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Literature / The Big One

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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.

Stuart Slade was prompted to write the story as a result of his frustration with the "Erwin Rommel and Nazi uberweapons conquer the world" cliche 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 three prequels. The sequels are Anvil of Necessity, The Great Game, Crusade!, 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 misjudgments (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 first prequel,A Mighty Endeavor is set in the UK and India in the year immediately after the June 19, 1940 Armistice and shows the problems the Commonwealth faced in carrying on the war without the UK. . The second prequel, Kazan Thunderbolts is set on the Volga Front in 1943 and tells the story of the first American units arriving in Russia and dealing with the realities of e Russian Front. 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.

There are also two parallel collections, each of five short novellas called Conrad's Eye and Conrad's Other Eye . These novellas are detective stories that also look at some of the social issues of the TBOverse.

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 WWII, 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 LeMay in the planning process (LeMay being the leading proponent of nuclear alpha strikes). Still, it's a debatable point of operational doctrine.
  • Alternate History: Britain dropped out of World War II, leaving the US and Germany as the two big players.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: Subverted with the Targeteers/Daimones. While they themselves are ancient, with at least one over 2000 years old, they've only been influencing world events for a hundred years or so. And even then, their efforts are by no means united towards some common goal besides general global stability. Plus, they don't all see eye-to-eye on many issues—it's implied that they only reason they're working together during World War II is because of the threat posed by Nazi Germany.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 0—Germany gets nuked into oblivion.
  • Atomic Hate: Germany is pulverized by a massive nuclear attack at the end of World War II, involving 200 bombs (the titular "Big One"). This has the effect of normalizing the use of nuclear bombs afterwards as simply "really big bombs", no worse than any other weapon of war.
  • 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.
  • Black Comedy: A B-36 is named "Peace on Earth", and the vehicle itself is called "Peacemaker". They're nuclear bombers.
  • Bond One-Liner: In Winter Warriors, Admiral Halsey's report to Washington after the Battle of the Orkneys:
    Sighted German Navy. Sank same.
  • Boring Yet Practical: Some things critical to the war efforts are transport ships and planes to bring materiel to the frontline, fuel, spare parts, radio interception equipment, and even sunglasses (to deal with the glare of sunlight on snow).
  • 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".
    • Pretty much every one of the Daimones are fairly odd people, usually owing to most of them having been born some time ago. However, each one of them is most likely the best in the world at their chosen field of expertise, simply due to the fact that they have centuries, if not millennia of experience at it.
  • 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.
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: Inverted, thanks to For Want Of A Nail. Thanks to Halifax signing the armistice with Germany prior to (even if only by a few weeks) France's defeat, it's the British that get the reputation for surrendering, complete with the trope becoming 'Milk Drinking Surrender Monkeys'.
  • 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.
  • Complexity Addiction: The Germans commanders have this bad, often coming up with overly-complicated schemes that blow up in their faces. Best showcased in Kazan Thunderbolts: In order to seize a Russian-held island on the Volga River, the German command plans to sneak an SS platoon across the river at night for a surprise attack, except the SS Commander decides to add his own twist to the plan by using the German spy ring in the Kazan railway yard to divert ammunition supplies so that the wrong ammo gets delivered to the island so that the Russians will run out mid fight. Only for the American gunboat crew making the delivery to double-check their cargo and discover the wrong ammunition, which leads to both the Russians and Americans going in expecting an attack. Not only does this cause the attack itself to fail, but Russian Counter-Intelligence are able to backtrace the mis-routed ammunition and round up the entire spy ring, which also happened to be the only way the Germans were getting warning of American bombing runs. Oops.
  • 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.
    • A few characters (mostly German soldiers) postulate that the U.S. military as a whole is this, considering that their methodology is basically "destroy the enemy as quickly and efficiently as possible with as few losses as possible so we can go home."
  • Cool Plane: The series focuses largely on the B-36 Peacemaker, which was a real life one of these, being the biggest bomber ever built. Plenty of other planes that were either never built or cancelled when they were only in the prototype phase also get their chance to shine in this series, such as the Republic P-72 "Thunderstorm" and the North American B-70 Valkyrie.
  • Death World: The state of post-war Germany. Most of the country is uninhabitable thanks to lingering radiation, almost all the lakes and rivers are heavily contaminated, and even the "safe" areas are filled with isolated pockets of radiation that are deadly to anyone who gets too close.
  • 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, Germans in America didn't have it very much better. 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.
  • Easy Logistics: Not a chance. Fuel, guns, ammunition, tanks, ships, planes, and much else plus spare parts are fundamental for the war effort, and in the novels set during World War II the ability to bring them to the front lines and prevent the enemy from doing the same are plot points.
  • End of an Era: A running theme throughout the books set in WWII is the end of the European nations as the great powers of the world. Beginning in A Mighty Endeavor with the dissolution of the British Empire following Halifax's coup (the various Dominions and Colonies taking the questionable legitimacy of Halifax's new government as an excuse to strike out on their own). By the end of the war, all of Europe has been devastated by years of German occupation and exploitation, and Germany itself has been wiped off the map by The Big One. Post-war, Europe is little more than a foot-note in global events.
  • 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".
  • Epic Fail: The USS Timmermann firing five torpedoes to scuttle the Shiloh: two sink upon hitting the water due the motor failing to start, one sinks after a while, one hit the target but is a dud, and one has a gyroscope failure and nearly hits a cruiser. Apparently, American torpedoes were infamously unreliable, but this was incredible even for that. And yet, it really happened.
