The Big One
is a 2007 alternate history/speculative fiction novel set in 1947 that depicts the ending of World War Two in a cataclysmic nuclear attack on Nazi Germany. Its basic premise is that an approach by Lord Halifax to the German Government received a favorable response and Halifax was able to engineer a change in government in the UK and bring about an armistice. This is not as outlandish as it might sound, in reality Halifax did make such an approach via Sweden but the Germans ignored it. In the story, the end of British resistance forces the USA to adopt an early war plan AWDP-1 that assumed no foreign bases will be available. The result is that the B-36 bomber gets full production priority (historically, the availability of foreign bases meant that AWDP-1 was abandoned in favor of AWDP-42 that saw the B-36 being deferred for two and a half years in favor of the B-29). Flash forward to 1947 and the B-36 fleet armed with nuclear weapons is ready. The result is a truly terrifying
description of what happens
when a country is subjected to a full-scale nuclear onslaught
was prompted to write the story as a result of his frustration with the "Erwin Rommel
and Nazi uberweapons
conquer the world" meme that dominated the alternative history genre at that time. He points out that the so-called "wunderwaffe
" so beloved by many AH authors, were nothing wonderful at all
. In nearly all cases they actually lagged behind comparable Allied technology. In 1945 for example, the much-vaunted German jets developed barely half the engine power of the allied jets and were far less reliable. The author was also disturbed by the apparent lack of understanding shown by many authors of the terrible power of nuclear weapons and wanted to highlight just how destructive they are. In many ways, The Big One
is a seriously anti-nuclear weapons tract.The Big One
has been followed by six sequels and two prequels. The sequels are Anvil of Necessity
, The Great Game
, Ride of the Valkyries
, Lion Resurgent
and High Frontier
that take the time-line further and explore some of the strategic and political issues raised by the use of nuclear weapons to totally destroy a major country. They also look at what would have happened if the U.S. Eisenhower-era policy of Massive Retaliation had been continued on into the 1960s and beyond. Crusade!
is a rare example of a story where the protagonists stumble into a catastrophe by a series of mistakes and misjudgements (albeit plausible ones) and are left with a disaster on their hands and the knowledge that all they can do is learn from the mistakes. The prequel, Winter Warriors
is set in 1946 and deals with the fighting on the Russian Front and a major naval battle in the North Atlantic. One of the sub-plots introduces the B-36H "Texan Lady" that stars in The Big One
. The other prequel, A Mighty Endeavor
is set in the UK and India in the year immediately after the June 19, 1940 Armistice. There is also a parallel collection of five short novellas called Conrad's Eye
. These novellas are detective stories that also look at some of the social issues of the TB Overse
Tropes used in this series:
- Affably Evil: Goering comes across this way during his brief appearance in The Big One. This, apparently is Truth in Television. Some say this applies to the author as well. The Big One is probably one of the only novels that does not portray Goering as a buffoonish, arrogant, incompetent braggart.
- Allohistorical Allusion: In this verse, Winston Churchill is seen as an exemplary peacetime leader who would have been an indifferent wartime PM. In our timeline, the opposite is true.
- All There in the Manual: The series has its own website, which includes both the official wiki on the series and a forum that deals with the series [and some other Alternate History stories...and some other things as well].
- Alpha Strike: The Big One is the ultimate example of an Alpha Strike; the bombers hit every single target in Germany in a single, massive, coordinated blow. This becomes the SAC operational dogma for the rest of the series. However, it is worth noting that in WW2 the atomic bombs were used as they came off the production lines, not saved for a single massive blow. The difference is explained by differing strategic circumstances and by the dominance of General Le May in the planning process (Le May being the leading proponent of nuclear alpha strikes). Still, it's a debateable point of operational doctrine
- Alternate History
- Apocalypse How: Class 0-Germany gets nuked into oblivion.
- Awesome Personnel Carrier: A prototype APC made by Henschel certainly qualifies. Porsche, on the other hand, invented a nightmarishly impractical piece of junk.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: The series is basically a Deconstruction of the "wish-fulfillment" type of Alternate History: Instead of going "this faction could achieve utopia if they did such and such," the author goes "if this faction does such and such, then what are the consequences?" Often, the answer is a mixed blessing at best, or even downright disadvantageous
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: The Senior Chief aboard USS Shiloh, and later USS Austin, is the kind of NCO that any military unit would be blessed to have. He also has the minor idiosyncrasy of denouncing anyone with whom he disagrees as a "damned DEMOCRAT."
- Character Development: The characters are developed as recognizable, independent people who mature over the course of the novels. There is also a pattern of minor characters in earlier stories being picked up and developing in the same way as later stories flesh out the timeline in question.
