G. Miki Hayden
JoNa Books / 200 pages / 1st edition, January 1998
Let me wax clichéd here for a moment: If alternate histories are a dime a dozen, Pacific Empire is one in a million. Now that’s just sad, when a book doesn’t provide enough clichés to meet my RDA and I have to supply them. Well, blame Hayden for creating a wholly original piece of art.
The concept sounds familiar and predictable. Assume that Japan was the big “winner” in the second World War. Instead of weighing itself down with Germany and Italy, Japan fought alone and built an empire in the Pacific. That’s your typical what if? scenario, right? Forget it. Everything, after you turn to the first page, is going to be a surprise. And a good one.
Pacific Empire‘s chronicle of the next 50 years is a subtle backdrop to the lives of the complex characters of the cast. As the years pass, and the world develops in a way we never experienced, their lives intertwine in ways impossible to predict. The family trees of the Shimazos, the Asanos, the Glasgows, and the rest wander and ramble and intersect in a mesmerising tapestry.
No character is exactly what you would expect. There is more behind the traditional roles of traditional Japanese than anyone has suspected. From the poorest soldiers to the most powerful Barons and Counts, they have flaws and strengths and behave in the most astonishing ways. They simply refuse to fit into the neat little niches society has prepared for them. And, kindly or evil, they are impossible to classify; we know them too well to see them in one dimension. They’re kind of like real people in that regard.
As the conquered and the conquerors live and work and age, major events unfold around them. Never far from the surface of the story, the history builds as an aspect of their existence, not the reason for it. Amazing developments are seen as they impact the people or as the people work to make an impact on them. And the machinations that take place are crafty and brilliant and, ultimately, quite satisfying.
This is a chance to spy on the most private workings of a time and a civilization. The solutions Shimazo and the others contrive to deal with their every day lives is enthralling. So much of the time reading Pacific Empire was spent with an admiring smile on my face. Admiring the characters and admiring the author.
Describing the plot would be impossible and unfair; I don’t want to ruin any of the surprises in store. If I tell you about the island or the Jewess or the resistance fighters, then I would not be playing fair. You deserve to experience the pure pleasure of every moment of Pacific Empire.
Call it literature, but don’t think stuffy. Hayden has created a tight, little package of prose that is heads above other alternate histories and a joy forever.
That got the clichés out of my system. Think I’ll go re-read Pacific Empire now. I deserve it, too.