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Book Review: Destroyermen – Into the Storm by Taylor Anderson

* Genre: Science Fiction, Alternate History, “Crossover”
* ISBN: 0451462076
* ISBN-13: 9780451462077
* Format: Hardcover, 400pp
* Publisher: Roc
* Pub. Date: June 2008
* Author Website: Taylor Anderson

As a rule, I generally do not enjoy “crossover” novels, where some person or group crosses over into an alternate reality or an alternate time. For this very reason I have never picked up The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. There is nothing wrong with the subgenre; it just generally lacks appeal to me. But when I received a copy of Destroyermen: Into the Storm, I knew something was different about this novel. And I was proved right.

Destroyermen: Into the Storm, the debut novel from Taylor Anderson, fits neither into the alternate history subgenre, nor into the time travel subgenre. Trying to classify the novel is like putting a square block into a round hole. The novel is a mix of all types of speculative fiction, from fantasy, to science fiction, to Lost World-style adventure stories. It fits no categorization. That certainly heightens its appeal, and any reader who takes a chance on a strangely named novel by a previously unknown author will not find him or her self disappointed.

The narrative begins on a high note of action, and only climbs higher and higher from there. The crew of the USS Walker, along with parts of its battle group is on the run from the superior Japanese navy in 1942. The Japanese had destroyed the majority of the Asiatic fleet at Pearl Harbor, and Walker and its fleet are either outdated, outgunned, or so badly damaged that the Japanese have little to fear, even before their aerial superiority kicks in. Walker (a real ship, as are all the ones mentioned in the novel, although Anderson has taken liberties with their histories) is one of the former. Outdated, really a relic of the “Great War”, it is supremely outclassed by the ships chasing it. When in the midst of a pitched battle on the open sea, Walker seeks shelter in a squall, something strange occurs, and its crew and men find itself lost in an alternate world, where dinosaurs still exist, and evolution has taken quite a different tack. Walker and her crew must learn to survive, but are soon embroiled in a war not of their own making, even as they are quickly running out of fuel for their badly damaged ship.

Rather than following any one character, Anderson has chosen to tell his story through a cast of characters. Although the majority of the story is told through the eyes of its captain – an obvious and essential place to do so in this type of story – Matthew Reddy, their are many times when Anderson will look at the events occurring through the eyes of Walker’s crew, as well as through the eyes of the Lemurians, the mammalian, sentient people they encounter. The only perspective not shown is the brutal, reptilian race known as the Grik. Anderson’s style allows the tale to be well-rounded, not dwelling on any one character. This too is where it is a different story from most “crossover” novels. In Destroyermen: Into the Storm we have a group of people trying to survive in an alien world, quite a large one in fact, where in most of the novels of this type, their is either only one character, or the largest group being something like a platoon of soldiers.

It is a daunting task to write so many perspectives and still do it well, but Anderson manages to make it look easy. The numerous perspectives and subplots weave together seamlessly, causing the narration to move at fast pace. Anderson has also worked hard to make sure the perspectives are true to form for WWII era sailors. Therefore, things that seem like mistakes – such as the use of the term “brontosaurus” – are in fact intentional. Anderson understands the way that the men of “The Greatest Generation”, think. He captures their foibles and faults, but always, always he highlights the heroism of the men that saved America from being a Japanese colony. The sailors of the tale remind me in many ways of my own grandfather, and army man in the Pacific theater, and I imagine that in his youth, he was much like these men, rough around the edges, but with a powerful heart of sacrifice.

As a writer, Anderson has an understanding of cadence and structure. Although most of the story has the reader worrying, it still moves in an up and down wave, allowing breathing room for the reader, while never truly dissipating the feel of danger and being lost. In fact, many the feelings this tale evokes are much like the effects of the TV show Lost, although it is much more revealing in its content.

Anderson’s story has many battles, but no two are ever the same, not just in detail, but in character reactions, keeping the battles fresh and exciting. Early on the book, there is a battle between ships of similar cut and quality, later, one or two one-sided battles where iron wins out over wood, finally, in the climaxing scene, there is a battle that can only be found in novels like C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series or the Jack Aubrey tales of Patrick O’Brian. The action never gets stale in Anderson’s writing. Some readers will notice that at times there are some poorly constructed sentences, or nonsensical statements, but that is to be expected of a newer author, and time and experience should clear these up relatively easily.

Fans of ship borne battles, action packed storytelling, alternate realities, and WWII era fiction will all find something they enjoy about this novel. I particularly recommend it to fans of alternate history fiction, or people who enjoy the adventure tales of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or movies like King Kong.

Do I recommend reading Destroyermen: Into the Storm? With a wholehearted YES, I do. S.M. Stirling, a noted author of alternate history tales, has a cover blurb on the book where he mentions, “I dipped my toe into Destroyermen: Into the Storm and when I looked up, it was two in the morning and a working day had vanished!” Very nearly the same thing happened to me. The crew of the USS Walker became my friends and bosom companions. Their fate matters to me, and I will be eagerly anticipating the sequel Destroyermen: Crusade in October of this year.

See the SFRevu review.