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Literature / The Proteus Operation

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Nineteen thirty-nine, Harry! That's the next mission! We're going back to the world of 1939!

The Proteus Operation is a 1985 Time Travel / Alternate History book by James P. Hogan. The year is 1975, and America, Canada, and Australia are the foremost surviving free countries. The rest of the world fell to the Axis powers in World War II, after the Germans devastated Moscow with a nuclear bomb.

The Japanese Empire is pressuring President John F. Kennedy to cede Hawaii to them, isolating Australia. The President has promised "No more surrenders", but everyone knows this will lead to a war the US cannot win.

A possible solution has been found. It has been discovered that the Nazis were aided by time-travelers from the future; perhaps this America can send people back to prevent this disaster in the first place. A crack team of scientists and commandos go back to save the present by fixing the past.

The book provides examples of:

  • Alternate History: Two of them: the original pre-intervention timeline, where WWII never happened, and the modified one where Hitler was given atomic weaponry. The resulting timeline after the second intervention is apparently ours.
  • Alternate-History Nazi Victory: The 1975 timeline is the aftermath of this.
  • Big Damn Heroes:
    • Harry and the squad liberating Fritsch and his niece just as Bruno and his people were threatening to abuse her as leverage on Fritsch.
    • Winslade, Anna, and Adamson arrive at Hammerhead from Pipe Organ in 2025 just in time to save Harry and the rest of the squad.
  • Code Name: In addition to the Code Name Title, there are several other military code names. The team setting up the gate in New York is Sugar, while the team working with Churchill in England is King. The German gate is Hammerhead, which connects to Pipe Organ in 2025.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Winslade's Big Damn Heroes moment, above. The team from 2025 just happened to arrive at the right instant to save the squad, despite not knowing they were there and a 200:1 time ratio.
  • Cut Phone Lines: As part of the attack on Bruno's house.
  • Day of the Jackboot: Inverted: uptime characters in London boggle at all the buildings that were Nazi headquarters in their time, but are still British.
  • Evil Is Petty: It's strongly implied that Hildegarde is transferred away just because Piekenbrock is annoyed at Boeckel for not being discreet enough about his relationship with her.
  • Fascist, but Inefficient: Repeatedly commented on that the Nazi system is both inefficient and unable to create new things. Research into how the Nazis of the 1975 timeline got a nuclear bomb shows that their researchers were floundering, and then suddenly there was a bomb.
  • Godwin's Law of Time Travel: Intervention by hostile time-travelers let Hitler win in the first place.
  • Historical Domain Character: Lots. In addition to the political leaders at the time like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Neville Chamberlain, and Winston Churchill, many important scientists like Enrico Fermi show up. One key insight comes when Albert Einstein finds a short story written by a neighborhood teenager named Isaac Asimov...
  • I Am One of Those, Too: A character undercover on a train in Nazi Germany claims to be an archaeologist. Another passenger says he, too, is an archaeologist, and starts talking about their field. The undercover character throws him off by making it clear his archaeology was only to prove the superiority of the Aryan Germans.
  • Make Wrong What Once Went Right: The goal of the hostile time-travelers: have Hitler take over the world for them.
  • Meanwhile In The Past: Justified. The connection between timelines is difficult to establish, time doesn't move at the same rate between them, and reconnecting to an 'earlier' time will cause a new branch. So, once the American gate connects, there is 'simultaneous' action going on in 1940 and in 2025.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: From the heroes' side; their attack on Bruno's house, liberating a German who (unbeknownst to them) was a Nazi spy, led to the Germans finding out about their unit.
  • My Future Self and Me: Kurt and Winslade, who both originally came from the good future.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: The main plot. Doomed to failure, in a way, because time-travel is based on the many-worlds theory. The protagonists could never save Kennedy's America because their arrival created a new universe.
  • Sexy Secretary: Hildegarde. When it becomes too obvious that she is carrying on with Lieutenant Colonel Boeckel, she gets reassigned.
  • Stupid Jetpack Hitler: Hitler could have never won without help from uptime.
  • Temporal Mutability: Branching Timelines-style. The past can't be changed, but a new universe where it was can be created. The people in the old timeline are still stuck, unless they travel to the new one.
  • Time Dilation: A similar effect causes the Year Inside, Hour Outside issue, and the initial connection problems in the attempt to talk to 1975.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The "a plan you know the details of will fail spectacularly" version. The attack on Hammerhead goes wrong in almost every way possible, from their equipment not making it on-site to the SS realizing where they are attacking just as they arrive.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The last three chapters cover what happened to everybody; the epilogue itself is more My Future Self and Me as Harry goes to his old neighborhood to hear if the version of himself in this timeline had been born; he had.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Time flows at different rates between 'uptime' (the future) and 'downtime' (the past).
  • Young Future Famous People: Isaac Asimov is a teenager who wants to be a writer.