- Cold Sniper: Klavdia Efremovna Kalugina. Inspired by the real Russian sniper of that name. Appears in The Great Game and Crusade Friendly when not on duty, very, very cold when on it.
- Companion Cube: The bombers in the series are named by their crews (using the names as call signs) and are mostly treated by their crews as living beings. They talk to their bomber and believe that their bomber talks back. It's never quite clear whether this is actually so or whether the crews simply imagine their aircraft talks to them but the belief and experience are pervasive. In reality, many pilots and aircrew talk to their aircraft and a surprising number believe that, at some level, their aircraft responds.
- Consummate Professional: Curtis E. LeMay is written up this way (and is Truth in Television). Phillip Stuyvesant (aka The Seer) also falls into this category.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Post-WWII America prefers to use nuclear weapons as a first resort instead of a last resort. This forms a major plot point throughout the series.
- Dye or Die: In Winter Warriors it is revealed that anti-German feeling in the United States reached a point during the mid-1940s where blondes dyed their hair brown to avoid being attacked in the streets. This is almost Truth in Television; although anti-Japanese discrimination gets most attention these days, anti-German prejudice did exist and there were instances of people with German names being assaulted or businesses with German names getting their windows broken. Ironically, quite a few of the latter were Jewish-owned.
- Entertainingly Wrong: A common phenomena during scenes set during fighting. Actions which one side considers tactically brilliant turn out to have been mistakes made by the other (such as groups of inbound aircraft going off course and attacking from unexpected angles. Very often, the commanders on both sides believe they are losing battles because they see the damage done to their own forces but not that inflicted on the enemy. This is Truth in Television; it's called the "Other Side of the Hill Syndrome"
- Idiot Ball: In Crusade, Robert Mc Namara . . . Ahem, ''McNorman'' and Ramsey Chalk issue a set of Rules of Engagement to the US Armed Forces, resulting in the first combat loss of a SAC aircraft in the 20 years since The Big One in the form of Marisol (an RB-58), a ground engagement between a Marine unit and Caliphate troops, and a nuclear strike on Caliphate targets. All because they wanted to score some political points.
- In Spite of a Nail: Subverted in that although the United States had all of the same presidents, in the same order although not always for the same number of terms, as in our own history between 1964 and 2008, there are subtle differences in their characters resulting from their different experiences and personal history. The sequence of presidents is radically different up to 1964, then is similar up to 2008, then starts to diverge again. The reason is that the 1964-2008 period is really determined by a broad sweep of history in the 1930s and early-mid 1940s which is relatively untouched by the different course of the war (for example, the Bush family was getting into politics anyway; LBJ was a master manipulator who wanted the Presidency etc).
- In the epilogue to The Big One, it is mentioned that one of NASA's Saturn V rockets burned up on the launch pad, killing three astronauts. It's unclear if it was Apollo I or a later mission, but the coincidence stands.
- Another example of this trope being subverted is that 9-11 happened on schedule, but the reasons, circumstances and who did it are very different. The attack has more in common with the Oklahoma City Bombing than the OTL attack. The argument is that sooner or later somebody was going to come up with the idea of using a hijacked airliner as an improvized missile. The punchline of this particular incident is that it isn't an Arab attack. The novel that will deal with this centers around the conflict between those who jump to the conclusion that it was a Caliphate attack and demand instant retaliation and those who are trying to find out what really happened.
- Lightning Bruiser: The B-36 Peacemaker, with its 230ft wingspan and weighing over 200 tons fully loaded, was one of the largest aircraft ever built and carries the most destructive weapon ever devised by man. It's also shown to fly higher than anything that could easily catch it, fly faster than most other planes period, and is maneuverable enough at high altitude to easily dodge Germany's primitive guided missiles and the few fighters that can come close. It's not as spritely when forced into lower altitudes, though.
- This is also Truth In Novels: historically, the B-36 was capable of out-dogfighting a F-86 Sabre - the jet that mauled the MiG-15 in Korea - at operating altitude!
- Magical Realism: Surprisingly, but not used in such a way that the ultra-realistic take on the Alternate History genre is derailed. The Seer, the Thai Ambassador, and several other characters are revealed to be long-lived humans steering world events, and many SAC bombers, including Texan Lady and Marisol, appear not only to be sentient, but to be capable of human speech with their crews. In reality, many pilots and aircrew talk to their aircraft and a surprising number believe that, at some level, their aircraft responds.
- Make It Look Like an Accident: Gandhi was an obstacle to India's war effort against a possible Japanese attack, and was run over by a car from the Japanese embassy with a drunken driver, right after voicing his opposition to the viceroy. The viceroy is still wondering how the Thai ambassador was able to organize it.
