Wednesday, June 11, 2008

In The Courts Of The Crimson King-- S.M. Stirling-- Review

In The Courts of the Crimson King by S.M. Stirling is a tribute to the classic martian novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs and C.L. Moore. The premise is that two hundred million years ago and throughout history, The Lords of Creation, an alien race seeded Mars and Venus with life and human beings. This became the classic Martian and Venusian civilization described in early science fiction.

The story starts in 2000 A.D. with a base on mars. Jeremy Wainwright (our hero) an archaeologist is on mars on an expedition to study the ruins of a dying civilization. Mars is slowingly turning into a wasteland. He is to travel with another human and a mercenary to the Kings Beneath the Mountain.

What follows is a classic chase and pursuit adventure story. The mercenary is really a princess, the potential martian heir to the crown. They must evade pirates, assassins, and survive a trip into a deadly underground ruin. Jeremy is captured and tortured by the evil rival prince. The story culminates in a classic duel for the crown.

The setting is a bit different. The martians are masters of biotechnology. They breed creatures for different purposes, for example, the engines of their airshops are giant squidlike creatures. They have bred dogs to be intelligent trackers, and birds to sing arias.

One thing which makes me a little uncomfortable is that the martians practice eugenics. Their society is caste ridden and people fight battles to preserve their germ line. There is a deep fascination with a game called Ataj which is a complex chess like game where pieces can change sides. The pieces represent different castes in martian society.

The details of the book were quite entertaining. It was clearly a homage to Barsoom. However, the eugenics bit got to me a little bit. Otherwise, the story is a classic chase and confront story which is entertaining to read.

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