(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

What if Roosevelt gave up smoking and didn’t die in April of 1945? And what if Winston Churchill, afraid Stalin would attempt to take over Europe once Hitler was defeated, conceived a plot to assassinate Stalin? That’s the premise behind TRIUMPH, Ben Bova’s alternate history of World War II.

Winston Churchill presented a ceremonial sword to Stalin at the summit conference in Teheran, but Bova’s sword contains a small piece of plutonium, encased in a lead container in the hilt of the sword. An elaborate scheme is used to get that piece of deadly plutonium out of its safe container, and placed where radiation poisoning will do its work on Stalin.

In the meantime, spies and counterspies learn about a bit of plutonium moved from the U.S. to England, but can’t come up with a reason for the move—or can they? Churchill believes Stalin’s doctors, unfamiliar with radioactive substances, will never discover the cause of death, and believes that since so few people know of his plans, he will never be discovered. When Stalin dies, Churchill knows his plan worked, and hopes the result will be worth his guilt.

On the war front, each of the generals on the field wants to be the one who finally takes Berlin, which is seen as a matter of honor rather than of tactical importance.

This is not the war we learned about in history books, but it’s so skillfully drawn, and so plausible, it’s not difficult to imagine that it could have been this way. History buffs as well as science fiction fans will find this one an enjoyable read.