James P. Hogan's The Proteus Operation
Alternate History At Its Finest
by Daniel C. Smith
James P. Hogan became a science
fiction writer as
the result of a bet-- after complaining to someone in his office that
he didn't like the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey
because, quote, he “… didn't get
it…”-- he was promptly challenged to try and write
his own novel, and furthermore to try to get it published.
He did (it sounds so
That novel, Inherit the
Rey, 1977) was the first in a long line of work that has made the name
James P. Hogan a powerful (and award winning) presence in the sci-fi
Hogan began his career as a
salesman for a computer
company in the sixties when computers were the size of a small house
and still relatively new (except in the world of science
fiction). Self-educated due to childhood illnesses that kept
him out of school, Hogan passed a series of examinations that qualified
him for instruction at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (the British
equivalent of NASA at the time) while just a teenager by hitting the
library every day for two months before the exams, working through the
physics curriculum completely on his own!. Hogan's education
at this prestigious academy gave him the scientific and technical
background that would come to serve him so well later in life as he
began his career in fiction writing. His sales job also gave
him constant exposure to scientists and technicians in every discipline.
Such a background almost demands
that one become a
sci-fi writer, and fans of good stories should take note of Hogan's
work if they are unfamiliar with it.
The best thing about writing
(alternate or otherwise) is that some of the richest characters
imaginable are quite real and part of our history. Hogan's
subject of choice and plot vehicle provided him a bevy of incredibly
fascinating people to work with, historical figures such as Winston
Churchill, FDR, Albert Einstein, JFK, and (my favorite character in the
book!) a graduate student at Columbia and an aspiring science fiction
writer, one Isaac Asimov. This cast of real people is supported by a
host of fictional characters who, thanks to well executed
characterization, seem almost as real as their historical counter-parts
as they travel back in time to, what else, save the world from the most
hideous fate imaginable, conquest and domination by Nazi Germany.
In the world of the Proteus team,
it is 1975, and
Hitler controls all of Europe (along with a great deal of the rest of
the world) and the United States is perilously close to falling to Nazi
control. It has been discovered that the Nazi's received help
from the future (2025) back in the thirties when he and his party were
first coming to power.
It is this help from the future
that allowed Hitler
to take the Nazi war machine to the brink of world domination-- and in
1975 President Kennedy orders a time-gate built in order to send the
Allies assistance, and hopefully prevent the dreaded future where
fascism rules and freedom is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
The intrepid Proteus team, led by
government operative Winslade and military commando Henry Ferracini,
battle New York gangsters, the lethargic governments and populations of
the US and England as well as the Nazi's and their time-gate, known as
Hammerhead, in an effort to undo the meddling (i.e., propping up of
Hitler) from the team from 2025.
The book is extremely well
researched, and Hogan's
interpretation of social and political events as they were happening
(or as they could have happened) demonstrates a keen and intellectually
honest approach to the study of history. While this book is
definitely what is labeled as 'hard' science fiction, Hogan delivers
the technical aspects of the story with the skill of a sympathetic and
skilled college professor. The issues of macro and
micro-physics and Einstein's theory of general relativity are made to
seem within the scope of understanding for your average reader or
fan. Just as well executed is Hogan's handling of the
political and historical machinations that drove various world powers
at one of the most crucial points of the twentieth century.
The result is a tightly paced
spy-thriller, part international mystery, and part historical novel
that together add up to a science fiction classic.
Of course, The Proteus
is my favorite Hogan novel, but the 'Giants' novels, Inherit
the Stars, The Gentle Giants of Ganymede,
and Giants Star are incredibly entertaining works
by a writer who, already with quite a resume, promises to be productive
for many years to come!
As for the ending to 2001…
hmmm… perhaps what Kubrick and Clarke were trying to say is
that, in spite of all of his technological advancements, Man is still
but a child in the universe; perhaps we should take 'baby steps' as we
move out among the stars… a little humility goes a long
At least that is what I took from
© 2011 Daniel C. Smith
Daniel C. Smith has published over a hundred stories, poems, articles and reviews in venues such as Bare Bone, Tales of the Talisman, The Leading Edge, Star*Line, and Space and Time.
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