My rating: 4 of 5 stars
(written after a re-read, bumping my rating up to four stars)
Normally, S.M. Stirling isn’t an author to really grab my attention. I like military/historical style SF as much as anyone but there’s something … I don’t know, missing from his early works, or maybe it was just his approach to plotting back in the Draka days, or his lack of a certain gravitas I perversely associate with Science Fiction. My opinion is changing as Stirling’s style has matured beyond being “an author who never met a lesbian sex scene he didn’t like” (my words, from an earlier review). The Lords of Creation series is very good, clearly, Stirling’s finest creation yet. The series starts with the conceit that an alien race has indulged in Pamspermia on Venus and Mars using breeding stock from Earth. Both this novel and The Sky People start with this premise in the early 60s (after the Cold War takes a different turn). The Soviets have sent a probe to Venus and the Americans have sent a probe to Mars, and surprise surprise, there is life– intelligent life, on both planets, and bigger surprise, they share DNA with humanity. It’s the culture and settings on both planets that make this series rock. Stirling has gone back to the back of the rack for his inspirations, and the result is a planetary romance novel that would have done credit to a Brackett or a Burroughs. There is much that is old fashioned and great about both stories– a tongue in cheek evocation of pulp scientific romance stories that were more en courant in the 1940s. I like them! I want to see more in this universe!
Crimson Kings is essentially a quest style book with two main character POVs, a mystery mercenary woman, Teyud za-Zhalt, who hides her exalted heritage under a bushel, and Jeremy Wainman, Terran explorer, scientist and (inevitably) Teyud’s love interest. The enfolding plot contains danger, romance, intrigue and it’s all hardly new stuff, but like a well worn old shoe, it felt comfortable and I was quite entertained by it, as I recall being entertained by the Sky People a while back. Definitely something Stirling should pursue beyond a lamentable two books.