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Literature / Axis of Time

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A trilogy of Alternate History novels by John Birmingham about a Multinational Task Force from 2021 sent to oust an Indonesian Islamofascist movement getting sent by Negative Space Wedgie to 1942, just off the coast of Midway, where the bulk of the fleet accidentally ends up in the company of Admiral Raymond Ames Spruance's task force. A massive naval battle breaks out when Spruance's task force sees one Japanese ship accompanying the fleet, believing them all to be Imperial Japanese, but the fighting is eventually halted and the future fleet is brought to anchor in Pearl Harbor where the Up-timers explain themselves to various contemporary military and government officials. Culture shock ensues and the war finds itself irrevocably changed.


Meanwhile, small contingents of the fleet unfortunately find themselves in German, Japanese, and Soviet hands, and all parties go to work gearing up and changing their battle plans based on their new knowledge of the future.

Birmingham is now continuing the story with a series of novellas called Stalin's Hammer.

The Character Sheet could use some love.

Tropes include:

  • Affably Evil: Otto Skorzeny. Big, boisterous man who likes boasting and roaring a lot. Scares Brasch to death with his brand of friendliness (which mostly consists of boasting and roaring) and even banters with the Prince during a failed assassination attempt on Churchill.
  • Alternate History: The most important seafaring vessel is the USS Hillary Clinton, named after the assassinated president. Plausible in 2004, when the first book was published; not so plausible in the wake of Clinton's defeat in the 2016 election.
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  • Ancient Conspiracy: Admiral Kolhammer and the other uptimers more or less start one, the Quiet Room, intending to "correct" history in the post-war world
  • Armor Is Useless: For the German and Japanese warships targeted by 21st century weaponry. Tirpitz almost looks as if it's survived a hypersonic missile. It breaks up afterward though. Inverted in the case of the reactive-matrix body armor of the Task Force—it saves plenty of lives from Axis bullets, unless they're hit in the face or throat, which is rare.
  • Artistic License – History: Although author's research on the subject is very thorough, the series does occasionally veer into this area.
    • Lt. Ali Moertopo, the first mate of the Indonesian corvette KRI Sutanto mentions that their president bought thirty-nine such ships some time ago. In reality, Parchim-class corvette's entire batch was twenty-eight units (twelve ships built in USSR and sixteen ships built in GDR — the latter ones were indeed sold later to Indonesia).
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    • American fleet en route to Midway is less numerous than it was in real world history. After XXI century fleet stumbled upon them, captain of uptimer stealth destroyer noticed that their radar had picked twenty-four unidentified vessels, including four cruisers (USS Astoria, USS New Orleans, USS Minneapolis and USS Portland) and a few supply ships. In reality, Task Force 16 and Task Force 17 had combined strength of thirty ships, including eight cruisers — of those, USS Vincennes, USS Pensacola, USS Northampton and USS Atlanta are absent in the book.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: When the modern task force is sent back to 1942, several crew members have seizures, and Col. Lonesome Jones is seen clearing the airway of a man who's swallowed his tongue. In real life, both neurologists and epileptics know that you can't swallow your tongue in a seizure. In fact, sticking your hands or an object in someone's mouth to protect their tongue is liable to cause more damage.
  • Artistic License – Military: Right after the Multinational Force gets sent back in time, one of the contemporary ships, spotting a Japanese flag, believes them to be hostile and opens fire. It's mentioned the crew noted the flag was "different from the Rising Sun, but the red circle on a field of white was unmistakable". While the State of Japan has changed their flag, the Japanese Navy continues using the Rising Sun and thus should not have been flying anything different from Imperial Japanese ships in 1942.
  • Asshole Victim: J. Edgar Hoover. He eventually commits suicide.
  • Black Comedy Rape: One of the temps, James "Slim Jim" Davidson, a fence for the mafia, comes across a tablet with an extremely stupid gangster rap song called "Rape the Bitch Now". His bemused, enraged, and racist reaction is darkly humorous.
    • An SAS member shoots a Japanese officer in the act (literally with his pants down) during an operation to save an imprisoned Australian town.
  • Blood Knight: General Patton and many of the more extreme Japanese characters.
  • Butt-Monkey: J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI. He deserves it.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: The reason the Havoc spares the Japanese Ohka carrier.
  • Colonel Badass: Colonel (later Brigadier General) J. "Lonesome" Jones.
    • Although not a Colonel, or even in the Army or Marines, Admiral Phillip J. Kolhammer is no pushover either.