- Misguided Missile: The radio-guided German Wasserfall missiles mostly get jammed by ECM and score zero kills. This is Truth in Television; Wasserfall really was completely useless due to the ease with which its "guidance system" could be jammed.
- Moral Dissonance: The inherent contradiction between a strategic bombing policy and the nature of American society becomes steadily more obvious and less comfortable as the series of novels progresses. In the 1982-era story Lion Resurgent, this reaches a crisis point when the U.S. deters an Argentine attack on Chile by a very overt and specific strategic nuclear threat. Later in the story, the Argentine government is taken down by a popular revolt following a British victory in the Falklands. President Reagan points out that the earlier threatened nuclear strike would have taken out the very people who eventually solved the problem and demands that United States policy be changed to provide a more varied range of responses.
- Nazis with Gnarly Weapons: Another subverted trope; The Big One is set in 1947 when Allied military technology has already moved decisively ahead of that deployed by Nazi Germany. This is historically correct; despite the much-vaunted but completely impractical wunderwaffe German technology was dropping behind the curve from late 1944 onwards
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero; The dependence of the U.S. post WW2 on massive retaliation is historically correct; this was U.S. policy up to the very early 1960s. However, in the TBOverse, this strategy is continued much longer (into the mid-1970s) into a period when it is inappropriate and the resulting limited strategic options are a severe problem for the U.S. Which leads to . . .
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain; It's the events described in Crusade and Ride of the Valkyries that show the U.S. its strategic position has become outdated and it needs to evolve a more flexible posture. That new policy gets its first outing in Lion Resurgent where the U.S. learns it does have to cooperate with other nations.
- No Kill Like Overkill: 200 nuclear bombs dropped on Germany on the same day.
- Nose Art: Many aircraft in the series bear nose art of some kind. Most of the bombers carry pin-ups, and in the first novel a Super-Corsair is seen with a cartoon German being cut up with a chainsaw.
- Oh, Crap: Field Marshal Herrick has the epitome of an Oh Crap moment when he realizes why the American bombers are dispersing to attack targets all over Germany rather than stage a concentrated blow at a single target as had been done in every bombing raid before
- Peace Through Superior Firepower: Very explicitly U.S. policy in the TB Overse from 1947 onwards. Essentially, minor wars and conflicts are permitted as long as they are fought for limited purposes in restricted areas and don't involve bystanders. Breaking those rules means the US ensures the aggressor nation ceases to exist. Depending on one's point of view, this has the U.S. either acting as a global peacemaker or a tyrant. The dichotomy in perceptions is explored in the stories.
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: An extremely dark case. During The Big One, the mayor of one German city (who speaks English) tries to radio an approaching B-36, begging them to spare the city. Their reply? "Wir sprechen Deutsch nicht."note
- Straw Man Political: Mc Norman and Chalk in Crusade. Even if you agree with some of their points, they're so smug and petulant that you can't help but hate them.
- Shown Their Work: Stuart Slade is a professional military analyst and this shows in that he really knows his military equipment and how it gets used. He also knows what doesn't work and why. In reading the novels, some of the performance and technical details sometimes sound contrived or exaggerated but original source material shows his comments and judgement to be accurate.The history and development of the political entities in the books are plausible given the context in which they are taking place.
- Subverted Trope: Multiple examples throughout the six published stories and the initial drafts posted on the internet. A Typical example is The Caliphate which, despite being based on captured Taliban and al Qaeda policy and strategy documents and having its ruling system modeled on the Gulf Cooperation Council (which actually works despite containing members that should be at daggers drawn) is shown to be an unworkable and impractical concept that collapses in less than two decades and is replaced by a much more moderate political entity.
- Superior Firepower: Bombers: One of "the ways not taken" explored by the TBOverse novels is one where the prestige resulting from the bomber fleet ending World War Two (combined with the vulnerability of missiles to interception being convincingly proven) results in bombers retaining the primary strategic attack role rather than surrendering it to intercontinental ballistic missiles.
- Those Two Guys / Those Two Bad Guys: The Kempeitai officers who appear in Ride of the Valkyries.
- Those Wacky Nazis: Subverted utterly.
- Tokyo Rose: A British collaborator one, at that.
- Trademark Favorite Food: The Thai Ambassador loves cheesecake.
- War Is Hell: If you want to know what it's like to be trapped inside a burning ship, strafed by fighter-bombers or close to ground zero of a nuclear weapon, The Big One will tell you. In detail.
- Web Original: The series originally started out on a now-defunct web forum and moved forums on several occasions. It was pulled from the Internet on a story by story basis when it was published in dead-tree form, and is now available for sale.
- Unpublished short stories and first-draft books are available for the most part, though it's become something of a shared universe.