Weapons of Choice, by John Birmingham

It is 2021. A multinational force gathers near East Timor ready to go war against the revolutionary Caliphate. The elected government of Indonesia has been overthrown and the Caliphate has claimed control not just of that country, but of the whole region including Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and even northern Australia. The multinational force, made up ships and personnel from the US, England, Australia, Japan, Russia and Indonesia, plans to overthrow the Caliphate.

In the midst of the force, however, is a research vessel conducting top secret experiments. One of these experiments is about to change everything – for those present and for the whole world.

Suddenly the force is thrust back by the power of this experiment into the past. Back in 1942 an allied force is en route to Midway to take on the Japanese. When large unfamiliar ships suddenly appear in their midst they attack. The two forces battle furiously until the eventual realisation that they are fighting forces from the same side, albeit in vastly different conflicts. Before this realisation, however, thousands have died -from both forces.

The ensuing events are stunning. With the 1940s force severely depleted by the clash, the visitors from the future must help them. In the meantime, one of the Indonesian ships has fallen into Japanese hands. The knowledge and weaponry which has made the trip back through time should be a valuable asset in the war, but history as the time-travellers know it is rapidly being rewritten by their very presence.

Whilst the plot of this story is fascinating, the real focus is on the implications of the time travel, which gives Birmingham an opportunity to contrast society now (or in the near future, anyway) and then. Much of the conflict and discomfort between the two allied forces comes from societal differences. The futuristic force has women, blacks and even gay people as serving officers. The 1940s servicemen have to deal with being asked to embrace societal values of equality decades ahead of the time these changes would have happened. Birmingham provides an opportunity for the reader to observe the best and worst of both contemporary society and the past.

This is a big book – over 520 pages – and is full of action. What it does lack perhaps is a strong central character to bind the action together. There are several characters around which various plots and subplots revolve, but some do seem to appear and disappear. This is by no means a major pitfall, but for some readers will be a little disarming.

Weapons of Choice: World War 2.1 is a gripping read.

Weapons of Choice: World War 2.1, by John Birmingham
Pan Macmillan, 2004