read: 13 July 2004
I love Stirling’s history but I don’t like his politics. He writes masterful stories that all seem to share the plot point of going back in time, and then he explains how humans manage to live then. His older novel Islands in the Sea of Time was really great until the war of all against all part. Stirling is a good writer, but not an amazing one, so he can’t make battle scenes zip to life. He’s clearly enamored of the tactical precision of battle, but spends too much time saying “and then this guy went over here, then those other guys went over there, the first guy shouldered his rifle and aimed at those other guys...” etc. Actually, he writes better than that, but the tedium of the battle scenes was what drove me away from the sequel to Islands.
This book has a slightly different premise: guy discovers a portal in his basement -- the author doesn’t bother with details which is fine with me -- where he can walk from his San Francisco basement into a California where white men never settled. Of course, once he makes this discovery white men do settle, with a vengeance. The portal into the alternative California becomes a fiercely guarded secret and a few get very very rich protecting it. Along the way we learn some inteesting things about the early history of California, the native plants, animals and people that lived there, and Stirling’s own opinions about what would make the world a better place. Of course, these opinions are supposedly coming from characters in the novel, but there are some really obvious set-up lines that serve pretty much to only demonstrate how one philosophy is clearly morally superior toanother and you think “what is that doing in this book?” In any case, the story itself is a good read, the battle scenes overlong and some of the moralizing tiresome, but for history buffs, Stirling can really create a convincing world and populate it with interesting folks, worth a read.
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