  • Cool Ship: All of the future ships are one of these, but standing out are the USS Hillary Clinton or "Big Hill" and the stealth ship HMS Trident. The Australian submarine HMAS Havoc sinks a large chunk of the Japanese fleet in the first novel and finishes the job by the end of the third, all without being detected.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Whenever the 21st century task force decides to take off the gloves and goes on a full-scale offensive against the past forces—notable examples include the first book's assault on the Japanese-held Philippines, the counteroffensive in Australia, most of the naval combat, and the bombing after D-Day that utterly destroys twelve of Germany's best armored divisions.
    • The Japanese also get this during the Battle of Okhotsk, where the kamikaze squadrons (using the new rocket-powered Ohkas) completely obliterate the newly-built Soviet Pacific fleet.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: After capturing Jisaku Hidaka, who's responsible for killing nearly 90% of the population of Hawaii, Kolhammer and Jones discuss what to do about him. Both really want to Sanction 5 him (a truly monstrous way of execution uniquely designed for a person), but Kolhammer convinces Jones to hand him over to the 'temps to stand trial. They do, however, have a female marine do a Sanction 3 on him (a brutal beat-down) before giving him to Spruance. Later, Spruance asks about Hidaka's injuries. Kolhammer calmly says that Hidaka fell. Jones adds that he fell a lot. Naturally, Spruance is unconvinced but lets it slide. When Jones asks why Kolhammer lied, Kolhammer points out that Hidaka did fall a lot... as he was being beaten. Had Spruance directly asked him if Hidaka was sanctioned, then Kolhammer would tell him the truth, but Sprunace didn't want to know the answer. Oh, and Hidaka himself said the same thing when asked, embarassed at his dishonorable capture (he was taken captive while masturbating) and a beatdown by a woman.
  • Defector from Decadence: Colonel/Major General Paul Brasch is horrified to learn about the Holocaust when analyzing history documents aboard one of the captured future vessels, especially since his son has a cleft palate and was born deaf, and will be an easy target for the T4 program. his child and wife escape thanks to an allied spy's effort. In response, he sabotages much of Germany's efforts to build new weapons based on the future tech.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The cause of a lot of tension between the racially and gender-egalitarian 2021 military and their 1940's counterparts. For starters, a fight breaks out on board a future ship and contemporary ship that ended up fused together via Negative Space Wedgie when, in the aftermath of a firefight, a female medic slaps one of the contemporary crew members when he indirectly asks for blood that doesn't come from a non-white person (a disproportionate number of the future ship's crew are either black or Chinese-American).
  • Designated Girl Fight: In Stalin's Hammer, two temp women with uptimer combat training engage in a fight. Subverted in that there isn't any stereotypical hair-pulling or scratching. The fight is brutal, precise, and deadly. The American woman comes out on top, killing the Stasi woman.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Almost everyone who dies does so suddenly and anti-climactically - if not off screen.
    • Otto Skorzeny is an especially notable one—Prince Harry off-handedly mentions strangling him to death in one sentence near the end of Final Impact, which we see in Stalin's Hammer: Cairo. Despite Harry brushing it off, it was actually a close fight that could have ended either way.
    • Dan Black dies in a plane crash before Final Impact, after breaking up with Julia and returning to active duty. The ending of Stalin's Hammer: Paris leaves Julia wondering if he's still alive, though.
  • Ethical Slut: Julia Duffy is one in Final Impact after breaking up with Dan Black, who later dies in a plane crash. Of course, not every guy is happy about her no-attachment rule. Also subverted when she sleeps with John F. Kennedy while still officially married to Dan Black. By Stalin's Hammer, she's in a steady relationship with Harry Windsor, although she playfully reminds him what happened the last time a member of the British Royal Family hooked up with an American woman, referring to Harry's great-great uncle Edward VIII.
  • Fiction 500: By Stalin's Hammer, "Slim Jim" Davidson is the wealthiest man in the world, having had the foresight to study future knowledge in order to capitalize on it before everyone else. In this reality, he's a mix of Bill Gates and Elon Musk, with his various ventures being at the bleeding edge of technology. His personal goal is asteroid mining, although the technology is still decades away from that (well, that, and getting a blowjob from every woman out there).
  • French Jerk: Subverted and played straight—the captured French missile frigate puts up a major resistance against the Nazis, wiping data and sabotaging what they can get their hands on, and all of them but four die for it—and the one actively collaborating is a racist, ultranationalist, insubordinate, sloppy disgrace of a sailor who wants to avert America's rise to power, blaming them for the Islamic riots and terrorist attacks in France. The other two are implied to be neo-Nazis. The last sailor says he's getting revenge for his sister, who was raped and murdered by two US Marines, except that's a lie. His sister's alive and married to J. Lonesome Jones. He sabotages almost the rest of the missiles for the strike on Hawai'i, but fails to get the last few and blows the racist's head off before Hidaka guns him down.
