This is my first John Birmingham book. I accidentally stumbled upon it, and once I read the first page, I cannot put it down.
Why? Is it that good? No. But because the background of the story is about my country Indonesia. The year is 2021, not so far from our current time. An American led (yeah, ho hum) multinational force is positioned near East Timor, just outside Indonesia’s territory. They are preparing to overthrown the Jihad rebellion who just won the civil war, by retaking Jakarta. Yes, Indonesia has become the next Taliban, in 2021. Maybe it is too far fetch, but still I find the story interesting.
The Background: Indonesian legitimate government (President and loyal staff) is seeking refuge in Geneva. Indonesian Armed Force (TNI) had been divided, some are supporting the Jihad. And the last standing force, protecting the legitimate government, is-yeah-the Marines (Marinir TNI-AL). I believe that the author has done his homework. He used to work as researcher in US Defense Department, and he knows the role played by Marines during 1998 Jakarta riot. Marines was the only effective armed force at that time, the other: army, police, were just disappeared!
And the story goes, the multinational force, accompanied by two of Indonesian frigates, KRI Sutanto and KRI Nuku (yes, the author is using KRI as the term), which are refitted frigates bought from East Germany during Habibie’s term as president (yes, he said that), which are a part of national armed force still loyal with the government.
Everything is ready, until something goes wrong. One ship, which is a research vessel is conducting a top secret science experiment, accidentally creates a worm hole which transports the entire fleet backward in time, to 1942, in the middle of Midway naval battle, creating huge confusion in the Allied fleet. The multinational force from the future, is destined to change the history of World War II. Will history repeats itself, or will it change forever?
Well, interesting, right? There are lots of characters, and some of them are historical figures, such as Roosevelt, MacArthur, Churchill, Hitler, Yamamoto, even Einstein. There are also a lot of tension because of the “clash of culture”, between the future American, and the old American. The author is also quite accurate in depicting Indonesian culture. The naval officer is hoarding pirated movie and music in his ship, for long period on-board entertainment! He also makes reference to clove cigaret, and rice cake wrapped with banana leaf (or lontong)!
Those are the strong parts, now the weak parts. Birmingham seems undecided about whether he will make this novel a “lesser history”, such as Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, as historical account of the foot soldier, or a “major history” such as The Second World War, as the account of generals. By mixing them, he is loosing the focus.
There are also too many point of view characters. By doing that, each characters only has small portion, therefore the character development is sacrificed. You cannot have a deep sympathy for the character, such as in Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest or A Game of Thrones.
The story also looses the steam in the middle, only to catch up near the end. Birmingham is genuine in creating the social tension caused by the “Transition”. But he just failed to blend the tension in the story; it felt like a nuisance instead of strengthening the story line.
Final verdict: 3.5/5. Potential to be a 4 star, actually. Just not enough.