World War II seems to be fertile ground for alternate history buffs and authors. Perhaps it's because there were so many ways it could have gone, with so many players in the game. Mistakes were made, blunders caused massive casualties or, perhaps, cost one side or the other the battle. Having plundered World War II three times already (once as part of his "Great War" series, once where aliens invaded during the war, and the aftermath with In the Presence of Mine Enemies), Harry Turtledove decides to go to the well once again with Days of Infamy. This time, he goes to the Pacific Ocean and wonders what would have happened if the Japanese had followed up their attack on Pearl Harbor with an invasion of Hawaii. It's an interesting concept, but Turtledove is uncharacteristically dull in the exploration. This book is an active chore to get through.
The attack on Pearl Harbor happens much the same way as it did in real history, so much so that Turtledove basically ignores it except in broad strokes. The only change in the beginning of the book is that Japanese Commander Genda persuades Admiral Yamamoto to convince the Army generals that an invasion force should accompany the task force. Once the attack has happened, though, things start to get interesting. Hawaii is quickly captured as the Americans are unable to muster much of a defense. They do make an heroic stand, however, before finally surrendering. The rest of the book details life on the occupied islands, as well as introducing two characters further on in the book who give us the viewpoint of Americans (one soldier and one pilot) who will be involved in the eventual re-taking of the islands (though since it's a continuing series, it's not really a spoiler to say that it doesn't happen in this book). In the course of the plot, Turtledove gives us a pilot who was shot down in the initial attack and is now a prisoner of war, a soldier who is also a POW, his estranged wife who has to live in an occupied city on Oahu, a surfer bum, and a Japanese family who have been living on the island for many years.
The father, Jiro Takahashi, is an older Japanese man who will always consider himself Japanese. He welcomes the invasion. His sons have been Americanized, which causes a lot of family tension. We are also given an assortment of Japanese military characters who are in various positions, though interestingly all of them are in the Navy or are pilots from aircraft carriers. We do not see the Japanese army point of view at all (though, in wonderful Turtledove fashion, we are told many, *many* times that the navy and the army don't get along).
As usual, Turtledove does very well with the battle scenes. When the fighting is going on, Turtledove is hard to beat, though he does include a very silly scene where two surfers are caught out in the water between the American defenders and the oncoming Japanese invasion force. Don't worry, that scene is not included gratuitously. It's an ongoing character moment for the surfer bum, Oscar Van Der Kirk, who talks many times of how he had an accident in his shorts during the incident. The rest of the battle scenes are vivid and exciting, and even tragic as the Japanese wave just continues to wash over the islands with the American soldiers trying desperately to halt it, at least for a little while.
Unfortunately, this battle ends fairly early in the book, giving us many interminable scenes of life on the occupied islands. With the exception of the rare occurrence (an American sub shows up once, for example), all of these scenes are almost exactly the same. We see Jiro and his sons who argue (or fume silently) over whether the invasion was a good thing. If we see Jane Armitage living in an occupied city, we're going to hear about how they have to grow what little they can to supplement their meager rations (we may read her thoughts on the execution she witnessed, too). The scenes of the two POWs are almost the same, except the Navy pilot's scenes also include repetition of how one man who only cares about himself has to be watched because he might sneak away from the work team, despite the Japanese promise to kill the rest of the team if anybody leaves. Otherwise, they all talk about how hungry they are.
Yes, Harry, we *get* it! Life under occupation really stinks, and it's almost impossible to survive on what little food you are given. It's a valid issue, but come on! Let's get the story moving, please? The only time the story moves forward at all is when the Japanese characters are on the page, planning either the attack or how to defend the islands from an imminent attack. That could be why they are also the most interesting characters in the book. The Americans are given a couple of hooks to place a story on and then sent on their way, but the Japanese are pretty well done. I could have done without the constant repetition (yes, I know this is getting repetitive) of how the POWs were sub-human and had no honor because they had surrendered, so they should consider themselves lucky for what meager supplies they received. Again, a valid point, driven into the ground.
Finally, I do have to give Turtledove credit for two things. First, he mostly avoids the embarrassing sex scene (there is one, but it's not too bad and it actually builds a character a little bit). Secondly, there's a bit of misdirection that I had to laugh at. At the beginning, Fletch Armitage is introduced by saying he's extremely pale and he burns easily in the tropics. I almost threw the book against the wall because we had yet *another* character like this! (Sam Carstens, from the "Great War" books, always talks about this). However, there is only one other mention of this throughout the entire book. You got me, Harry. Good job.
Days of Infamy is a great concept for a novel, but it is tedium interrupted by a few good battle scenes. I usually blaze through a Turtledove book no matter how bad it is because the plot, at least, keeps me moving through it. This time out, I felt I was running in place throughout the book. Only the page numbers told me I was getting anywhere. That's not a good way to keep somebody reading.