Island in the sea of time

Island in the sea of time

Postby Graham Kennedy » Sun May 08, 2011 9:43 pm

I stumbled across this little sci-fi work lately and found it quite enjoyable, so I thought I would tell you about it.

The premise is a rather odd one; one day, for no reason that is ever explained, the island of Nantucket and everything for a few miles around it "slips" back in time to 1250 BC. At first rather confused, the locals must figure out ways to survive in both the short and long term in their new environment.

What's good : Stirling, the author, has a lot of fun with the islanders adapting to their new life. Their first priority is, obviously, finding food sources. Helpfully, the oceans are stocked with levels of fish and other life that a modern human couldn't credit. I love the scene where an environmentalist yells "We can't go harpooning whales, they're an endangered species!" only to be told "Not anymore, they 'aint!" Some of the detail is a bit skimpy - for example some people go a bit understandably wonko given what's happened, including one who shoots people. The solution? We're told in passing that all the guns were rounded up and locked away. I'd imagine that would be a big deal to Americans, but it's pretty much dismissed like that. Still, the book is quite long anyway, and Stirling has to strike a balance between detail and keeping things moving.

The locals are helped hugely in that the USCG Eagle is swept along with them; a large sailing ship, the vessel is able to cross to Europe and trade for food and livestock supplies.

But herein lies the rub; some of the islanders realize that they could do very well for themselves by sneaking off to become kings amongst the primitives. Knowing that Nantucket itself would be a massive prize for that kingdom once it's established, the rest decide to forge alliances of their own to fight back...

The last half of the book is therefore occupied by maneuvering and battles, most of it set in England actually. It's quite fascinating to see the mix of ancient ways and practices mixed in with what the technology and tactics the newcomers can provide.

On the downside, though, some of the characters are a bit meh. Some are good - the chief bad guy is no evil maniac, he's a smart guy who is doing something that many would be tempted to do in his place. The heroine, though, is a bit too perfect for my taste. A coast guard officer who is pretty much perfect at that job, as well as being an expert in hand to hand combat, a master swordswoman, and a damn good infantry commander too. Hmmm.

Some of the lesser characters are even worse. The environmentalist I mentioned earlier is a loony ultra-fanatical type who decides to save the natives people of South America from the doom she thinks will come their way by going to them with modern textbooks and technology. After all, as ancient peoples they are "very spiritual" with a "deep connection to the Earth", right? I suppose there are people as stupidly wide-eyed as she is painted, but it doesn't make for an interesting character. And as for what happens to her... well, we expect the author to punish her for her stupidity I suppose. But frankly he goes way over the top. Her fate is rather stomach churning and the idea that it was meant to satisfy the reader left an unpleasant taste in my mouth.

Still and all, a good book. There are two sequels, so I'm set for reading for the next few weeks!
Give a man a fire, and you keep him warm for a day. SET a man on fire, and you will keep him warm for the rest of his life...
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Graham Kennedy
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