  • General Failure: Hitler is in top form here as per real life. It's not that everything he touches turns to shit, but he's playing Armchair General and tends to work off of bad hunches and incorrect assumptions.
    • Thanks to future data, he has also eliminated many capable commanders, including Rommel.
  • Giant Wall of Watery Doom: The USS Amanda L Garrett gets sunk by a huge wave in the Southern Ocean shortly after the Transition, while the crew is still knocked out by the effects. Truth in Television, rogue waves do exist and can appear without warning.
  • Good Is Not Nice: The doctrine of the 21st century force has been honed by years of wars against terrorists and rogue states into one of complete and utter pragmatism, and their operating rules allow torture and call for summary executions of war criminals. It's enough to make Himmler think "and they call us the war criminals" and to get an occasional What the Hell, Hero? from their allies.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: An alternate future version of Prince Harry who travels back in time to a point where his grandmother is a teenager. This Harry is extremely mature and excels in leadership. He's also not married to Meghan Markle, but there's no way the author could have known that.
  • Historical In-Joke/Allohistorical Allusion: The 2021 fleet's flagship is the fusion-powered supercarrier USS Hillary Clinton, whose "murdered namesake" (assassinated) was "America's fiercest wartime President".
  • Hope Spot: The Germans (and the Japanese) keep on believing they'll be getting their atomic bomb any time and that they just have to hold out a little longer. It doesn't happen.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Hoover resorts to more and more of this as his standing erodes away, as does the French Jerk who helps the Japanese attack Hawai'i. The latter reasons that America's politicking and crusading against Muslims flooded France with ultraconservative jihadi in retaliation, never mind that France has had a long, long history of abusing muslims themselves. He is stated to be wrong as hell.
  • Insistent Terminology: In Stalin's Hammer, Harry is insistent that people stop referring to him as "Your Highness", pointing out that an act of Parliament removed him from the succession line in 1949. He usually prefers a simple "Harry".
  • It's Raining Men: The German Fallschirmjager and a new airborne SS unit take part in Operation Sea Dragon as paratroopers and glider troops. It doesn't end well for them. Later, the Allies subvert this trope by launching a major airborne offensive in France—with helicopters, like a modern army.
  • I Want My Jetpack: Year 2021 has come and gone, and widespread use of weaponized lasers, futuristic pulse rifles, fusion warheads, holographic displays, cybernetics, artificial intelligence or any other technological wonders that UN PRO FLEET brought with them to World War Two era is still nowhere near in sight.
  • Jerkass: One of the racist privates, and Detective Sergeant Lou 'Buster' Cherry from the first novel.
  • Karmic Death: Heinrich Himmler remembers the importance of the T4 Program meant for the extermination of the physically and mentally disabled when he smothers a vegetative Hitler with a pillow.
  • Kill Sat: Stalin's Hammer starts with an orbital kinetic bombardment weapon system being tested by the Soviets... in 1953. This is a counter to the West's superior nuke production. The fact that Soviet factories are cranking out thousands of tungsten rods to be used for the weapon system implies that a whole network of these is in development. Additionally, the USSR has also launched a number of anti-sat satellites, designed to destroy Western spy satellites. As it turns out, Kolhammer's people have secretly turned "Slim Jim" Davidson's satellite networks into secret anti-sat satellites.
  • La Résistance: The French Resistance helps out Prince Harry during the rescue of Paul Brasch. A few of the Russian uptimers also try get one going against the Soviet Union in the second book, but no word on its progress in Book 3. In Stalin's Hammer, The Mafia gets in on the action, leading the underground resistance against the Soviet occupation of a part of Rome. They are shown working together with Ivanov, the uptimer Spetsnaz officer working to undermine Stalin's regime.
  • The Lad-ette: Julia Duffy and many of the other 21st century women come across like this to the 'temps. Even Julia comments on it, thinking she must look like a "bull dyke from Hell" to their eyes.
  • Lady of War: Captain Karen Halabi and Julia Duffy.
  • Left Hanging: The author has abandoned the series after three books, leaving a lot of plot points unresolved. It's not clear if he will ever return to it.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters
  • Ludicrous Gibs: Anyone hit with a caseless ceramic round is dead, even if it's a non-vital area. The round is designed to burst into sharp pieces upon contact with flesh, showering the vicinity with small red pieces of what used to be a person. Also results in many cases of Your Head Asplode.
