You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

My Photo
Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Island in the Sea of Time

S. M. Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time is a novel about the time travel on a massive scale. The island of Nantucket is mysteriously transported from the late 1990's to about 1250 B.C. Along with the island is the Eagle, a U.S. Coast Guard training ship captained by Marion Alston, a black gay woman. Alston takes the ship to the island, and together with Jared Cofflin, the island's police chief, and Ian Arnstein and Doreen Rosenthal, and many others, they figure out how to survive on the island without constant supplies of food, or electricity or running water.

The islanders send a boat to the mainland, where they encounter natives who quickly attack them then get sick. The islanders use their ingenuity to figure out how to survive on fish, hunt whales for food and fuel, clear woods and plant grain, police themselves, and reorganize their economy to keep everyone busy. They make a trip to England to trade for grain and other food, picking up a merchant (or pirate) who speaks ancient Greek, and Swindapa, a slave girl from the Earth people, the native tribes who are at war with the new people.

Halfway through the story, one of the sailors takes a group of conspirators and steals one of the ships, sailing with the translator back to England. There they begin building an empire based on technology far beyond what the Bronze Age people can build. Alston must first rescue Cofflin's pregnant wife, who was kidnapped and taken to Mexico in a misguided attempt to help the natives against an imagined invasion from the Nantucketers. Then, the island builds weapons and trains men to fight, so that they can attack the growing threat from across the ocean.

The last part of the book consists of a series of battles, pitting the Nantucketers against the rebels and their allies. Alston has to manage modern battle tactics with fierce warriors and primitive weapons, albeit weapons made of steel much stronger than the locals can produce. The rebels use the same strong weapons, but also include a pair of cannons.

The story is basically plot-driven, but there is good characterization. Alston is the central character, and we get a close look at her struggles, both against outside enemies and the people of the island. Her romance with Swindapa provides an important emotional element to the story. We also get a good look at Cofflin, who gives up his position as police chief to become a political leader and organizer. He and the other islanders are faced with mass suicides and religious fanatics soon after the Event. I think this is a likely result of such an event. The story illustrates different realistic responses to the situation.

Much of the first part of the story centers on discussions on survival, and how people can make a life without twentieth century amenities. It doesn't sound exciting, but it turns out to be pretty interesting. A lot of research went into the book, especially this part. The author studied about survival on primitive foods, as well as forging simple weapons.

I was a little disappointed in the ending, in that it didn't provide the sense of finality that I was expecting. But it still seems believable, so it rings true. I think the author has created quite a work of fiction, starting with an imaginative, outlandish premise, and developing it with steady logic along a natural path. It certainly got me thinking about how I would survive an island winter with fish and nuts and berries to eat. A-


Post a Comment

<< Home