Book: The Proteus Operation by James P. Hogan

Good premise; narrative drags

James P. Hogan
The Proteus Operation
Baen, 1985
ISBN: 0-671-87757-7
Out of print; used copies seem to be inexpensive
467 pages

The Proteus Operation is a science fiction novel of the alternate-history and time-travel sort. Its premise is quite good. The book starts in the 1970s in America, but in that world the outcome of the second world war was quite different. Only North America and Australia remain free from Nazi oppression. The world seems exhausted and on the verge of nuclear war. But a last-ditch effort is being made. Documents stolen from the Germans indicate that time-travel is possible and an effort is being made to open a time-travel gate to the 1930s to enable President Kennedy to warn President Roosevelt of what's to come and to supply the American army with advanced technology so as to avoid it.

Of course, things don't go quite as planned and the way that the plot is worked out is interesting and plausible by the standards of the genre. Most of the characters are interesting and the ending is satisfying. Or, it is if you have the patience to get there. The problem is that the book drags. There are long passages of historical exposition on subjects that most readers probably already know. And if they don't, these days a trip to Wikipedia would inform them faster than Mr Hogan does. Take, for example:

    Winslade stared unblinkingly through his spectacles.
    "Yes. And just to be sure there are no misconceptions,
    let me spell out for you what that means. Three
    thousand miles away across the ocean, the Nazi
    machine is daily gathering momentum on a course
    that is already set for war. The plans are laid. The
    generals who opposed them have been replaced. The
    German army has grown to fifty-one divisions, nine of
    them armored, after only four years -- it took the old
    Imperial Army sixteen years before 1914 to build up
    from forty-three divisions to fifty. In the same period, the
    Luftwaffe has gone from nothing to to twenty-one
    squadrons and two hundred sixty thousand men.
    (p. 144)

When the characters aren't delivering speeches for the reader's benefit, the narrator sometimes does ("But what Churchill and his advisers didn't know...." p. 348) and that's pretty inelegant. When those aren't happening, the plot still proceeds at a snail's pace. The pace picks up at the climax, but that's for only a few pages. After that we get a talky denouement. There's nothing wrong with the book that couldn't be fixed by making it half or two-thirds as long.

There's a small editing error in that there's "limps" where "lips" is meant on page 322.

Posted: Wed - January 17, 2007 at 07:43 PM   Main   Category: