Decisive Darkness Part Two: Coronet
Sea Lion Press
I think that the term ‘apocalyptic’ has been over-used in fiction, particularly in the past few years. There seem to be so many titles, principally in the science-fiction, fantasy and horror genres that use the term, particularly ‘post-apocalyptic’ that it seems to have lost its meaning; the rise of zombies, vampires, magic-users and other world-ending tropes, and the creation of an entire subgenre (Grimdark) based around fiction that often has an apocalypse at its core, seems to me to have caused a devaluation of the term. When there are nearly 27,000 results on Amazon UK alone for the term, and when the latest in the series of Ladybird parodies is titled ‘The Ladybird Book of the Zombie Apocalypse’, can the term be said to have any real meaning – any real impact behind it anymore?
To answer that question, I believe that you only need to read Decisive Darkness – Coronet by Paul Hynes. Beginning where Decisive Darkness – Majestic left off, Coronet continues the counterfactual tale of the invasion of Japan by the United States and her allies, after an ultra-nationalist military coup led to a withdrawal of the Japanese surrender that occurred historically in our timeline. By the end of the first title, American forces had captured Kyushu, and inflicted devastating defeats on the Imperial Japanese Army, but only at the cost of millions of dead and wounded – on both sides of the conflict – and the widespread use of atomic and chemical weapons on Japanese territory. Majestic had closed with a cliffhanger that potentially signalled an end to the devastating conflict, but Coronet almost instantly shreds this small hope; the military junta still clinging to the ruin of imperial Japan refuse to countenance surrender and instead continue to fight against an increasingly desperate and tired United States. It is here that Hynes uses his great skill as a writer to illustrate the shattering impact that this decision has, both upon Japan and the Japanese people, and the American and Allied soldiers opposing them.
Within a few short chapters, Coronet becomes a genuinely apocalyptic tale; there are no zombies, no vampires or dragons, no genetic mutations or the sudden appearance of magic. There are only two increasingly desperate combatants using every terrible weapon at their disposal to try and reach final victory. With their armed forces by now almost non-existent from months of fighting, the Japanese junta resort to chemical and biological warfare on a massive scale in a calculated attempt to force the Americans to the negotiating table. In response, the Americans deploy even more nuclear weapons, turning city after city into radioactive ruins, as well as some of the most powerful conventional bombs ever to exist; bombs so powerful that they cause earthquakes when they detonate.
Hynes continues to write superbly, and the overarching narrative of the book moves along smoothly, just as with Majestic. But his real skill as an author, and which elevates Coronet into a genuinely apocalyptic tale, is the manner in which he almost effortlessly describes an entire nation being laid waste to, the rapid disintegration of society as each of the Japanese Home Islands is occupied, bombed, fought over; as each atomic bomb is dropped, incinerating a city, as another soldier dies from the plague or mustard gas, as millions die from starvation, famine and bombs from the sky, Hynes shows what a genuine apocalypse looks like – one wrought only by weapons available in 1946, and not by something from a writer’s imagination. And that is the true horror invoked by Coronet – if that coup had not failed in 1945 and Japan had not surrendered unconditionally, then this is very likely what our past would have looked like. It’s a sobering thought.
The last few chapters of Coronet are slightly more positive, somewhat more uplifting, and it is here that the author does a huge amount of tantalising worldbuilding, imagining a post-war situation that is not radically different from our own, yet different enough that there are huge implications for America, Japan, Russia and the Cold War as a whole. Once again Sea Lion Press has published a story that I want to see more of; I desperately want to see something ten, twenty, fifty years down the line. I want to know what happens to a Japan divided into four essentially different countries; what happens to Korea, Vietnam and Thailand in this timeline; and most of all I want to see the effects that the invasion of Japan had on the soldiers and civilians who suffered through it.
In conclusion, the author has created two formidable books, which together create an engaging, well-written and thoughtful counter-factual history of a past (and future) that we were very lucky not to experience ourselves. Highly recommended.