Sunday, May 11, 2014

Island in the Sea of Time (S. M. Stirling)

Island in the Sea of Time
(The Nantucket series, Book 1)
S. M. Stirling
Fiction, Sci-Fi
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: On an ordinary day in March 1998, life changes forever for the people of Nantucket. A fiery dome appears around the island and the nearby Coast Guard ship, the Eagle. When it vanishes, the world has changed. Vast forests stand where cities should be. Nearly-extinct whales swarm in huge pods offshore. The stars themselves are misaligned. The people of Nantucket have somehow been transported back to the Bronze Age. Now, they must figure out how to survive in a hostile world without the conveniences of modern times, among people who see them as forces akin to gods... or demons.

REVIEW: This sounded like a great concept, and it got excellent reviews. Stirling has done extensive research, filling this time-travel adventure with all manner of authentic details (or, at least, as authentic as then-current archaeology could extrapolate.) This, unfortunately, is part of the problem. It's not so much about the characters adapting to impossible circumstances as it is an excuse to trudge through prehistory, primarily to show off how superior - morally, culturally, technologically, and often intellectually - modern Americans are compared to our ancestors.
Tribes and peoples easily fall into good and evil categories, for the most part; only the Americans are allowed to have a mixed bag, and even they separate out fairly readily. Indeed, anyone who disagrees with the core "good" characters' decisions, policies, and philosophies is portrayed as a greedy sociopath (in the case of Walker, a power-hungry American who sets out to become a Bronze Age king) or an impossibly naive nutcase (as exemplified by a group of idiotic idealists who take it into their heads to "save" the Mesoamericans from modern corruption, with results so nauseating I darned near quit reading.) One might expect some infighting as the Nantucket Islanders struggle to rebuild civilization, but the only real problem between them seems to focus on gay rights, which is kept mostly in the background. Really? No political or ideological schisms threatening their unity? No deep-rooted religious issues? No questioning of resource usage or policies? The only real point of contention between all of these unwilling Bronze Age colonists is whether sexual preference is a basic human right? Meanwhile, the "bad" natives butcher and rape with abandon, few worse than the bad-apple American Walker and his downright sadistic girlfriend. I had to skim their parts of the narrative, so disgusted was I by what they were up to. I was honestly surprised nobody had deep-fried a live baby by the end... though maybe Stirling saves that for the sequel, when he runs out of ways for his bad guys to humiliate and degrade women. (Yes, I understand historical accuracy and all that, but evidence also points to men being raped, especially on the battlefield where women were scarce... not a whisper of which was mentioned here, for all the other gory details I was treated to at length.) Among all this, a molasses-slow plot oozes along, as the Americans relearn self-sufficiency and find themselves entangled in an ongoing struggle between tribes in what will be England - a struggle exacerbated by an opportunistic Mediterranean trader and Walker.
Some of the details of prehistoric life and the Nantucketers' adaptations proved interesting, and I liked parts of some of the characters, but overall I was mostly bored. Bored and disgusted.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Ancient One (T. A. Barron) - My Review
Pyramid Scheme (Eric Flint and David Freer) - My Review
The Transall Saga (Gary Paulsen) - My Review

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