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Literature / The War That Came Early

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Another in a long line of alternate history novels from Harry Turtledove, The War That Came Early features a WWII that never happened. It's 1938. In Spain, Marshal Sanjurjo's Nationalist forces are still struggling against the Republicans, while in Europe Adolf Hitler prepares to send his untested and unready army into action in Czechoslovakia, following the assassination of a Czech Nazi. Britain and France move to protect their Czech ally, even as Josef Stalin's Soviet Union looks hungrily at Poland, and Japanese troops in the Far East prepare to march into Siberia. With America still refusing to enter the war, and Fascist sympathies on the rise in Britain and France, the question of just who is going to end up at war with who becomes anybody's guess.


Books in the series include:

  • Hitler's War
  • West & East
  • The Big Switch
  • Coup D'Etat
  • Two Fronts
  • Last Orders

Tropes featured in this series include:

  • Action Survivor: Most of the main cast, who are civilians or low-ranking combat soldiers just trying to get through the day.
  • Alternate History: And how. Germany wrecks her army invading Czechoslovakia and cannot fully conquer Paris. Stalin's invasion of Poland turns everybody against him, resulting in France and Britain allying with Germany and invading the USSR. Japan attacks first the USSR and then the USA, unleashing germ weapons to help with the latter. The US fights Japan, but does not intervene in Europe (at least as of the time of this writing). Then a military coup in England, coupled with revolt in the French army causes the British and French to switch sides again. And in the background, the Spanish Civil War between the Republicans and the Nationalists (led in this timeline by Jose Sanjurjo, rather than Francisco Franco) continues unabated.
  • Anti-Villain: Most German viewpoint characters, including Ludwig Rothe, Theo Hossbach, Willi Dernen, and Julius Lemp are relatively good guys who happen to be on the wrong side of the war. Not so Japanese viewpoint character Hideki Fujita whose participation in the killing of prisoners (and later participation in Japanese bioweapons programs) moves him out of the "anti" and squarely into "villain" territory. However, in Last Orders he's given a brief Pet the Dog; enduring an American carpet-bombing raid of Japanese occupied Midway, he remarks he hopes the island's gooney birds, the Japanese garrison's sole source of entertainment at the end of the Empire's tenuously long supply line, are okay. He reasons the birds haven't done anything to deserve being killed unlike he and his fellow soldiers.
    • Additionally, Theo, Hans-Ulrich, and Julius are moved out of the "villain" category in the end when they show themselves unwilling to crush the Munster uprising and ultimately fight against the Nazis in the civil war.
  • Anyone Can Die: Unsurprisingly given that it's Harry Turtledove. Typically when a character dies, someone else in their unit will takeover as the viewpoint character, as when Theo Hossbach takes over for Ludwig Rothe.
  • BFG: Vaclav Jezek, a Czech soldier uses an obsolete antitank rifle as a sniper rifle. It's a 13mm monstrosity that bruises his shoulder whenever he fires it, but it's got a range of two kilometres and lets him pick off German, and subsequently Nationalist Spanish officers who would otherwise be safe.
  • Big Bad: Hitler, Stalin, and the Japanese Emperor all share the role within the context of WWII; in the Spanish Civil War, Marshal Sanjurjo takes the role.
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  • Bittersweet Ending: Hitler is assassinated and the Nazis are overthrown, to be replaced by a more reasonable government that makes peace and restores the Jews' citizenship. The Holocaust is averted. Much of Eastern Europe is kept out of Stalin's hands. However, the Jews face an uncertain future in Germany, the Czech part of Czechoslovakia remains under German rule, Germany is expected to develop nuclear weapons, Stalin still got the Baltics and parts of Poland, and Spain is under a radical, possibly Stalinist, regime. Not to mention that the war with Japan is still left unfinished.
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: Averted. The French government briefly allies with Hitler but eventually turns on him, and the French main characters are very brave.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Major Uribe is this. He is openly gay and he literally gets aroused shooting enemy prisoners.
  • Divorce in Reno: Some time after Peggy and Herb confess their respective affairs to each other, Herb goes on what Peggy thinks is another of his business trips. Shortly afterward, she gets divorce papers in the mail and exclaims that she's been "Reno-vated".
  • Enemy Civil War: The unrest against the Nazis culminates in this when Hitler is assassinated, ultimately bringing the war in Europe to an end.
