by S M Stirling Print book : Fiction  |  1st ed
Traditional Science Fiction   (2008-06-03)
Stirling, S.M. ~ In the Courts of the Crimson Kings ~ TOR, 2008 ~ 304 pages ~ For adults, some teens."How can you work for the vaz-Terranan? They're rich and they have some curious and powerful tembst, but by the First Principle, they're ugly!"This is the second in a series of books based on the assumption that Venus and Mars were "seeded" with humans from Earth at some time long ago after the two planets had been terraformed and given an atmosphere by advanced aliens. The Sky People told the story of exploration of Venus and conflicts between the U.S. and the EastBlock over who would become the dominant external power on this relatively primitive world. In the Courts of the Crimson Kings looks at Mars where the EastBlock appears to be the dominant external power. However, unlike Venus, Mars has a long history of powerful rulers and a strong biology-based technology. Still, the planet is clearly in a state of decline and the culture has lost interest in innovation.Although there are some touches of Edgar Rice Burroughs and pre-WWII SF stories, the adventure story is well done by contemporary standards. Jeremy Wainman is an American archaeologist who is one of the very few to have been sent to Mars. He and a colleague are to investigate ruins to learn more about Martian civilization and its decline. Their guide/mercenary/solidier is Teyud za-Zhalt who is much more than she appears to be. In fact, much of the book focuses on attempts by others to kill her while Jeremy develops a more than professional relationship with this tall and deadly young woman. This is primarily an adventure story with threats and revelations. However, the biology-based technology is different and interests. Both Teyud and Jeremy are well done. Stirling has done a very good job in creating a structure to the Martian language in translation that makes it different, reflects the culture, but is also quite understandable. The world-building, including a variety of deadly creatures, court rivals, and culture, intrigues without over-whelming.There are more than enough threats and action to keep the pages turning. The ending is satisfactory while clearly indicating that much more is just around the corner.Stirling is creative and most productive. While similar to the SF adventure stories that many of us read when we were much younger, this is a solid story that should please many readers.Recommendation:While not likely to have the impact of his Nantucket series, both volumes will be popular in larger SF collections, especially with the adventure, wonder, and ease of understanding. The alien "first founders" element is introduced, but doesn't receive much attention so most readers will ignore it. Print is typical of a contemporary hard cover edition with no reading problems. A map would have been a nice addition. Cover art by Gregory Manchess shows airships and a Martian warrior and desolate red terrain.
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