Patton's Spaceship
John Barnes
Review by Paul Melko

Capsule Summary: In a cross-time war against an evil human sect, our hero finds himself in an alternate USA where Nazi Germany has won WWII. He struggles to turn this time-line back onto a path of freedom in this fast-paced and interesting adventure.

Mark Strang is a private investigator in Pittsburgh, a bodyguard for battered spouses and people on the run. He chose his field because of the destruction leveled on his own family, suffering caused by the Blade of the Most Merciful, a terrorist group unlike any other terrorist group ever known. They don't care about money or politics. They simply cause chaos and destruction; they are deadly and after Mark's family for the research done by his father. Worse yet, they aren't from this time-line.

The Blade of the Most Merciful is just a front group for the Chosers, a group of cross-time terrorists out to make the many Earths a more totalitarian place. Before long, Strang finds himself helping the opposing side, the Allied Time-lines for Nondeterminism.

In a mission to save a little girl with a great future, Strang is flung into an alternative time-line where Hitler won WWII, with a little help from the Chosers, and the USA is just coming out of the grasp of Nazi occupation. Dodging pogromming Boy Scouts and fascist Good Neighbors, Strang must make his way to the Free Zone and help the remnants of the Allies defeat the Nazis and turn this time-line around.

Barnes does a great job of writing a fast paced adventure. I read this page-turner quickly and excitedly. The alternate history Barnes has built is fun, especially with its use of alternate historical figures, such as Patton.

Nonetheless, of the three books I've read by Barnes, this ranks the lowest. It was a good adventure, but had little of the subtext and social commentary I saw in Orbital Resonance or A Million Open Doors. Those told a great tale, while remaining engaging at a high level. Whereas those two were the equivalent of mental steak, Patton's Spaceship seems like a mental Jolly Rancher: fun to eat but not very filling.

One of the most disconcerting things about the book is the amount of deaths. True, it is the bad guy usually dying. Still, the protagonist is directly involved in thousands or tens of thousands of deaths. Indirectly, he is a participant in millions of deaths. At the start of the book, Strang states that he has never fired his gun at a person. By the end, he has left an easily followed trail of Choser, Nazi, and Blade corpses behind him.

Barnes fails to explain away the paradoxes of time travel and parallel universes in any way, but this story is more about the adventure in an alternate time-line than it is about the physics of the travel. This is moderately bothersome, as is the amount of death levied by the main character, but over all I enjoyed reading this story and hope to see more by Barnes in this series.

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