You are here

Book review: <i>Final Impact</i> by John Birmingham

If this was rated on Birmo’s own cheeseburger scale, I’d give it three and a half fat, freshly-made ones out of five, with a coke on the side for the ones who came before.


Continues the black, white and red design format of the previous two books, swapping the three elements around once again, with the silhouette of two tanks facing each other to represent the time periods in place of the planes and ships of the earlier covers.

The plot

This is the third book in a trilogy set during the heaviest fighting in World War II, after a scientific experiment in the future has sent half the Western navy back in time to cause even greater wartime chaos by scattering dangerous futuristic technology across the globe and then sinking half the contemporary Allied navy by accident. During the two previous books events have largely led toward this finale, in which it seems the Axis threat will finally implode with the pressure of the future’s forces. But, conversely, the Russians, quicker on the draw in the technological leapfrogging stakes (and believably willing, under Stalin, to use any means necessary to create such leaps), are a much greater threat to the West, and ruled under the all-powerful gaze of a paranoid who, thanks to the records of the “uptimers”, has found a complete list of his many failures and betrayals and is determined not to repeat them.

The good

As previously, every bit as well-realised, readable and as believable as a book about a real-world chronological anomaly could be without venturing into “hard” or “gay” sci-fi. This is largely achieved, as before, by focusing equally on the technologies of war, the war itself, and the individuals involved; from real historical figures like politicians, royalty, and soldiers to the fighting men of tomorrow, blasted back through time against their will into a place where they’re treated, at best, with instinctive distrust and worst with outright unapologetic racism, sexism and general fear-based hatred.

I’m not explaining as well as I could be, but it’s this humanity which separates Birmingham’s books from the normal run of military thrillers I could take or leave. Not the Oscar-worthy humanity of ill-starr’d romance—seemingly cosmic fates or a struggle against all odds (although we know war is full of these tales and Birmingham could have been forgiven for over-indulging)—so much as the humanity of the day-to-day cast into an insane situation (as good a parallel to war as any): the inescapable weight upon the future soldiers of their very world being lost to them, the irrational but all-too-empathetic sense of blame in the hearts of the contemporary politicians towards the men who dealt them this hand, with all their supposed faults, failures and final fates included for all those in the new world to see. Well, except the commies, obviously, no-one tells them SHIT. The daily grind of the future Admiral Kolhammer’s efforts to pre-empt the wrongs he’s already seen happen, whilst being forced to cede authority to people he’s only read about in school and who, at best (see above).

The action is still good, and, as many a film-maker has already proven, everybody likes seeing the Nazis take a thumping. The idea of us (the reader) having a more informed view of the goings-on than the ‘past’ characters is also undeniably appealing—on more than one occasion I found myself internally yelling things like “NO! Don’t waste the nukes on Germany! Germany’s rooted anyway! Bomb Russia! They nearly won LAST time! NUKE THE REDS!!”

Which you just don’t get with Jane Eyre.

The characters are still solid, although this time Birmingham consolidates more than in the previous book, and correspondingly fails to introduce anyone new of merit. It’s still good fun wandering around with Himmler and Patton though, I have to admit, and the perpetual piss-ups in Stalin’s presence are never less than teeth-creakingly paranoid.

The bad

It’s a bit like the Matrix movies. He’s started off with a bango idea, fleshed it out fantastically in the second part, while asking quite a few interesting questions, and thereby making it almost impossible to satisfactorily round out in the third episode. Like Revolutions, there’s a bit too much time spent in scenes which feel almost like the plot is being explained to the author as much as the reader, and in the end, it’s still all up in the air. Yes, the Nazi threat is nuked out of existence, Japan cops another one (Tokyo this time) and surrenders, but then again they did this the first time around. Russia is genuinely threatening but, with East and West ending up in an atomic standoff, Birmingham leaves us with the prospect of nothing more than an even grislier cold war and getting iPods half a century sooner. Perhaps a bit less verisimilitude and a bit more Hollywood could have rounded this one out more satisfyingly. If he’s secretly planning to continue the story in some form or another, then it makes sense, but it’s a pity if this is the finale (although at least he’s guilty of over-reaching rather than under-reaching, I can safely say that). The second book was almost perfect, too.

Oh, one more thing which I must point out: a lot of the fun of the first book was the vicarious thrill of seeing the 1940-ites boggling at (and, yes, getting blown up by) futuristic technology. By this chapter, in an inevitability which is again realistic as much as it is unsatisfying, most of the world has at least begun to come to terms with the “uptimers” and their technology, and most of their flashier weapons are either totally depleted or in a million tiny pieces in some underground installation being reverse-engineered. I think deep down that a techhead like Birmingham knows that reverse-engineering is never going to be as exciting as squadrons of Luftwaffe being lasered out of the sky over London, and that’s why he’s wound this up here, instead of getting more mediocre with every book. (I say he just does another anomaly and starts again! Who’s with me, lads?!)

What I learnt

Stalin, he crazy!

In short

Title: Final Impact
Author: John Birmingham
Publisher: Random House Inc (Del Rey)
ISBN: 0345457161
Year published: 2007
Pages: 350

This review was written by Tom Vaughan. Tom has his own website, which contains many other reviews and strips and art and other fun stuff here.

Review Type: 


Ok, the Soviets have taken more of Europe than what they got at the end of the real WWII. And Stalin has the bomb.

You can't leave us hanging like that!

What's going to happen?

Please Please Please Please, LET PATTON HAVE AT THEM!

Like he should've been allowed to do at the end of the real WWII.

And Let MacArthur nuke the commies in North Korea and China,

You can't let the lousy commies get away with that crap can you?

Not again man!