If you're wondering why you haven't heard of
The Foresight War, it’s probably because it's the 82, 328th bestseller on
Amazon.ca and 262, 301st bestseller on Amazon.com. I've heard about it because I
stumbled on to the author's website via wikipedia.
There are many ways that counter-factual history can be done. Some of it is
straight up analysis of what the consequences of key events not happening or
happening differently. This can be very scholarly and usually doesn't extrapolate too
far into the future of the changed events, because it gets too hard to figure
things out from there.
Then there is the more sensational style. For example, Harry Turtledove. He
takes his changed event, and goes wild with it. Like if the South won in the US
Civil War, how would WWI and WWII have turned out? He, and others like him,
usually populate their stories with characters of their own creation, not so
much for dictating the events and setting the pace, bar a few here and there,
as to experience them.
From there, is the out to fucking lunch crowd. To call it counter-factual
anything would be misleading. Again, see Harry Turtledove if you're interested.
I kind of put this in the same category as counter-factual history because it can involve history, or historical figures.
This book is a little in between a straight up scholarly analysis, and a
fictional "what if" scenario. If you actually clicked the above link
to the author’s website, you’ll see that the author brings to the table some
fairly specialized knowledge on ammunition and armaments. In writing The
Foresight War he brings that technical knowledge to his interpretation of the
events and how they turn out. Stuff like if the British went into the war with
a semi-automatic rifle instead of the bolt-action Lee-Enfield or if they had
built angled-deck aircraft carriers, or had started designing and building
better tanks in the 30s.
The Foresight War is predicated on several points. That a person, with detailed
knowledge of the Second World War, is transported to 1934 Britain, and has the
means with which to convince the British government that he is indeed from the
future and his advice should be followed. In this case, the means of convincing
the British our protagonist, Don Erlang, is from the future are a wrist watch
and a notebook computer. So how would the Second World War develop if the
British had foreknowledge and the time to right some of their more obvious bad
ideas? Oh and by the way the Nazis also get a throwback of their own to squeeze
Don Erlang, the British throwback from the future, brings this knowledge with
him about what weapons the British should have concentrated on and developed.
In real life most of this happened during the war, several steps behind the
Germans. The author also sticks to the doable. So the British using the Comet
Tank in 1941 not 1945, not the British using the Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank
circa 2004 in 1941. Practically everything he has the British doing is doable
given their technical and industrial base.
The author also brings to the table some of the obvious policy and
decisions that the British should have been making in the 30s to fight
Germans, Japanese and Italians in WWII, as well as some the biggest
that should have been avoided in the actual fighting. The author
demonstrates a real appreciation of what is involved in modern war. Its
less about what would have happened if the British lost the Battle of
Britain, and more about what series of events, policy decisions, and
equipment procurement that could have led to the British losing the
Battle of Britain.
Of course all of this becomes more complicated as
the Germans get their own throwback and what would they do if they knew what
that the British know etc… The first chapter was rather well plotted with the
revelation of the German throwback in, for the author, a typically technical
Again, all of this sticks to realistic. While reading this, I always felt that
Williams had a good feel for the big personalities like Churchill and Hitler.
Hitler shouldn't have invaded the Soviet Union, shouldn't have persecuted the
Slavs in the Soviet Union's satellite states.
But even with a guy from the future telling you Hitler it’s a bad idea, it just
means that Hitler is going to invade Russia better.
Same with Churchill. Most of his biggest mistakes are rectified, but his
Pro-Greek heart still gets him to send British troops to Greece in time
to get kicked out by the Germans.
However, the biggest problem of this book is that while it is a rather
realistic and at times technical appraisal of the "what ifs"
involved, character takes a major backseat. I cannot emphasis how much
character takes a backseat to everything. In the entire book, there isn't even
a physical description of Don Erlang, the main character. Most of the other
characters are walking dictionaries or encyclopedias of information that show
up, divulge their information, and then put themselves on a shelf somewhere
ready for their next paragraph. Much of the book is also fleshed out by anonymous
characters. Where someone like Harry Turtledove would have given such
characters back-story and personality, Williams gives them a job to do as
an anonymous bomber pilot, tank commander, infantryman, marine, submariner,
ship captain etc... who show up, do something and die or live, either way you
never hear from them again. Mostly to show off the new equipment in action that
Don Erlang gets the British to develop.
Another complaint of mine is the names of things. I found the tank names
confusing because there were real world equivalents, even if they had nothing
to do with the equipment described by Williams. I personally would have found
completely different names would have been preferable, like all the tanks names
beginning after D or something.
Another thing that kind of
bothered me, was the Holocaust. I can't seem to recall if Williams
actually addressed the Holocaust and I'm unsure if he ignored it, or
some decision, that I missed, was made to delay it till after the war.
I just don't think any amount of historical foresight would have
dissuaded Hitler from his "Final Solution".
In total, a rather realistic, aside from the obvious, "what if"
scenario of WWII, that clearly shows the author's bias towards the
technical and politcal aspects of his story, as opposed to character.
Probably an interesting read for
the initiated but will definitely be a snore for the average history
layman. Which equates to most of the population of the world.