Triumph, Ben Bova

Tor, 1993, 253 pages, C$5.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-812-52063-7

Are alternate-history tales true science-fiction?

Even though I admit this isn’t a sexier subject as “Fantasy and SF” or even “Verne vs Wells” or “Is media SF hopeless?”, it’s still a subject that hasn’t been solved to anyone’s satisfaction. Ben Bova’s Triumph is unlikely to shed any new light on the matter.

While SF often asks ‘What if?’ by projecting its conclusion in the future, alternate histories ask the same question, but by focusing on the other direction: The past. What if the South had won the Civil War? What if the Atom Bomb would have been developed by the Nazis first? What if Leonardo da Vinci had been named King of France? Alternate history tries to examine the possible pasts/presents that would have resulted by changes in our history.

And this is, revealing the punch early, where Bova’s Triumph falters. What if Churchill plotted to assassinate Stalin? What if -sorry for the spoiler- he succeeded?

Bova tantalizes, but delivers only partly. Since the novel restricts itself to the April 1945 time-frame, we never get a sense of Big Changes. In many ways, Bova’s novel is not alternate enough.

But it is remarkably historic. A lot of research has been poured in this work, and it shows. I especially liked the characterisation of Churchill, as unrealistic as it was. It seems that everyone in Bova’s novel is far more prophetic than they should reasonably be, an artefact of a 1993 novel about 1945 people. A lot of cameos from a lot of subsequently famous persons makes this an interesting, if increasingly unlikely read.

It’s moderately entertaining, especially for the WWII buff. Despite the ho-hum battle scenes the book moves quickly, an impression confirmed by the relatively low number of pages.

Like most Bova novels, this isn’t anything ground-breaking, nor especially spectacular. However, Bova delivers the merchandise in a professional, almost routine way. Worth the library loan if you’re interested in this kind of stuff.

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