Saturday, May 24, 2008

Poison Victory

I have always enjoyed history. Among the many areas of history that I love, war is a favorite. From Thermopylae to Predator drones, I enjoy learning about war.

As a young teen, I read B. H. Liddell-Hart's Strategy, Rommel's memoirs, A Stillness at Appomattox, etc.

In elementary school and jr. high my friends and I enjoyed chess. In high school I quickly made friends who played wargames, mostly by Avalon Hill. We played Panzerblitz (German forces on the Russian Front), Third Reich (entire European/Mediterranean theater WWII), 1776, Squad Leader, and lots of others.

In July's issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Albert E. Cowdrey's short story, Poison Victory, brought back all those post-game discussions with my friends. What if Manstein had reached the gates of Moscow before winter? What if Rommel had not been on leave during the Normandy invasion? And so on.

Poison Victory is set in 1949 at a time when the Germans have conquered Russia and Hitler is on his deathbed. By the time Cowdrey delivered the extended war flashback, I was dying to know what elements of alternative history he had introduced.

Cowdrey puts a bright young officer in General Paulus's command at Stalingrad. Due to officer's knowledge and initiative, the battle of Stalingrad is won and the Germans win the war. All that remains is limited Russian partisan resistance supplied by America (I think Kruschev is a partisan leader, though the reference to him is scant).

Poison Victory is excellent. Cowdrey's background in history and the military, as well as a first class speculative fiction resume, qualify him to deliver this smooth, clean story. It is near perfect.

If forced at the point of a panzerfaust to demand more from Cowdrey, I would ask that he develop his leading female character more, so that I could have felt the weight of the fulcrum that lifted the protagonist up and over the climax of the story.

Thank you, Mr. Cowdrey.

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