So we're back in the same sandbox that S.M. Stirling started with "The Sky People", which I reviewed back a way. You can find that review here.
This is book two in the series and Mars is so VERY different then Venus in the previous book.
The Gist: 20 years have passed since the event written about in The Sky People and Mars is now the focus of the Russians and Americans. The differences between Mars and Venus is night and day. Venus is lush, full of life and very young, culture wise, while Mars is ancient and dry.
Jeremy Wainwright is an archaeologist who is sent to Mars to uncover and document what could be the ancient Martian city Rema-Dza. Jeremy is completely new to Mars and her civilizations so he is joined by Sally Yamashita, who has spent a considerable amount of time on Mars and with the citizens of the red planet.
They hire a landship, a crew and an experienced guide, Teyud za-Zhalt, to guide them to where they believe the ruined city lies.
The Martian people are tall, above 6'6" being the average height. They have olive hued skin and their hair is commonly raven black. The Martians lifespan is counted in hundreds of years, so speed and urgency aren't all that is common.
The Martian technology is biotech based, it's all alive and grown for very specific purposes. A good example of this is the tax machine that travellers must put their hand in and drop the proper metallic fee into the box. The "machine" tastes the metal and if the purity or composition of the metal was incorrect, it would clamp its mouth around the person's hand!
The Martians have very strict rules of conduct and politics. Jeremy has NO idea what exactly he has gotten himself into. After all it was only supposed to be a 3 week trip...
The Good: This is another romp in an alternative universe with S.M. Stirling. It's well written as always.
The settings are like night and day. Mars is dry, cold and filled with an ancient old culture reaching back thousands and thousands of years. Venus is lush, vibrant and fresh with a culture that is not even close to the lifespan of Mars's.
You get the feeling that Mars is dying slowly but those around seem to not worry since it will be some time. It has such a great contrast from the first book it almost is a whiplash effect.
The language structure the Martian people use is confusing at first but when you get used to reading it, it brings out an amazing texture to the environment. I don't envy Stirling having to come up with the dialogue.
Here's an example - "Jeremy Wainman, my subsidiary employer, I profess amiable greetings. May randomness produce positive outcomes for you in this period of endeavor, and malice be absent"
CRIKEY! Like I said, difficult at first but stick with it and you'll be rewarded with the richness of the flavor.
The prologue is so wonderful. It's all these science fiction writers at the World Science Fiction Convention of 1962. They are all sitting around watching the first images from the probe sent to Mars. You have Niven, Poul, Asimov and Saberhagen, just to name a few! It was an awesome tribute to all those great minds who have given us such great science fiction works.
The story premise is simple but with all the political intrigue it makes it much more complex.
The Bad: I can't really think of anything bad about this other then we still only get hints to the Ancients and why these planets are habitable and the like. I know that Stirling is going to probably tell us all in the last book. I'm concerned because in his interview with us he mentioned that there might not be a third published unless this book does well!
So there you go, if you like this series, go BUY IT!
The Ugly: Nada!
S.M. Stirling writes a whiz bang up alternative universe story. I really enjoyed how this book was so very different from the first but yet was JUST as compelling. The characters are interesting and he has no qualm about killing off someone you thought was a main character. The technology being living creatures, grown for very specific purposes was a nice, creepy touch. It is a nice spin on the common techno filled science fiction that is common now a days.
So if you've been reading this series, you will not be disappointed. If you haven't picked up the first book, I really recommend doing so. Check out my review and see if it's your cup of tea.
In the Courts of the Crimson Kings by S.M. Stirling
Published by: Tor Books (Mar 18, 2008)
Genre: Science Fiction