Worldwar: In the Balance” is the start of a World War 2 alternate history series by Turtledove. In the middle of World War 2, reptilian aliens show up and try to dominate the Earth … and find that humans don’t just roll over to invaders as planned.
What are the pros and cons of this alternate history book?
Pros of World War: In the Balance
- The book has excellent personal development without spending too much time on any character. Part of this is because the book was intended to be the start of a series.
- You see actual World War 2 guerilla tactics used against invading aliens.
- The historical characters and places described in the book are well researched from Molotov to the Greenbriar hotel.
- The mindsets of many humans are totally believable, such as being wary of allying with the Nazis even after agreeing they have to fight together to take out the aliens.
- The little details that reveal subtle deprivations are telling, such as being glad you have an ice box instead of a new-fangled fridge because the power is often going out, though that only works as long as the ice man has ice.
- Some people will cheer the Jews of Poland rising up and, in this fictional work, surviving the Nazi Holocaust. Conversely, the aliens are written as so modern human in their sensibilities that while they have few qualms nuking cities, they are horrified by Treblinka.
- Nazi Berlin gets nuked. That’s worth at least one star.
- Winston Churchill makes an appearance. Even Dr. Who has included him in several episodes because he's such an engaging, impassioned character.
Cons of World War: In the Balance
- The invading aliens are written like the stereotypical evil villain down to mocking laughter (and these aren’t human villains) and biting sarcasm. They repeatedly make statements like “we’ll help them now but we don’t have to honor any agreement” which reminds me of the Firefly line “they’ll curse our sudden but inevitable betrayal”
- The humanized aliens have euphemisms that are clearly rip offs of humans, such as “turning tailstump” instead of “turning tail” while running away, “obvious to even a still wet hatchling” instead of “even a baby could understand it” and “as easy as a female in season” instead of easy as shooting fix in a barrel.
- Stilted, clunky alien dialogue, even when it isn’t trope villain monologue types.
- The aliens have a divine emperor and use it as a God, blessing and curse. Lazy, easy, and trope writing. Praise the Emperor, he’s dead and with the emperors, the aliens are so primitive they don’t know the emperor’s name.
- Good Lord, the predatory aliens give in to the “you can mass murder people but don’t you dare kill the dog” trope.
- Way too much time is spent describing how people look, as if to establish the period in the piece.
- An alien species that conquered two others is irrationally assuming that another intelligent species must be “crazy” or “irrational”. Yes there are human political factions that call each other stupid, ignorant or crazy to de-legitimize them, but advanced aliens should be able to rationalize it as “according to this species thought patterns/behavior”.
These advanced aliens are so bureaucratic it is regulation down to how to hide under one’s seat in a disaster. This would have seemed impossible until seeing the sheer number and complexity of US and EU regulations since 2000 punishing people for selling fish too fresh, hundreds of regulations on the packaging of toothpaste and “if there isn’t a rule, it isn’t allowed” instead of the traditional inverse being the case.
The book heavily relies on the classic tropes that humans are so good because they are adaptable, creative, and innovative. Another trope it uses is where the aliens are a few centuries advanced from us, using technology just far enough ahead that they are hard to beat but not impossibly so.
I give “World War: In the Balance” by Harry Turtledove two stars. If he hadn't made the aliens such clunky and stereotypical villains, it would have rated higher.
© 2016 Tamara Wilhite