United States of Japan is the third novel by Peter Tieryas, and is described as a spiritual sequel to The Man In The High Castle. In an alternate history where Japan and Germany were the victors of the second World War, and small pockets of American resistance fight back through the spread of some propaganda: A video game simulation of the Americans winning the war after all. An interesting read, with some good little twists and turns, while doing one of the things I enjoy the most about alternate history, United States of Japan was a great introduction for me to Tieryas’ work.
Decades ago, Japan won the Second World War. Americans worship their infallible Emperor, and nobody believes that Japan’s conduct in the war was anything but exemplary. Nobody, that is, except the George Washingtons — a group of rebels fighting for freedom. Their latest terrorist tactic is to distribute an illegal video game that asks players to imagine what the world might be like if the United States had won the war instead.
Captain Beniko Ishimura’s job is to censor video games, and he’s tasked with getting to the bottom of this disturbing new development. But Ishimura’s hiding something…kind of. He’s slowly been discovering that the case of the George Washingtons is more complicated than it seems, and the subversive videogame’s origins are even more controversial and dangerous than the censors originally suspected
There’s a problem I often have with alternate history, which is what I call ‘up its own ass syndrome’. It’s when an author is so proud of their brilliant twist to the actual historical record that we spend most of the book either during the different events, or constantly referring back to them. Tieryas thankfully handles this the much better and correct way. The change happened, it’s described just enough that we get a sense of what happens, and then he just tells a good story in the new version of reality. This isn’t a novel about ‘how Japan won the War’ it is a novel set in a world where that happened. It obviously heavily influences the plot, but that would be expected in any post-war novel. I appreciate it when an author doesn’t feel the need to keep reminding us in case we forgot, or spend half the book spelling out exactly what the change means. Show us, give us a chapter or two to get our heads around it, and then carry on with your story. He wrote a much better story for it.
I also very much enjoyed that the degree to which history is written by the victors gets addressed. Even in novels where the losing side aren’t eliminated but hang on in a resistance, it’s often the case that their version of events is seen as lies not just from the PoV of the characters on the other side, but in the way omniscient narrative is presented as well. It’s hard to feel like the author gets that even the version they are presenting as true will be necessarily distorted through the lens of the fact that the characters they are writing believe in the rightness of their actions. Tieryas not only makes a point to not do this, but the fact that the other side might be right in some of their rhetoric is a major plot point and influences how the characters act, which was great.
Which brings us to Captain Ishimura. I really really liked this character. I’d go on at length about what exactly it is I liked about him, but I’d like to avoid any spoilers. Needless to say, I really like a character that has a lot more going on than what is readily apparent from the way they act or look or behave. A couple hundred pages isn’t actually that much with this much story development and basically two main characters PLUS some flashbacks, to develop a character as much as Ishimura was, which is a testament to how completely Tieryas captured his essence. Add in some major reveals about him later on and this is some very impressive character work.
Altogether, this was a solid book. A great protagonist, an interesting plot, well paced and executed, with a lot of interesting insights into what the wider expansion of the Japanese empire might have looked like. I can’t find any particular indications that this book is going to be part of a series, but I’d definitely give it a look if it were. Definitely recommended to any fans of alternate history, or war stories.
Dan Received an Advanced Review Copy of this book from Angry Robot via NetGalley