Ben Bova:Triumph

I've always been a bit uncertain about alternate history and how it fits into SF as a whole. What gives me the biggest problem is that the plot style is often totally different--they tend to be more similar to historical fiction than SF.

Ben Bova's Triumph is one of those. It is, essentially, a World War II historical, with a few minor differences. The first is something I wouldn't have noticed, but history isn't my strongest point--Franklin Roosevelt doesn't die in April 1945. That's fairly minor, but I suppose important in keeping Truman out of things.

The second, on which the whole book revolves, is that Winston Churchill, when he gifted Stalin with the bejewelled Sword of Stalingrad(which did happen in this reality), concealed two grams of plutonium in the lead-shielded handle. The intent is to relay this information to a traitor on Stalin's staff, and thus assassinate him in a relatively untraceable way.

This could have been interesting--but Bova limits the timeframe of the book to April 1945. With their leadership in disarray, the Russians don't occupy Berlin as they did in reality, and one presumes that this will mean no East Germany, and maybe even no Communist Eastern Europe. But Bova doesn't go on long enough to let us know.

The only mildly interesting element was the focus on Grigori Gagarin, brother of Yuri, first man in space, personal secretary to Stalin, and(no real surprise)the chosen assassin. His inner conflict is the best part of the book.

This may just be my pet peeve. But an alternate history which makes a small change and examines it in detail is less to my taste than one that makes a big honkin' change and makes broad generalizations. Thus Philip Jose Farmer's Two Hawks From Earth, which features a world where the American continent never existed, and the Amerinds thus went to Europe instead, I retain a passing fondness for; Walter Jon Williams's "No Spot of Ground", where Edgar Allan Poe fights in the Civil War, did nothing for me at all. And Triumph didn't either.

Maybe it would do better to be put in "Fiction" next to the Tom Clancys. His fans might get a kick out of it. If nothing else, it's shorter.

%A Bova, Ben
%T Triumph
%I Tor
%C New York
%D January 1993
%G ISBN 0-312-85359-9
%P 253 pp.
%O Hardcover

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The Den of Ubiquity / Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com