Thursday, December 20, 2012

David Kowalski Keeps Dead Company

The Company Of The Dead
In one of the most inventive alternative reality stories published this year, David Kowalski creates a very different world from the one we know. In his novel, The Company Of The Dead, the United States entertains a second succession, permanently splitting the country in two. Germany and Japan emerge as dominant world powers. Mammoth-sized helium-filled military airships roam the sky.

All of these sweeping differences and others can be traced to a single event. On the eve of April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic never hits an iceberg. So rather than having to brave icy waters 375 miles south of Newfoundland, more than 2,200 passengers arrive in New York City and are greeted by the buzz of expected fanfare. Or, in yet another timeline, it sinks three hours later with different survivors.

Either way, John Jacob Astor survives. As the wealthiest American in the United States, this German-born businessman becomes the primary catalyst in keeping the United States out of World War I. But without this unifying moment in American history, old arguments that lingered after the Civil War resurface while Europe clings to its Imperial past.

Kowalski's debut is the epic alternative history and time travel adventure. 

Kowalski Map
At the heart of the story is Major Joseph Kennedy, grand-nephew to John F. Kennedy and grandson of Joseph Patrick Kennedy (who was actually killed in action during World War II). In the Kowalski timeline, World War II never happens. Germany wins the Great War without American intervention.

Major Kennedy is a special ops commander for the Second Confederacy. His mission is to organize a covert operation to reunite the United States. If he succeeds, his company will establish a new world order to thwart an ever-expansive Imperial Japan that already had several footholds in North America: Alaska, New York, and a significant portion of the Pacific coastline.

This dramatic and ambitious plan may (or may not) have worked, but Kennedy becomes distracted from Operation Camelot when he learns the truth. The world he as he knows it should have never existed. Worse, the world he knows is about to rush headlong into a global conflict that doesn't end with nuclear weapons like World War II did. It will begin with nuclear weapons and eventually end with every living thing on the planet snuffed out. He and his team want to stop it.

The Company Of The Dead
If there is even a hint of head-spinning confusion at the thought of this backdrop, expect plenty more moments like it inside The Company Of The Dead. Although Kowalski keeps his timeline in meticulous order, reconciling the names, dates, locations, and connections isn't always easy.

In fact, keeping the alternative world map handy is a must as the author spins various layers of change that occur on an individual, national and global scale. It may even catch some readers off guard because the opener is vastly different than the larger body of work that is about to unfold.

The first few pages don't begin with an alternate reality, but rather the cause. As with the climatic end, it all hinges on the sinking, unsinking, or alternative sinking of the Titanic as the semi-reluctant time traveler Jonathan Wells has done a hundred times before. And with each successive strike or counter strike, time is becoming too strained under the weight of a tightening loop. It's about to snap.

The Company Of The Dead is ambitious and bloated because it has to be. 

The size of The Company Of The Dead at over 750 pages (832 paperback) makes for easy criticism as plenty claim it could be cut back by as much as one-third. And yet, no one pinpoints what might be cut beyond a character or two (which would have profound consequences). But I couldn't cut any of it.

As much as the book leans long in the storytelling, almost all of it needs to be included. In fact, Kowalski could have entertained making it longer, as some characters do feel bland and some suffer motivational flips that happen on a whim. More troublesome is the style variation.

Depending on where you are in the story, The Company Of The Dead reads like a different book. It can be easily described as alternative history, science fiction epic, military narrative, covert thriller, conspiratorial saga, or indie adventure. But it never reads like this all at once. It's one or any combination of those descriptions, depending on the page. The shifts can be a bit jarring at times.

David Kowalski
What is constant in The Company Of The Dead is its vivid storytelling. Picturing massive stratolite airships navigating wind currents in the upper atmosphere feels as real as walking the decks of the Titanic. Connecting the dots between time travel and conspiracy theories like Area 51 and Roswell is made effortless. Visiting the still segregated south, Japanese-occupied New York, or brush-covered and largely undeveloped American Southwest has an air of familiarity as if this timeline exists.

Prior to writing his first novel, Kowalski practiced medicine in Western Sydney, Australia. His first writings had nothing to do with fiction. He saw his work published in professional medical journals. He didn't have time to write anything else. This novel took between seven and 10 years to write.

The Company Of The Dead By David Kowalski Turns Over 6.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Almost unbelievably, the novel started as short story, something that played out on the decks of the Titanic. The universally known tragedy, Kowalski has said, prompts many people to wonder what might have happened had it arrived safely. It was from this notion that hundreds of well-researched ripples led him to the world he wanted to create. And then he had to invent a way to get it back.

The Company Of The Dead is not for everyone, but it is for anyone who has been looking for an alternative reality epic that was born of out of science fiction conspiracy. The Company Of The Dead by David Kowalski is currently available at Barnes & Noble or the novel can be purchased from Amazon. It is also available for download on iBooks. The book was originally published in Australia in 2004, taking almost a decade to land stateside.
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