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Against the Tide of Years
S.M. Stirling
Roc Books, 400 pages

Against the Tide of Years
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: 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

Against the Tide of Years is set eight years after Nantucket was swept backwards in time three millennia at the beginning of Island in the Sea of Time. Since their temporal displacement, the Nantucketters have fought several wars, established themselves as a power and managed to live at more than a subsistence level. When the new book opens, S.M. Stirling's islanders are working to integrate indigenous populations into the Nantucket way of life and are about to set in place an alliance which will help them corral William Walker and his band of degenerate renegades.

The islanders' specialty is back-engineering products from 20th century standards to the resources available in the 2nd millennium BCE. Stirling obviously takes delight in this aspect of the novel as he gives detailed explanations of how these creations work, both the original and the new versions. Unfortunately, a lot of this explanation comes across as a data dump and has the effect of slowing, or in some cases stopping, the narrative flow of the novel. These explanations actually form the core of the novel, however, and Stirling's intended audience is the people who enjoy this type of explanation.

Stirling does have a plot, which mostly hangs on the Nantucketters' formation of an alliance with the Mesopotamian king Shiumash. Their hopes are that by aiding him and increasing stability in the region, he will provide them with the man-power they need to defeat William Walker in Greece. The plot is further complicated by Tartessian pirates, working loosely under the command of Isketerol, the native whose power is based on his early ties to both the Nantucketters and Walker.

In a novel this long, however, the characters have to carry the work. Unfortunately, Stirling's characters are not up to the task. Most of the Nantucketters tend to see eye-to-eye on nearly every issue, giving the Island the feel that it is being run by a small clique despite their description as an elected council of a republic. Furthermore, all of the characters, Walker and his cohorts included, have a tendency to be a bit too rational. Stirling's characters seem incapable of demonstrating emotions, even when they are supposed to be building a loving relationship with someone. Marian Alston and her native lover, Swindapa, seem to have a relationship built almost solely on sex, and even those whose relationships aren't as overtly sexual or rational don't seem to have a whole lot of emotion in their lives.

Stirling's villain, Walker, is just as rational as his heroic counterparts. The only difference seems to lie in his position with regard to cultural relativism. The Nantucketters are clear in their understanding that the best way to live is by the ideals they attempted to achieve in the 20th century. Slavery is bad, technological improvement is good, race shouldn't matter and so forth. Walker, on the under hand, has embraced the societies by which he is surrounded. Granted, he uses those societies to his advantage, but in many ways his character seems more honest than the do-gooders who remain on Nantucket.

Obviously, Stirling is building to a massive confrontation between Walker and his Greek clients and the Nantucketters. When they finally face off, Stirling fails to provide the tension necessary, perhaps in part because Against the Tide of Years is the middle book of the trilogy. However, without this tension, this confrontation does not carry any emotional interest for the reader whose emotions haven't already been engaged by the characters.

While Against the Tide of Years and Island in the Sea of Time are heavy on ideas, Stirling is not able to present them well in a novelistic form due to his desire to put the ideas and their background ahead of characterization. Stirling uses the middle book of the series to seemingly bring his characters to the brink of the final confrontation, although he has left enough hints that there are other balls in the air as further indicated, in part, by his short story set in this universe in the anthology Armageddon (Drake & Mosiman, 1998).

Copyright © 1999 by Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.

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