  • Final Solution: Ultimately averted. Between a two-front war with the Soviets, French, and the British, an alliance with Poland (which makes its three million Jews, killed IOTL, off limits), and growing domestic unrest against the Nazis that culminates in the assassination of Hitler and a civil war, the Nazis are unable to carry this out.
    • Given the tone of Hitler's speech that was interrupted by his assassination, as well as Witt's forewarning that it would be significant, it is implied that, had he not been killed, he would have begun the Final Solution in earnest.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Vaclav Jezek, a Czech soldier who initially has a very poor opinion of Jews, and Benjamin Halevy, a French-Czech Jew who is assigned to his regiment as a translator. The two soldier through the first Franco-German War, and the Spanish Civil War together, becoming very close even as they continue to mock one another.
    • Saul/Adi, Theo, and their panzer crew. So much so that Saul/Adi's Judaism is an open secret and none of his crewmates even think of turning him in. In fact, in the end, when Theo meets Saul's sister, Sarah, and expresses an interest in her, Saul encourages him.
  • Historical Domain Character: Stuka pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel and U-Boat Captain Julius Lemp are both viewpoint characters for Germany. Many other historical characters, like Hitler, Stalin, Chamberlain, Churchill (who is killed by an assassin), Roosevelt, Montgomery (who dies in a plane crash in 1942), Sanjurjo (Jezek shoots him at a bit past one third of the last book in the series), and Franco (who is shot by sniper Vaclav Jezek) appear in supporting roles as non-viewpoint characters.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Hitler during his Munster speech.
  • Leave No Survivors: How the Germans fight on the Eastern Front and how the Japanese fight period.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits: Averted in the end. When Theo shows an interest in Sarah, Saul/Adi is actually encouraging.
  • Pink Mist: More than justified by the 13mm rounds that Vaclav's antitank rifle is firing.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero:
    • Vaclav Jezek makes some unflattering remarks about Jews before getting to know Benjamin Halevy, Alistair Walsh refers to the French as frogs, and Pete McGill and the other Marines are quite racist in their descriptions of the Japanese and Chinese.
    • Ivan Kuchkov doesn't think too highly of Jews (he uses the ethnophaulism "жид/zhid", which is the Russian equivalent of the American English slur "kike"), Ukrainians (he uses the Russian anti-Ukrainian ethnophaulism "хохол/khokhol") or people from the Caucasus region (he uses the Russian ethnic/racial slur "blackass", which is also used to insult people from other ethnicities or "races" with a darker skin than the average Russian such as people of African descent), either.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Most of the German characters are quite racist towards the Jews (with Theo Hossbach a notable exception), and Japanese viewpoint character, Fujita, represents the very worst of his country's racism and refusal to take prisoners.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Lemp, Steinbrenner and Witt. Witt is revealed early on to be this in that he helps keep Saul/Adi's secret. In the end, all three of them fight against the Nazis in the civil war.
  • Sniper Duel: West & East features two of these between Vaclav Jezek and German snipers Fegelein and Puttkamer, both of whom are sent specifically to hunt him down. Vaclav wins out both times.
  • Sniper Rifle: Fegelein, Puttkamer, and eventually Willi Dernen all use Mauser sniper rifles. They are badly outranged by Vaclav's antitank rifle though, even if they are more accurate.
  • Tank Goodness: Averted by Ludwig Rothe and Theo Hossbach's Panzer II, which while not quite a case of Tanks for Nothing, is a very fragile vehicle that isn't heavily armed enough to even come close to compensating. Played straight by the Panzer III and IV, and especially the Tiger. On the Russian side the T-34 and KV-1 definitely fullfill this role.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Willi Dernen after some training from Marcus Puttkamer and gaining a Masuer Sniper Rifle. Vaclav Jezek after he discovers he can use an antitank rifle as a sniping tool.
  • Uriah Gambit: In Last Orders:
    • Ivan successfully pulls this on someone he suspects of being an NKVD informant.
    • Demange's CO attempts this with him during the liberation of Belgium. not only does it fail; it backfires, as Demange is able to take a German-held village, deemed unassailable with the present resources, with no casualties.
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Japanese employ a plague bomb against the American forces stationed in the Hawaiian Islands.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In Last Orders, Halevy gives one of these to Vaclav when the latter makes prejudiced comments about the Slovaks.
  • You ALL Share My Story: One of Turtledove's favorite tropes. In addition to the standard rule of character inheriting the Point of View of a previous character who was killed nearby, several characters kill each other off, both during Coup d'Etat and Last Orders.