Book: The Sky People by S. M. Stirling

Splendid fun retro SF

S. M. Stirling
The Sky People
Tor, 2006
ISBN-13: 978-0-7653-5376-4
ISBN-10: 0-7653-5376-8
309 pages

It's past time that I got all of S. M. Stirling's books that I haven't read. I've occasionally been reluctant to start one of his books, despite the praise they routinely get, because, having heard the book's premise, I'm skeptical that it can be carried off well. Having read several of his books now, I have plenty of reason to set aside any such misgivings.

In particular, The Sky People is splendid fun. It's the first book in a series and the second one (In the Courts of the Crimson Kings) is due to be published shortly. Indeed, it wouldn't surprise me a bit if there were several more to follow. The book is an alternate-history novel with a premise that is straight out of science-fiction's pulp era: In the 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union sent unmanned probes to Mars and Venus. And they found Earth-like conditions and intelligent life on both planets. There followed a great space-race (and a diminution of conflict on Earth). As the main part of the book begins, it's 1988 and Lieutenant Marc Vitrac, USASF is welcoming the latest arrivals from America and its allies to the six-year-old Jamestown Extraterritorial Zone on Venus. It's pretty near a native Bronze-Age city-state.

Not only is the book's premise out of the pulp era, the book's mood and tone are too. What do people in pulp novels set on a Venus where they have airships do? They have daring and exciting adventures, of course. Not everything in the book is from the 1950s. The narrative is more sophisticated and the novel's themes are handled more subtly than they were then.

Still, the book is full of optimistic, can-do people. These days, relatively few writers would have their main character think:

    Good men, Marc thought -- and that included the
    scattering of unwedded women. They've been
    beaten before, but they're ready to try again.
    (p. 238)

The book is a pleasure to read and an antidote to the fretfulness and pessimism to be found these days in many books in a genre that I go to for pleasing fictions.

Posted: Wed - March 12, 2008 at 07:31 PM   Main   Category: