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Tepidness in printed form

The Bomb That Failed - Ronald William Clark

In an author’s note prefacing his novel, Ronald Clark writes of “the sliver of chance” that separates history that what might have been.  The sliver of chance in this instance is the failure of the Trinity test in June 1945.  With the atomic bomb an apparent dud, the United States moves forward with Operation Olympic, the invasion of the Japanese home island of Kyushu.  The unintentional death of the Japanese emperor enrages the island’s population, ensuring a vigorous and bloody defense.  With casualties mounting, the U.S. resorts to biological warfare and withdraws troops from Europe in preparation for an invasion of Honshu, actions which cause a split with its British ally and create an opening that the ambitious Soviets are quick to exploit.


Clark’s premise is a familiar one to readers of alternate history, having been used in novels such as David Westheimer’s Lighter than a Feather and Alfred Coppel’s The Burning Mountain.  Yet Clark’s book is much inferior to these works.  The narrative form is particularly weak; Clark attempts to relate events from the first-person perspective of a female correspondent who just happens to be at the right place at the right time to observe key developments, yet sections are also included recounting conversations more appropriate for a third-person format.  Such laziness also extends to characterization; with the exception of a few historical figures, most of the characters are little more than mouthpieces for dialogue designed to move the plot along.


But perhaps the greatest weakness of the book is with the plot itself.  Many of the developments in the novel seem to be less about considering the consequences of his suggested point of divergence than reaching a predetermined conclusion that is historically highly improbable.  The chapters themselves are so focused on this that the action within the novel takes a back seat to explanation, with more space devoted to recounting fictional parliamentary debates than in describing the events that they are about.  Fans of alternate history would be better off avoiding this book in favor of other works of the genre, most of which are superior to this tepid contribution.