    • Winter Warriors gives us the German Z-23-type destroyers. Built during the war, they have five 15.5cm guns, three in single mounts and two in a twin mount placed at the fore of the ship. During their first sortie in the Atlantic, the Z-24 dug her bow in, something ships do all the time in agitated waters... And, due the excessive weight of the twin mount, the bow broke apart and sunk the ship in less than twenty seconds. The design fault in question is genuine.
  • The Federation: The Commonwealth of Nations, made up of the various British Dominions, Colonies and Territories that cut ties with England after Halifax took power.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: The U.S. and Russia, thanks to the collapse of the Stalin regime during the German attack on Moscow and a major U.S. military presence on the Russian front. Kazan Thunderbolts and Winter Warriors in particular have this as their major theme.
  • Idiot Ball: In Crusade, Robert McNamara—or rather, McNorman—and Ramsey Chalk issue a set of Rules of Engagement to the U.S. 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.
    • The designers of the Z-23-type destroyer appeared in Winter Warrior. Against the objections of experienced sailors, they armed the ships with five 15.5cm guns in place of the usual four 12.7cm guns, and put two in a twin mount on the bow. As expected by the sailors, the excessive weight and the fore twin mount gave the ship poor ability in handling the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. In reality, these ships had constant structural problems and later ships had the twin turret replaced by a single shielded mount.
    • Also from Winter Warriors, the Finnish government. At the time they had an informal agreement with the US that, as long as they stayed in place and didn't actually take part to the German war effort anymore, their peace terms at the end of the war would have been simply a return to the 1940 borders with no reparations to be paid. They sent their troops to take part to the German offensive against the Kola peninsula, and once that was crushed and the Russians were seething for revenge (their most generous terms were that Finland would have to give up 30% of their territory and pay 600,000,000 dollars in reparations in five years, assuming Finland surrendered immediately. New terms would get progressively worse) the Finnish government was still willing to launch another attack. At least until the first low-altitude fire raid of the B-29s burned out large areas of Helsinki as a warning.
  • In Spite of a Nail: 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.
    • 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 improvised 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.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: The Japanese pull a preemptive at the end of A Mighty Endeavor, deciding to scrap their planned Winter 1941 offensive (which would include the attack on Pearl Harbor), thanks the fact that pretty much the entirety of Southeast Asia (notably, India, Australia and Singapore) have been heavily reinforced by American equipment ordered by Britain but never delivered. Then, the most effective Japanese division in Indochina gets defeated by a US-backed Thailand in a battle that sees both sides taking hideous losses.
  • 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.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The dependence of the U.S. post-WWII 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.
  • 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.
  • Nuclear Weapons Taboo: Averted in-universe; not only does World War II end with more than 200 nukes being dropped on Germany, as mentioned above, but the United States continues to use nuclear weapons later on in the series (for example, against the Caliphate in Crusade)
  • 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.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: An extremely dark case. During The Big One, the mayor of Solingen (who speaks English) tries to radio an approaching B-36, begging them to spare the city. Their reply? "Wir sprechen Deutsch nicht."note 
  • Russian Guy Suffers Most: Played with, though ultimately Inverted. While the Russians loose much more ground initially (the Germans manage to push all the way to the Volga River), they also get much more support from the U.S. (see Fire-Forged Friends above) and ultimately, Russian losses are not significantly worse than in OTL. On the flip-side, because they are fighting on the Russian front for nearly five years straight, American losses are much higher then they were in OTL.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The fate of the German High Seas Fleet in Winter Warriors. Not only are they practically wiped out by carrier airstrikes before even getting in range of the U.S. fleet, it turns out that even if they had somehow survived the attack, the U.S. fleet's Battleline (Battleships, Cruisers, etc.) outnumbered them two to one, meaning they still wouldn't have stood a chance.
  • Straw Characters: McNorman 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.
  • Sliding Scale of Alternate History Plausibility: Mostly Type II, edging into Type III territory with the Magical Realism aspects.
  • Space Plane: By the 21st century, the United States's bomber fleet is comprised of high-altitude spaceplanes developed from the Dyna-Soar project of the 1960s.
  • Stupid Evil: The Germans early in the war, particularly the SS, have a tendency to take unnecessarily cruel actions against both the Russians and Americans, such as shooting down parachuting airplane crews, executing them on the ground, and in one case, massacring over 400 American POWs, all of which comes back to bite them when the Allies respond in kind. The crowning achievement though has to be one U-Boat deciding to machine-gun the survivors of a torpedoed Coast Guard Cutter, ensuring that no U-Boat gets any mercy from the U.S. and Coalition Navies.
    • In Winter Warriors some Finn troops massacre all medical personnel and patients of a Commonwealth field hospital, something not even the SS would do out of sheer practicality (more medical personnel is always appreciated, and as killing their patients would only enrage them it's better to let them heal the current patients and then move the patients to a prison camp and replace them with their own wounded). All they obtain are harsh peace terms from Russia (that will only get worse with time), the Commonwealth troops massacring every Finn they can find even against orders (the brass wanted prisoners to find out why they had done something so stupid), and the Americans firebombing Helsinki.
  • 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.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: 200 nuclear bombs dropped on Germany on the same day. Twelve alone on Berlin.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: The Thai Ambassador loves cheesecake.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: A variation with Halifax's coup to depose Churchill. Halifax himself is largely shown to be not so much evil as he is grossly misguided and incompetent, believing that Nazi Germany can simply be appeased and negotiated with.
  • War Is Hell: If you want to know what it's like to be trapped inside a burning ship, strafed by fighter-bombers, close to ground zero of a nuclear weapon, or dealing with other little facts of war, The Big One and its sequels and prequels 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.