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S.M. Stirling
Roc Books, 448 pages

S.M. Stirling
S.M. Stirling series include The Flight Engineer with James Doohan, Ship Who Sang with Anne McCaffrey, Fifth Millennium composed of Snowbrother (1985), The Sharpest Edge (1989 -- aka Saber and Shadow, revised 1992) with Shirley Meier, The Cage (1989) with Shirley Meier and Shadow's Son (1991) with Karen Wehrstein and Shirley Meier. Other series include Draka composed of Marching Through Georgia (1988), Under the Yoke (1989), The Stone Dogs (1990) and Drakon (1996) as well as General with David Drake which includes The Forge (1991), The Hammer (1992), The Anvil (1993), The Steel (1993) and The Sword (1995). Single novels include The Rose Sea (1994) with Holly Lisle and The Chosen (1996) with David Drake.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: T2: Infiltrator
SF Site Review: The Peshawar Lancers
SF Site Review: Against the Tide of Years
SF Site Review: Island In the Sea of Time
Excerpt: The Ship Avenged
Excerpt: The Chosen with David Drake
Excerpt: Rising with James Doohan

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

One minute Tom Christiansen is a warden for the California Department of Fish and Game working with the FBI to crack an animal smuggling ring, the next minute he's trying to figure out how a practically extinct California Condor was found without any genetic ties to other existing California Condors. Thus begins S.M. Stirling's Conquistador, a novel of a parallel California.

Christiansen's investigation quickly expands in scope as he begins to look into the potentially shady dealings of CM&M, a company with tremendous holdings and vast charitable contributions, but which seems to hold the key to the smuggling operation. Eventually, Christiansen finds himself and his partner, Roy Tully, in a California undiscovered by Christopher Columbus but more recently populated by post-World War II refugees, who see it has their land of opportunity.

Stirling has returned to the themes he explored in the Island trilogy by placing modern characters into an America untainted by European progress. However, while the Nantucketers of Across the Sea of Time (et seq.) must build their own world from scratch and have no access to the modern world, the New Virginians of Conquistador are shown more than six decades after they began their migration and have continual access to Oakland and whatever technology they can bring through the Gate. Many of Stirling's novels have been examinations of dystopias, and while the New Virginia of Conquistador is not a dystopia, neither is it a utopia. John Rolfe VI, affectionately known as "The Founder" has built a world with all the modern conveniences, but with a distinctly antebellum attitude. Furthermore, in populating his new world with old army buddies and others who have found a need to disappear from our world without a trace, he has brought together an eclectic combination of society, most of which is seedy, with the sympathetic ones being brought by chance rather than the Founder's design.

While Stirling's protagonist and his comrades, from both sides of the Gate are sympathetic, they have a tendency to suffer from Heinleinian superman syndrome a little too much. Christiansen, Tully, and Adrianne Rolfe, the Founder's granddaughter, all have exactly the abilities and knowledge base they need for any situation in which they find themselves (as do their other comrades). Furthermore, their personalities mesh perfectly, so their conversations appear almost to be internal dialogues. Even real disagreements, such as Christiansen's attitude towards Adrianne when he learns her true story, do not seem to be particularly tense.

Conquistador's strength comes from both Stirling's ability to create an interesting world in New Virginia and the ethical dilemma which faces Tom Christiansen as he must select sides in a conflict which isn't his own and in which he finds neither side to be either blameless or praiseworthy. Although Stirling could have spent more time with Christiansen's wrestling with his conscience to see how much he felt he could suborn his own principles, he does deal with the issue in a believable manner.

In Conquistador, Stirling has found a good balance of background, character and plot, leaving the reader wanting to known more about the individuals and the forces which have made up their world. While New Virginia may not be a place everyone would want to live, even the characters who populate it, as Christiansen notes, it is a wonderful place to visit, even for the brief duration of a single novel.

Copyright © 2003 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a four-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings (DAW Books, January, February and March, 2003). In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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