Islands in Time

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Wikipedia tells me the Olmecs had maize and sweet potatoes.

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In Stirling's books, however, the first contact with the the peoples of the mainland leads to unleashing the common cold on them, and devastating a tribe. The second is when a delusional hippie, attempting to give the Olmec some protection against what she regards as the inevitable incursion of and devastation by arming them. She is captured, and ceremonially raped by a jaguar as a precursor to being used as a human sacrifice.

Later, we learn that the Olmec have been infected with mumps and will likely be wiped out. On what-would-be British Isles, the islanders come upon a conflict between the earlier inhabitants and the recent invaders I think from what-would-be France, based on their names end with -ix, and Asterix and find themselves sympathizing with the embattled locals, but trading with the victorious invaders, believing themselves to have no choice in order to survive.

The invading people give the Islanders various treaty-gifts, included a captured slave-girl. Which is where the lesbian pirate-queen romance takes off, awesome! Not really pirates, but good enough! Marion Alston is likeable, and her romance with young Swindapa, awkward, sweet, and the epitome of cross-cultural, is fun. But Alston as a character is occasionally jarring when she seems to be speaking for the author, as when she encourages another young Black cadet to stop thinking of themselves as Black, since in a few generations their skin differences will disappear into the island population like a drop of coffee in a glass of milk.

She also tells him that their decision to trade in England rather than Africa is necessary, since in the Egyptian courts, she and he would be treated as just as sub-human as their ancestors had been Confederate America. What about West Africa, though? It's closer than Egypt, and agriculturally established.

Islands in Time

I would have bought someone speaking Swahili as easily as I bought someone speaking Lithuanian, and wikipedia confirms my memory of a western Bantu culture in the relevant time culture. I don't actually think contacting the people of the contingently-British-Isles is unlikely, but I don't think it's something that can be defended as a purely disinterested and logical choice.

The villains of the piece are also kind of icky, beyond mere villainy; Walker, a sailor, decides to take his knowledge of technology and use it to set himself up as an emperor in the Mediterranean. He takes with him a small party of like-minded people, including Alice Hong, a nurse who has been "Black-listed from every kink club on the East Coast", a sado-masochist who Walker dominates and who enjoys dominating the prisoners slaves Walker uses to build his civilization.

It seems utterly gratuitous, a sort of dog-kicking to demonstrate villainy, and it doesn't help at all that she's the second most visible non-white character. Actually, written like this, it seems far more clearly problematic than it did to me while reading. While reading, it was mostly a vague discomfort, which I attributed to raised mindfulness as a result of mammothfail.

View all 4 comments. After a strange electrical storm, the residents of Nantucket discover that their entire island and its surrounding waters have been sent back to B. Now this society, which is mostly based on a tourist economy, must figure out how to establish a new identity in prehistory.

This includes clearing and farming land, building ships, finding new sources of fuel, salt, and other necessities, and most difficult of all, developing a constitution and befriending native trading partners. Fortunately, Nantucket has some citizens with valuable knowledge and skills who find themselves naturally rising to leadership positions: a brave and competent Baptist police chief, a widely-read and level-headed librarian, a black lesbian ship captain, a history professor, an astronomy student, the manager of the local grocery store, and a Catholic priest.

I have a thing for time-travel novels — especially the Survivor-style stories in which modern people are forced to live in more uncivilized and unsophisticated times. Island in the Sea of Time has the added fun of actually having modern conveniences but not having the power or fuel to run them. Thus, the people of Nantucket must disassemble their cars for sheet metal while raiding their museums for whaling and milling antiques. Island in the Sea of Time is full of characters who feel like real people — people you might actually know. For the most part their relationships and romances are believable and understandable as former strangers work together to create a new society.

The villains, however, are over-the-top. At times, Island in the Sea of Time becomes a bit teachy as characters discuss token economies, division of labor, ship building, linguistics, farming techniques, iron casting, steam engines, canning, the production of gunpowder, the use and care of firearms, etc. And it gets a little preachy as they discuss the creation of a new constitution.

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But generally I thought S. Stirling did a good job with this aspect of the book.

Islands in Time

Mass astronomy intern. View all 5 comments. Oct 02, Richard rated it did not like it Shelves: fantasy-alt-history , scifi-time-travel , series , scifi.

