Welcome to the “Fantasy Literature” blog series. I teach. I write. And now I blog. First up, a quick look at three novels by S. M. Stirling: Island in the Sea of Time (1998), Against the Tide of Years (1999), and On the Oceans of Eternity (2000).
These novels follow the circumstances consequent to the “event” of 9:15 in the evening, March 17, 1998. The island of Nantucket and nearby waters (including the Coast Guard cutter Eagle) become englobed by flashing lightning, described by Captain Alston of the Eagle as “Like being under the biggest, gaudiest salad bowl in the world.”
The shimmering dome of light persists for some time, then vanishes. The crew and officers of the Eagle, and the inhabitants of Nantucket, soon discover they now exist in 1250 BC. While they have modern conveniences, such as guns and engines, the technology (bullets and fuel) on the island now represents all of the high technology on the entire planet.
The event calls leadership to the fore. The islanders will soon starve, for example, cut off as they are from regular grocery deliveries from the mainland. The novel’s protagonist Captain Marian Alston and other leading lights guide the islanders through the first years of their temporal stranding, facing not only the many emergencies related to basic survival but also the defection of a junior Coast Guard officer, who heads off to establish himself as a Wizard (remember your Arthur C. Clarke?) King, and not a nice one at that.
Black Gate readers may wonder at the inclusion of such technology-driven novels here at this haven for all things Swords & Sorcery. Fear not. There is plenty of swash to buckle in these novels. Plenty of battles. While firearms do come into play, much combat is that of old — muscle-powered weapons, armor, sweat, and blood.
As the Islanders do their best to both survive and defeat the enemy spawned out of their ranks, many battles are joined. Much of Stirling’s work revolves around military themes, so this is no surprise.
Alston lunged one-handed, using the katana like a saber. The man on the end of the point hadn’t been expecting that, and he ran right into it.
O’Rourke waited until he could see the mad blue eyes, white showing all around them, before he brought the pistol down. Kerack, and a jolt at his wrist. A puff of smell and the stink of rotten eggs that came with burned sulphur… The first two warriors pivoted on their left heels, shields swinging out to balance the javelins they threw with their right. O’Rourke judged the trajectory, then ducked and brought his face against Fancy’s mane.
Just having guns isn’t enough to keep islanders safe from the rest of the world — and of course, guns aren’t an islander monopoly for long. The islander rebel, naturally, teaches his minions to make them, too…
Stirling measures the cause and effect of inserting Nantucket into the bronze age. He’s read military history, knows his great battles and the interaction between leadership quality, cultural habits of warfare, and technology (especially changes in technology).
Yet he keeps the action hot. Lots to enjoy in these novels. See Emily Mah’s October, 2011 interview with Stirling to read more about the importance of these Nantucket novels to Stirling’s career.
Look next week for the next Fantasy Literature entry; the tale there starts at the same time, 9:15 Eastern (6:15 pm Pacific), but the consequences are even more serious. No, you don’t need to read these novels, with their science-fictiony feel of alternate history, to appreciate the more obvious swords-and-sorcery like the Emberverse novels. But you will have a good time if you do.
So far we’ve covered the following S. M. Stirling novels in this series:
Island in the Sea of Time, Against the Tide of Years, and On the Oceans of Eternity
Dies the Fire
The Protector’s War
A Meeting at Corvallis, Part 1
A Meeting at Corvallis, Part 2
The Peshawar Lancers and Conquistador
The Sunrise Lands
The Scourge of God
The Sword of the Lady, Part 1
The Sword of the Lady, Part 2
The High King of Montival
The Tears of the Sun
Lord of Mountains
The Given Sacrifice and The Golden Princess
Edward Carmien is a writer and scholar firmly in the orbit of the fantastic. He’s spent some of his recreational time learning skills useful in the fantasy milieu: he can ride a horse (poorly), shoot a bow (badly), hike long distances in the wilderness (pretty well), do others injury with the art of the empty hand (nowadays, who knows, he’s got five decades now…), operate small watercraft, and so on. Tabletop wargaming, gaming, computer gaming, CCG gaming, and cooking are some of his other pursuits.
A member of the SFWA and the SFRA, he writes (not enough), teaches (full time), parents, and husbands in and about Princeton, NJ. Check out his many crimes and misdemeanors in the fantasy field at edwardcarmien.com.