  • Mook Horror Show: When the Japanese get Tank Rushed in Australia or the Germans get bombed in oblivion in France, or when the Soviet troops try to speed their way past German nerve gas.
  • Nicknaming the Enemy: In Stalin's Hammer, the Brits use the nickname "Smedlov" for any member of Beria's NKVD.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Quite a few 'temps comment on the field executions of Japanese personnel and burying procedures mirroring the Japanese's own methods.
  • Nuke 'em: Final Impact ends with Lodz and Tokyo nuked by the Russians and Berlin by the Americans.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: The various al-Nouris in Stalin's Hammer. They all behave in a stereotypical "dumb and friendly Middle Eastern official" manner, but Julia isn't fooled for a moment, seeing keen minds and plenty of experience behind this facade.
  • Oh, Crap!: The reaction of both the Allies and the Axis when the Soviets come back into the war with a MASSIVE arsenal.
  • Politically Correct History: ...No.
  • Portal Cut: The HMS Fearless is at the very edge of the expanded wormhole and gets cut in half by the Transition. Its boilers blow up a few minutes later when all that seawater rushes in. The explosion itself is not strong enough to destroy the ship, but it ignites ammo storage not far from there, which in turn ignites missile magazine, which in turn ignites propellant gas tanks, which in turn... well, it's easy to guess what happens.
  • Product Placement: While the original trilogy tends to avoid this, with only a few Real Life brands being mentioned (such as the Metal Storm weapons systems), the follow-up novellas are chock-full of brand-names, even pointing out the superiority of iPads to various cheaper Android tablets (well, their futuristic, flexible versions).
  • Rape as Drama: Any time the Imperial Japanese and prisoners get mixed up.
  • Red Baron: Captain Karen Halabi, which the Kriegsmarine call her "The Black Widow", or "The Black Widowmaker".
  • Ret-Gone: What happens to the ship that caused the accident, the JRV Nagoya? —it's simply... wiped out of both realities.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Prince Harry has re-joined the military (he served in Afghanistan in 2001) in the 2020s as per King William's (his brother) instructions. After traveling to the 1940s, he personally starts the SAS 7 years earlier than in our history and trains all the commandos using modern (21st century) tactics. At the end of the trilogy, he off-handedly mentions to have strangled Otto Skorzeny. Partly subverted in Stalin's Hammer, where Harry is still active in the intelligence community during this reality's version of the Cold War, but he's no longer in the succession line due to an act of Parliament.
  • Scavenger World: Sort-of. Ten years after the end of the war, very little of the original "uptimer" tech is still in its original condition. Most has been taken apart for reverse-engineering, resulting in a lot of "augmented" tech, which is better than regular 50's tech but not quite up to 21st century standards. Uptimer techs have become adept at figuring out ways of repairing damage or malfunctions using parts scavenged from other pieces of tech (e.g. swapping out a broken touchscreen from one phone with one from a different model).
  • Schizo Tech: A major result of the Transition. World War II tech, tech that was obsolete in World War II but still used, "napkinwaffe" actually being brought into service, upgraded World War II tech, tech straight from the 50s or 60s being built ahead of time, tech straight out of the 2020s, and ad hoc mixtures of all of the above all clash in the same war.
    • Part of that has to do with the 'temp generals fighting tooth and nail against any "modernization", including making assault rifles standard-issue.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Julia Duffy, who's only a war correspondent but handles herself in combat to the point of scaring some contemporary soldiers.
  • Shout-Out:
  • State Sec: Beria's NKVD plays a big part in Stalin's Hammer.
  • Suicide Attack: The Japanese, as in our timeline, go heavy on the kamikaze aircraft and are also mentioned as using suicide submarines against ships. However, thanks to the arrival of future technology, they are able to perfect the Ohka, a far more effective jet-propelled suicide aircraft. The Ohkas get a rare (for kamikazes, who are generally portrayed as crazy idiots) Sympathetic P.O.V. when they totally destroy the Russian invasion fleet and later the Soviet atomic weapons research facility. Earlier, in Designated Targets, it's shown how futile these are against Metal Storm turrets.
    • Interestingly, when the Japanese first board the Indonesian ship Sutanto, Commander Hidaka reads a news report about terrorist suicide bombings in 2021. He assumes the article is about kamikaze-like attacks, not a guy strapping himself with C4, and is bewildered why someone would crash their airplane into a target rather than simply bomb it. After a Beat, he admits that a desperate person might just do it.
    • This is Truth in Television — in 1942, Japanese still considered ramming your aircraft into enemy ship as a last resort and a mean of Taking You with Me when your machine is too damaged for you to fight anyway. Therefore, a Japanese officer of that time would indeed think that doing this as a standard method of attack is utterly wasteful. In final years of war, however, when most of their experienced pilots had already been killed in combat, hastily recruited rookies were no longer a match for American aviators and their aircraft had turned obsolete by that point, mass kamikaze attacks suddenly became viable solution where normal tactics were failing.
  • Superweapon Surprise: No one expected the Soviets to drop the Bomb first. The Germans' mass deployment of nerve gas and anthrax against them also came as a shock.
    • Reversed with the nuclear weapons. While the Soviets are the first to drop the bomb, it is revealed that the Americans had already had one for months, and were waiting for the Soviets to show their nuclear hand first. In the time it takes for the Soviets to build four to five bombs, the Americans have constructed a dozen.
    • In Stalin's Hammer, the USSR has Kill Sats that obliterate the forward defensive NATO positions before moving in with the ground troops and other satellites that blow up Western spy sats. In response, "Slim Jim" Davidson's lawyer (secretly working for Kolhammer) activates the secret secondary mode of Davidson's satellites, which proceed to wipe out most of the Soviet Kill Sats.
  • Take That!: Himmler wonders how this "Microsoft" could possibly (have) become the pre-eminent software supplier when their product is so annoying and buggy.
  • Technology Porn: All the descriptions and exposition of the 2021 group, ranging from their chameleon-skinned half-liquid full body armor, "thermopliable" uniforms that keep the wearer cool, even in a scorching, humid jungle, remote-controlled non-explosive torpedoes that intercept other torpedoes and smash into enemy boats, the assault rifle that fires caseless rounds that explode in razor-sharp fragments when hitting organic targets, and AIs.
  • Tele-Frag: The USS Leyte Gulf from 2021 gets "spliced" at an angle with the USS Astoria by the Transition. Many are killed on both sides by merging with bulkheads, walls, and even people. Two crewmembers from these ships merge at the hip and beat each other to death in a pain-induced frenzy.
  • Temporal Sickness: As a direct result of Transition, most of XXI century fleet crew members lose their consciousness and those who either retain or regain it suffer from severe nausea, debilitation and disorientation. This contributes greatly to a disaster when they suddenly find themselves under Friendly Fire from American fleet en route to Midway and rely on their artificial intelligence systems to take control and combat the perceived threat — resulting in most of Task Force 16 and Task Force 17 wiped out.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: When a panzer army is sent to counterattack against the landings in Calais, the Allies bomb it so thoroughly that it leaves the ground scorched black like a cartoon for miles and miles, and there is nothing left of it.
  • Tyke Bomb:
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Zig-Zagged, Heinrich Himmler executes several loyal subordinates who edited historical records of his betraying Hitler to the Allies in the last days of the war and made it look like he died fighting in the streets of Berlin because they'd still know what the original records said. He isn't very proud of doing it though.
  • Urban Segregation: Similar to the Real Life Berlin Wall, Rome is split between the Western side and the Soviet side. You can guess which one is nicer (and safer) to live in.
  • Villainous BSoD: Hitler, after a long period of mental and physical decline as Germany's fortunes wane, collapses and suffers a disabling stroke upon hearing the Soviets have used nuclear weapons against Germany.
  • War Is Hell
  • Warrior Poet: Masaharu Homma, known as the Poet General.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Split. Lieutenant Lohrey from the Australian submarine submachineguns a bunch of Chinese prisoners who were escaping torpedoed Japanese transports. At the time, the prisoners were threatening to swamp a PT boat on a critical mission, and the Lieutenant's actions didn't bother the uptimers at all. The 'temps on the scene and later MacArthur and some of the other 1940s-era higher ups are outraged.
    • It should surprise no one who the captain of the PT was. Yep!
  • Wicked Cultured: Admiral Hidaka has studied in the States before, at Stanford and Harvard.
  • Won the War, Lost the Peace: At the end of the war, the Soviets have taken over much more of Europe than they did in real life, and the Cold War has started years earlier, much better armed and better prepared. Even worse, it is flat-out stated that Stalin is no longer merely unreasonably paranoid, but flat out insane.
  • World War III: With Stalin determined to avoid the mistakes of the past (e.g. a prolonged Cold War), it seems inevitable that it will inevitably happen. The Cold War goes hot near the end of Stalin's Hammer, although it's not nuclear year.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: After the HMAS Havoc lets a Japanese kamikaze-carrier live, allowing it to destroy a Soviet A-bomb facility, the sub quickly sinks the carrier, after receiving a message about the ceasefire. Also a case of removing witnesses, as the sub lingers to make sure there are no survivors.