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There are so many pitfalls that have to be avoided that it usually isn't worth bothering to open the book. If you'll settle for just alternate-history, try the incredible The Man in the High Castle , or for just time-travel, maybe the almost-incredible Doomsday Book. The biggest problem here is that Stirling wanted the intrepid Nantucketeers to survive and thrive, and that is absurdly unlikely.

Take an island of roughly 10, folks and toss them a few millennia back in time, and most will be dead within a year. If any descendants survive, they'll be indistinguishable from the natives of that era within two or maybe three generations. Even if all of those 10, were highly intelligent and able-bodied adults, there are simply not enough to fill all the productive roles in any semblance of a modern economy. To even begin to reverse those odds, Stirling has to give his doughty islanders an astonishing array of expertise as well as some world-class machine tools.

But the trump, of course, is that one of the two Coast Guard sailing ships just happens to be training in the neighborhood and comes with them, along with its crew and cadets. Also impressive is the fact that not one, but two! Even with these advantages, their many bronze-age escapades are only possible with massive doses of luck and omissions of some hazards. Cross-cultural miscommunication turns out to be not a problem at all!

Navigation to distant waters is a snap, even without GPS! One of the Coast Guard officers remembers — without notes!


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Was it a carrack or a caravel? Can't remember. And that is, of course, the problem. The author has to give all the important characters too much skill or too many skills so they can deal with the vast variety of problems they'd face. A few disposable characters are tossed in to try to disguise this, but it isn't a problem that can really be hidden. On the other hand, the central character was a hoot. Hmmm, a black lesbian Coast Guard captain with advanced training with her beloved samurai sword? Honestly, take her out of this book and make her a movie action hero.

Unfortunately, she was wasted here. The villain, sadly, isn't memorable at all. Wafer-thin character development, with nothing more to drive his nastiness than arrogance and glory-seeking.


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A little nuance might have helped — he could, instead, have wanted the islanders to conquer and rule the bronze age with benevolence and the hindsight of three millennia, putting him conflict with those wanting to lead by democratic example. No such luck. Honestly, I would have bet against the democrat folks, since the underlying necessity of trusted institutions would have been absence, rendering "democracy" no more than a rubber-stamp for tyranny by a tribal majority, happy to be sanctified by elections while abusing their vile opponents.

We see enough of that in the 21st century. Oh, yeah: a number of other reviews here have lambasted this book for "deviant sexuality". One superfluous character goes in for extreme masochism amounting to torture, but the acts themselves are left to the imagination. That the author chose to add such an unlikely and grating aspect to the story was really no more than more evidence that the story just isn't very good.

Not recommended. Unless you're really into this kinda stuff, which means you already are pretty tolerant of many of these kinds of problems. View 1 comment. I had this book on my to-read shelf for some time as I'd heard it was a good alt history book but I never got around to reading it til one of my book clubs picked it as a series read. And I'm glad I finally read it. The affected having to come to terms with the loss of everyone and everything they once knew and learn to live in t Wow. The affected having to come to terms with the loss of everyone and everything they once knew and learn to live in the Bronze Age.

Now I will admit there is a lot of handwaving here. It seems to be amazing luck that they have fishermen, farmers, blacksmiths, historians, anthropologists, a vast array of people who know how to make or find everything required to get a society running at at least Industrial Revolution standards.

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But you know what? I didn't care. It meant the book kept moving and didn't end after two chapters with everyone dying. Which is what would happen if random people from my city were sent back to the past. I loved the little details of the civilisations of the time. I wanted to see more interactions and explorations but I believe that will occur in the rest of the series.

More fallout

This book really was about getting the Islanders to a stable point from which they could be self-sufficient plus the breakaway groups. There were times that I wish this book was written at a higher level though like Opening Atlantis or Foundation , spanning generations to see what changes the Event caused.

Especially, and this ties in with something that bugged me, when they were getting close to year 0. So here's something I really disliked. After everything else going ok, yeah sure existing tribes and civilisations would be completely changed but they had to survive somehow, they decide to unleash Christianity on the locals.

A religion based on someone who wouldn't even be "born" for over years. I guess they at least might get a coming of Jesus.

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