|In the Balance|
Original Hardcover Edition
|Cover artist||Bob Eggleton|
|Genre(s)||Alternate History, Science fiction|
|Followed by||Tilting the Balance|
In late 1941, while the Earth is torn apart by World War II, a fleet of vessels from an alien planet arrive to conquer the world. Both sides are taken by surprise, as humans must make uneasy alliances and the aliens, who call themselves the Race, discover that their enemy is far fiercer and technologically advanced than expected.
After arriving in the Earth's solar system, the Conquest Fleet's essential personnel are awakened from cold sleep after a twenty year journey originating from Tau Ceti II. Fleetlord Atvar is busy making final preparations for the invasion of Earth, expecting a rapid victory over the primitive beings that populate the planet. He is interrupted by a communications officer who reports that radio emissions are emanating from Earth. Atvar refuses to believe the report since the most recent intelligence, gathered from a probe that visited Earth in the 12th century, indicates that the inhabitants are a pre-industrial species.
The Conquest Fleet reaches Earth orbit in December 1941 and begins surveying the planet. They are shocked to find that in the course of only 800 years the inhabitants have moved from a primitive agricultural society to an industrial civilization. The Race's technology has hardly changed in more than 50,000 years and other known intelligent species are similarly slow to evolve.
After six months of reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, in May 1942 Atvar consults with the Shiplords of the Conquest Fleet. The troops have been awakened from cold sleep and are prepared to commence with military operations. However, it is within Atvar's power to cancel the invasion. Unwilling to call off the attack and face the Emperor of the Race back on Home, Atvar orders the assault to begin. Shortly thereafter the Race detonates several atomic bombs above the Earth's atmosphere in an attempt to disrupt human communications. The attack begins.
On the night of May 30, only hours after detonating the atomics, the Race's forces attack human aircraft and ground vehicles in and around designated landing zones. Once the sites are secured, troop ships begin landing and disgorging ground forces. The Race simultaneously establishes bases on every continent except Antarctica.
South America and Africa are overrun almost immediately, with Mexico, Argentina and the North African region the only ones resisting the invaders. Landing bases in Florida, Illinois, Idaho, and New York cause widespread panic and chaos in the United States. The Race's forces establish bases in Poland, cutting Germany off from the bulk of its forces in the Soviet Union and resulting in a massive German retreat westward. The UK's air forces are battered from alien bases in Spain and France. The Soviet Union must deal with enemy strongholds in the Ukraine, Outer Mongolia, and Siberia. Everywhere, humankind falls back in the face of a seemingly unstoppable nemesis.
While hostilities between the Axis and Allied powers end almost immediately, this is the result of military expediency rather than a sign of genuine cooperation. With the Race's forces battering the human armies into submission, no resources can be expended on human rivalries. The unsettling reality of the new balance of power is emphasized by the fact that, in the early days of the fighting, only Germany is able to battle the aliens with any measure of success. Since Germany has been at war longer than the other major powers and because its economy has been specifically geared toward war, this is only natural. But Americans are nauseated by the idea of fighting on the same side as Hitler while the Soviets are not quite so sure that the Germans can be trusted even in the face of an alien invasion.
After the initial assault, the Race's troops come to a virtual standstill. It is not so much human resistance that keeps them from advancing as much as their tendency to deliberate their options before acting. Mankind takes advantage of the respite provided to wage localized counterattacks, nearly all of which fail. In the process they find that the Race lacks tactical combat initiative and can be easily lured into traps. However, their advanced technology makes it difficult to exploit this weakness. The Race also discovers that their orbital atomic detonations had little if any effect on the human militaries. They had thought that the resulting electro-magnetic pulse would short out any advanced technology the humans had, but soon realize that humans do not yet possess silicon computer chips. Most human electronics, such as radios, use vacuum tubes, which although less efficient are also more resistant to electro-magnetic interference.
Hitler takes advantage of the brief lull in the fighting to order an artillery unit in the Ukraine to attack an alien base using railroad guns. The German battery manages to destroy two of the Race's ships (the 67th Emperor Sohrheb and the 56th Emperor Jossano), including the one which carries the bulk of the Conquest Fleet's atomic stockpile. The resulting explosion sends chunks of uranium flying across several acres. Soviet partisans take notice of the care with which the Race goes about collecting the strange metal.
Elsewhere in the Ukraine, Major Heinrich Jäger manages to destroy one of the Race's landcruisers, but at the cost of his entire panzer company. Narrowly escaping from the battle he is found by Lieutenant Ludmila Gorbunova who flies him back to the airfield where she is stationed. From there, Jäger is sent to Moscow where he spends several weeks as a guest of the Soviet government---not an official prisoner of war nor an ally. Finally, he is asked to take part in a joint German-Soviet operation in the Ukraine aimed at recovering some of the uranium.
