And our sixtieth book this year is another by the prolific and increasingly talented S.M. Stirling, the first in his projected duology of the Lords of Creation, The Sky People
The Sky People (Sci Fi Essential Books)
The dedication of the book reads as follows.
Thanks to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Leigh Brackett, Otis Adelbert Kline, Leinster, Heinlein, and to all the other great pulpsters for gracing my childhood with John Carter, Northwest Smith, Wrong-Way Carson of Venus, and all the heroes gifted with a better solar system than the one we turned out to inhabit. From the jungles of Venus and the Grand Canal of Marsopolis, I salute you!
And so, in The Sky People, Stirling provides homage to the Sword and Planet books of yesteryear, in creating an alternate history where Venus and Mars are habitable…and inhabited. And, it becomes clear, they were changed to be that way. And so the Cold War stays cold, as the two superpowers focus more on exploring and investigating the two other inhabited worlds in the solar system than killing each other.
The Sky People focuses on Venus, and on Louisianan Mark Vitrac. On a Venus full of a slate of creatures from Earth’s Mesozoic to the Pleistocene, Venus teems with life. Some of it is human, ranging from a Bronze Age city state to Neanderthals. The main plot is one that the forefathers of the genre would be proud. A Russian spacecraft has crash landed, and only the Americans have a ship, a zeppelin(!) capable of reaching the survivors. And so Vitrac joins a crew of three, including an analogue of a famous British politician, in a rescue mission across thousands of miles.
In the meantime, a priestess of the Cloud Mountain People, Teesa, has a diadem which seems to give her knowledge and abilities far beyond even the Americans and Russians…and that diadem may be part of the key to finding out how Venus was changed and seeded with life.
Stirling knows to stick to the good parts. Big Damn heroes, action and adventure, and a wonderfully described world are Stirling’s strong suit on display here, as I have read in previous novels, and on a Burroughsian Venus, he puts it on display. The book is short, at 300 pages, and so there is very little fat. We see the use of remote controlled dinosaurs(!) not only because its cool, but because its important later to the resolution of the story.
Stirling does take pains to make the alternate history of his world similar, but slightly different, than our own. One facet of it, the predominance of nuclear power, and the middle-east being relegated to a backwater is, I think, a little too much on wish-fulfillment. Even in a world where man is reaching out to Mars and Venus,people are still going to drive lots of gas powered automobiles, which requires prodigious amounts of oil, which makes the Middle East anything but a sleepy backwater. But it is a relatively minor nick.
There will be a sequel set on Mars in 2007, and if anything, I was looking forward to that one more than this one when I heard that he was writing the duology. Now that I’ve read The Sky People, my appetite for In the Halls of the Martian Kings is only whetted the more.
I do need to get and read another homage to these sorts of books, Paragaea by Chris Roberson, to compare and contrast. But am I satisfied with The Sky People? You betcha.
If you have read and dreamed of Burroughs’ Mars, Vance’s Tschai, or De Camp’s Krishna, then you owe it to yourself to visit Stirling’s alternate Venus in The Sky People.