Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Look At S.M. Stirling

The first time I came across SF author S.M. Stirling was his first effort, Marching Through Georgia (1988) the first book in his four-book Domination of the Draka series. This alternate World War Two novel took place in an alternate world where the United States successfully invades Canada during the Revolutionary War and the Loyalists and their Hessian allies go instead to South Africa to establish the Crown Colony of Drakia, later the Dominion of Draka, and still later, the Domination of the Draka. Things go pretty much badly for the world after that.

What emerges through Stirling’s Draka seriesUnder the Yoke (1989), The Stone Dogs (1990), and Drakon (1996);  there's one more if you count the anthology Drakas! (2000) – is a well thought-out and highly plausible modern slave state emphasizing technological divergences such as a more widespread use of airships and steam engines for ground transportation. Written largely from the point of view of Stirling’s Drakan protagonists, the series is also one of the few works of SF to actually scare the willies out of me. Yes kiddies, it could’ve been much worse, as Stirling lovingly points out.

But the author is no one-trick pony and has provided the reader with a succession of satisfying genre fare, including the stand-alone The Peshawar Lancers (2002) where a comet strike devastates much of the earth in the 1870s, plunging the Northern Hemisphere into a nuclear winter. In order to survive, the seat of the British Empire flees from snow-bound London to New Delhi, along with waves of English refugees.  But this is simply a back-story to the main action in the novel that takes place a century later, which is as rousing as anything Kipling would’ve written, with a generous helping of steampunk for the enthusiasts.

Stirling’s Conquistador (2003) takes place in an alternate universe of an alternate universe – where John Rolfe, a Second World War vet and last descendant of a bloodline that long since died out in our world, stumbles across a parallel world were Alexander the Great lived to an old age and consolidated his empire and free from European colonial influence, North America is up for grabs.  It’s a really stirring adventure story that makes for highly recommend reading.

I also really like the author’s The Sky People (2006) and its sequel, In The Courts of the Crimson Kings (2008), which take place in an alternate universe that seems designed in part by Robert A. Heinlein, the late Ray Bradbury, and Edgar Rice Burroughs among others, where Venus is covered in lush jungles and Mars has canals and both have humans on them.  Both books take me back to the authors and books I loved as a kid, along with those fine illustrations I remember by Virgil Finlay.

I couldn't resist adding this illustration by Virgil Finlay:
Martian Canal from The Complete Book of Space Travel by Albro Gaul, 1956,
You can see the hot Martian babe just waiting for the first intrepid astronaut to
come along.

In each of these books, Stirling’s expertise as a world-builder par excellence pays off. Not only does he give us alternate history, but he gives us plausible worlds that we can smell, taste and feel.

That's it for this month. You can purchase my alternate-history epics,  War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and  Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents (both are free to preview). Both books are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store. Bargains both.