The ad hoc band of Soviet partisans and displaced German soldiers charged with the assignment manages to hijack a shipment of uranium. In accordance with negotiated arrangements, they divide the load in half and go their separate ways. Jäger is given a horse and is forced to ride across the Ukrainian steppe and through enemy-occupied Poland to reach Germany with the precious metal. Somewhere past the towns of Chernobyl and Hrubieszów, Jäger is ambushed by Jewish partisans. Though they are nominally allies of the Race, they recognize the threat the aliens pose to mankind. They take half the uranium in Jäger's possession and let him return to Germany. The Jewish partisans send their commandeered uranium to England where it is subsequently shipped to the United States.
Upon his arrival in Germany, Jäger is promoted to the rank of colonel and awarded the Knight's Cross in Gold at a ceremony held in Berchtesgaden, Hitler's Bavarian resort. While Jäger enjoys a well deserved furlough there, Molotov arrives to consult with Hitler on the conduct of the war. The Soviet ambassador is flown to Bavaria by Lieutenant Gorbunova, to Jäger's surprise. Heinrich and Ludmila grow close during their short time together.
In an attempt to reduce human resistance, Atvar orders the use of atomic weapons on Washington and Berlin, hoping that this will persuade the Americans and the Germans to surrender. Berlin is hit first, primarily in retaliation for the destruction of the Race's ships in the Ukraine. While Atvar regrets the need to atomize human territory, mostly because Earth has so little land relative to sea, he sees the display of power as necessary since Germany fields the strongest human army. The Race is less dismayed by the attack on Washington DC since it is an administrative and communications center with few industrial and commercial resources. Furthermore, Atvar rationalizes that most of the radioactive fallout will drift harmlessly out into the Atlantic. Instead of breaking the human will to resist, the attacks compelled both nations to fight harder and to hasten production of their own atomic weapons.
Meanwhile, in the United States, physicist Jens Larssen is forced to travel to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia where the U.S. government has set up a temporary capital after losing Washington, DC. Larssen warns the Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, that the U.S. Army must defend Chicago at all costs since the metallurgical laboratory stationed at the University is working feverishly to develop atomic power, which might be the only chance humanity has to defeat the Race. Marshall assures Larssen that holding Chicago is a key component of the Army's strategy. Satisfied, Larssen makes his way back to the University of Chicago.
On his way back, Larssen finds that the Race has captured most of Ohio and Indiana. He carefully makes his way through and around enemy lines until he is found by U.S. troops. Larssen explains that he is a physicist on important government business. After several interrogations, Larssen is granted an audience with General George S. Patton who explains that a major military operation is currently being planned to keep the Race out of Chicago. Since he is so valuable to the war effort and because of the dangers involved, Patton refuses to allow Larssen to proceed to Chicago until the Americans have secured the city.
As the winter of 1942 begins, the Race's attacks begin to lose momentum. They are completely unprepared for the kind of winter weather they find on Earth. On their home planet, snow is extraordinarily rare outside the laboratory and much of their land is sandy desert. As soon as the first blizzard hits Illinois, a handful of American fighters and bombers, hoarded for this last desperate strike, move against the Race's positions in western Indiana and southern Wisconsin. Massive artillery barrages follow. Finally, American infantry and tank units under Patton in the east and General Omar Bradley in the north move toward their objective: Bloomington, Illinois. Although Lee and Sherman tanks and Warhawk Fighters are no match for the Race's landcruisers and killercraft, the alien forces are so badly outnumbered and the weather so inhospitable that they are compelled to retreat. The U.S. troops move rapidly and manage to encircle some of the Race's slower formations in a ring of armor and destroy them in detail. Mankind scores its first major success against the nemesis from the stars.
As the human counteroffensive succeeds in liberating most of northern Illinois, Fleetlord Atvar and the Conquest Fleet's Shiplords begin to grow worried about the war's progress. When the invasion began they were confident that their technological superiority would guarantee a rapid victory even in the face of expansive human industrial power. While they have managed to subdue South America and Africa, the Race still faces stiff resistance in North America, Europe, and Asia six months after their attack started. As the fighting continues, the Race's more advanced weaponry, such as guided missiles, anti-armor rockets, landcruisers, killercraft, and helicopters, are being destroyed in ever greater numbers. While simple weapons, such as rifles, bullets, artillery shells, and mortars, can be produced in captured human factories, the longer the war continues the more the technological gap between the Race and mankind will shrink. Atvar is informed by his intelligence officers that human vehicles are dependent upon petroleum for fuel and that striking at refineries processing oil might reduce the combat effectiveness of humanity's armies. Atvar orders an airborne attack upon the Romanian oilfields at Ploieşti, but the bombing raid meets with limited success and costs the Race valuable killercraft.
As 1942 nears its end and Patton and Bradley march their forces into Bloomington, Jens Larssen arrives in Chicago to find the city in ruins. He makes his way through the rubble, encountering a civilian populace in severe disarray, and toward the University of Chicago. There, Larssen is informed by a custodian that the metallurgical laboratory has evacuated the campus and is relocating to Denver. Like the war, Larssen's journey has a long way to go.
- 1994, USA, Del Rey ISBN 0-345-38241-2, Pub date 3 January 1994, Hardback
- 1995, USA, Del Rey ISBN 0-345-38852-6, Pub date February 1995, Paperback