Sunday, March 05, 2006

Conquistador, by S. M. Stirling

Conquistador: A Novel of Alternate History, by S. M. Stirling

In 1946, a malfunctioning short wave radio opens a gate into an alternate world—one where Europe never discovered North America. The owner of the short wave doesn’t share the discovery with the rest of the world, but instead invites a select group of people to cross over and colonize this unspoiled countryside. Fast-forward to 2009 and during a smuggling bust a photo of authentic Aztec priests wearing Greatful Dead shirts and a live condor from a completely unknown gene pool is recovered, starting a chain of events that threatens the secret of the gate. And all this happens in the first 20 pages!

This is a l-o-n-g book, nearly 600 pages. While I enjoyed it quite a bit, it could have easily been half the length and still entertaining. A lot of exposition here, and much of it superfluous. Take this sentence, describing a character that is incidental to the plot: “Lord Seven Flower himself was in the traditional costume: silver armbands and greaves, a loincloth intricately folded so that a long flap of snowy cotton edged with embroidery hung to his knees before and behind, gold chains and a gold pectoral across his chest, and a headdress made in the form of a snarling silver jaguar’s head with golden spots, eyes of turquoise and ivory teeth, sporting a huge torrent of colored plumes from its rear in gaudy crimson and green and mauve.” While I really like the imagery, passages like this tend to make me think of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

I would have liked to see a bit more explanations about the gate, but the author simply treats it like the MacGuffin it is. The ending is a bit predictable, and surprisingly doesn't directly set up for a sequel. The characters and world are interesting enough, though, so I’d like to see Stirling will revisit them someday.

First Sentence:
I joined the Department of Fish and Game because I couldn’t be a soldier anymore and I hate cities, Tom Christiansen thought, the Berretta cold and unforgiving in his hands.

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