Trapped in a tobacco commercial

Jeroen Steenbeeke  
Posted
It is a well known fact that most books I read are fantasy books (divided about 60/40 between epic and urban fantasy). I also read quite a bit of Science Fiction, though not quite as much as I did when I was a kid. A genre I have picked up more recently (that means: since my early twenties), is Alternative History. I got introduced to this genre while browsing Wikipedia for something World War 2 related, through which I ended up at the World War series by Harry Turtledove.

I've read a lot of his books since then. After finishing the eight books in the "Tosev Timeline" (as the Worldwar and Colonization books are often referred to), I went on to read the "Timeline 191" series, where the South wins the American Civil War in 1862. I've also read the first two "Crosstime Traffic" books, and more recently I found out about his new series: The War that Came early.
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While the main premise of the series is the Second World War starting a year early, the actual historical diverging point is in 1936, where José Sanjurjo does not die in a plane crash. While the consequences of this change are not immediately apparent, it leads to a changed attitude for Adolf Hitler, who decides to declare war upon´┐ŻCzechoslovakia in 1938, causing England and France to declare war to him in turn. There are a number of interesting consequences, none of which I'll elaborate on to avoid spoilers.

All in all, I felt that Harry Turtledove once again had a good basis for an interesting piece of alternative history. But in spite of this, this series isn't all that good. While many interesting scenarios do get explored, the decisions made by the various powers don't really make all that much sense, especially around the third novel. In addition to this, the personal development of the various characters is shallow at best, with the exception of those who aren't actually in combat. And the dialogue is simply atrocious. Basically, about 90% of the conversations are soldiers complaining how bad their tobacco is.

Yes, I know that more people smoked in the 1930s and 1940s than they do today. And yes, I know that soldiers love to complain about things when they're not busy getting shot at. But does it matter to the story? We know from various other characters that a war is taxing, and that quality that is taken for granted quickly degrades as a war progresses. But how do all these mundane complaints contribute to the story? They don't, which is why all of it feels like filler text.

As a non-smoker with a serious dislike of everything related to tobacco, do I really want to be reading this? It feels like I'm trapped in a tobacco commercial rather than reading a good book. And the worst thing is: Harry Turtledove doesn't need to write filler crap like this. He's written plenty of good novels that had much more depth without constantly having soldiers complain about their smokes. I'll finish this series mostly because I want to know how it ends, but I wouldn't recommend this series to anyone. If you want to read a much better Alternative History novel (by the same author), go read In the balance or The Guns of the South.

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