by Robert Conroy



352pp/$25.00/December 2012

Rising Sun
Cover by Kurt Miller

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

One of the things about alternate history is that there are no “right” or “wrong” alternate histories, merely different levels of plausibility.  This means that an author can revisit the same time period as often as he likes and explore various possibilities.  Robert Conroy has previously explored the Pacific theatre of World War II in his novel 1942 and has returned to that general time and area with Rising Sun, which posits a very different point of divergence in history.

Lieutenant Tim Dane finds himself on the U.S.S. Enterprise during the battle of Midway in June of 1942.  However, rather than staunch the Japanese onslaught, the American fleet is sunk by the Japanese and it is only through luck that Dane manages to be rescued and taken to convalesce at a Honolulu hospital before being evacuated to San Diego, where he joins the Intelligence staff.  Without the fleet of aircraft carriers, for the attack left the US with only the Saratoga in the Pacific, Hawaii and the West Coast become ripe for Japanese attacks.

In addition to following the progress of the Pacific War as it ranges from Hawaii to Panama to Alaska, Conroy also follows more personal stories.  While in hospital in Honolulu, Dane met nurse Amanda Mallard, with whom he strikes up a relationship.  Although the two only know each other for a couple of days before Dane ships out, they agree to try to find each other if they both wind up on the West Coast.  Their pledge and subsequent efforts seem out of proportion to the way their initial relationship is depicted by Conroy, which leads to an off-note that carries throughout the novel.  Conroy also follows, Steve Ferris, an army lieutenant who happens to be Dane’s nephew, in his own career as he tries to protect the coast from Japanese invasion.

Dane’s position in military intelligence and his association with Admiral Spruance, who he saved at Midway, as well as a pre-war association with Japan, makes Dane a perfect entry character for Conroy, allowing him to follow the course of the war as Japan makes its attacks and feints and the United States attempts to defend itself against the Japanese war machine.  Even with this knowledge of the war, or perhaps because of it, Conroy’s depiction of the conduct of the war suffers from being a little too focused.  With all of his characters and the action taking place in a small area of the West Coast, the reader gets a feeling of importance for that area, as well as an understanding for how that part of the war is going.  Information about the war in Europe and its effect on the resources available in the Pacific comes across as incongruous with what the reader has been told.

Conroy takes an interesting, and under-utilized, premise and follows it up with a Japan which seems to have a Pacific victory within its grasp.  Although the path of the war doesn’t go as expected, it also doesn’t achieve a level of plausibility based on the decisions and descriptions Conroy offers.  His characters, while mostly likable and more than two-dimensional, only begin to act in a reasonable manner after a false start, which tends to overshadow their subsequent relationships even as they become more realistic.

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