John Schettler’s Homecoming is two things. The first is yet another entry in a ridiculously long soap opera Axis of Time knockoff with a Kirov battlecruiser sent back in time to World War II. While it’s been stated that this book could serve as a standalone beginning and people didn’t need to read the previous 40 (!) books to get it, I still felt a little lost.
The second is a contemporary World War III and a glorified let’s play/after action report of Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations (think a stiffer version of The War That Never Was). When I read the battle scenes, there was this suspicious part of me that went “ok, these are so rote and so exact that it looks like he was simming them through Command or Harpoon or some other wargame.” And it turns out that he was.
I was happy because of all my work with and use of Command. No matter what my feelings are regarding the literary quality of such a work, I felt happy and kind of proud of it being used in such a fashion.
As for leaning so heavily on wargaming itself, well, I’ve kind of adopted a more “glass half-full” approach to it. In the past, I’d have probably denounced it dramatically along the lines of “why should I read about a wargame when I can play it?”. Now, in no small part thanks to my horizons being broadened by many other books, I’ve softened somewhat.
I still can and will criticize books (like this) for being too much like a rigid let’s play/after action report. I still feel using wargaming as an exactly transcribed play-by-play (ie, 10 A-6 Intruders escorted by eight F-14 Tomcats launched to bomb ________…) rather than just to get a general feel for the situation (ie, “how much of a threat is ______’s air force to a carrier air wing? What’s a good figure for how many aircraft I should have the protagonist carrier lose?), isn’t the best way to go if one is making a literary story.
But at the same time, I’ve gotten a renewed appreciation for wargaming in fiction, even in cases like this. What I feel it does is add at least some more plausibility than would be the case in a less-researched book. And it simply isn’t the case that moving the “technical plausibility and detail” slider forward causes the “literary quality” slider to automatically go backward.
Leaving the battles aside, one of the biggest issues with Homecoming is the pacing, especially in matters of conversation. Let me just say that it’s easy to see why the Kirov series had 40 books before this one. It’s a shame, because a series that involves a time-traveling battlecruiser and properly wargamed-out divergences holds a lot of promise. It’s just the execution leaves something to be desired.