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on 21 May 1999
AGAINST THE TIDE OF YEARS, the second book in S.M. Stirling's Nantucket trilogy, is a riveting, delightful, novel of war on a global scale, of people in love, and of great deeds and high adventure. It is also an exploration of the nature of sacrifice, the concepts of duty and honor, and each person's responsibility for each other. It's not an overstatement to say that along with its predecessor, it sets a new standard in the alternate history genre of SF. It is one hell of a read. In the first novel, ISLAND IN THE SEA OF TIME, the island of Nantucket off the Massachusetts coast is inexplicably thrown three thousand years back in time. The Coast Guard cutter EAGLE, near Nantucket at the time, goes with it.
The people of the island deal with this miraculous event and start to build a community. Jared Cofflin, the town Sheriff, is made Chief Executive of the small nation. Marian Alston, Captain of the Eagle, heads its armed forces, which everyone thought were not going to be necessary for a while. Then William Walker, a junior Coast Guard officer, steals a ship, weapons, and technology, and takes off for Bronze Age England to make himself king of the world. Nantucket raises an army, travels to England, and defeats him in battle, though he escapes to the mainland with his small group of evil rebels.
In AGAINST THE TIDE OF YEARS, it is eight years later. The fledgling Republic of Nantucket(RON) has achieved economic stability and is pushing into the American continent, while maintaining close relations with the Fiernan and the Sun People of the British Isles. Walker has traveled to Greece, where he's become a favorite noble of King Agamemnon. As Walker's political and military power grows, it becomes clear he's preparing for a war of conquest. The Republic of Nantucket decides it's time to stop their wayward sociopath, even if it means war.
Thus a series of global conflicts begins, in which RON establishes a treaty with Babylon takes part in the siege of Troy, in which Nantucket defends itself on the ground and on the high seas in a pitched naval battle.
The brother-sister team of Kathryn and Kenneth Hollard, career soldiers both, are dispatched to Babylon to offer military aid and instruction. They find themselves quickly mired in a full-scale war as well as the political intrigue of Babylon itself.
While the fighting and the strategy is interesting, the best parts of the book are the living characters who inhabit its heart. Marian Alston and her Fiernan lover Swindapa are complex people. Loving parents, excellent soldiers, deeply committed, and just plain fun. William Walker is a depraved portrait of evil. The truly chilling thing about him is his humanity--he loves his children, he takes care of his people. If he weren't a mass-murdering sociopath, he'd almost be likeable.
As you can tell, AGAINST THE TIDE OF YEARS is a bit complex; it is also a delight for anyone who has ever studied history, for anyone who enjoys a good love story, for anyone who enjoys military strategy, and for anyone who likes a good book. I can't recommend it enough.
--Marshall Moseley
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on 18 April 1999
Stirling's sequel to the wonderful Island in the Sea of Time left me flat. With a great start, re-introducing my favorite characters, it all too soon had me skimming past new characters and situations. And there are quite a few new main characters, too many for me! I found it difficult to keep track of who was who, who was where, and why I should care. I should mention I'm very much a "character" reader, not a military or history enthusiast. Stirling grabbed me in the first book with his wonderful characters. They evolved from disbelief in their situation to uneasy command, both good and evil. But I found little to no character growth or insight through the 400 plus page sequel.
The best part, Marion and Swindapa were as delightful as they were in the first book. I did wonder though if 'dapa started out as a recruit or was brought in as a Lt. Commander? For the few pages they appeared, Jared seemed an old fuddy duddy, with Martha reduced to keeping him on a financial leash. If Doreen whispers in Ian's ear one more time, I'll scream. I was hoping for greater development of the children and their parents. Heather, Lucy, David, and little Marion turned out not to be much more but background noise. Sandy and Doc Coleman, Hiller, Hendriksson, and even Toffler. Where were they, what happened that they left the Guard or even the Island?
The new characters didn't grab me at all. Pete Girenas didn't interest me. I didn't understand the focus of this sub-plot. It wasn't wrapped up, so I expect it will carry into book 3. And I will most likely skim past it too. The Holland's, though they appeared very, very briefly (one page as I recall) in Island, have been promoted to main characters in Against. As the Islanders move in-land, this does create the need for additional military leadership, new characters. Interesting that the Commodore, his boss, makes Holland nervous. I guess Marion doesn't have her staff dinners anymore. I wasn't pulled into Kash and Kat's relationship. One page she thinks it's fun to have him to campaign with, three pages later she's dragging him into bed, and the next chapter, maybe 20 pages later with countless covering of other characters, she's been offered co-ruler. Too much, too soon, and suggests lust, not love, not respect, no evolution of understanding between two very different cultures and beings, especially on Kash's part. Within a span of 20 or so pages he's willing to forego his upbringing, everything he ever thought about the role of women. I can only imagine what part of his body he's thinking with. And there's certainly no reason to respect Kat either. Unfortunately, it was boring and I ended up skimming over these two also. Kenneth and Raupasha were slightly more fun to read. There were other new characters too, but I skimmed them. Overall, too many to keep track of, and too many for Stirling to do justice.
In Island, the characters came together as family and broke away from family. They had a relationship to each other. I don't get the same sense of relation and devotion to each other in this book.
Regardless, I am, and always will be a devoted Stirling fan!
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on 26 July 1999
Against the Tide of Years is S. M. Stirling's second novel in an ongoing series whose core is a group of modern Nantucket Yankees learning to cope with the Bronze Age. Compared to the first volume (Island in the Sea of Time) there is less tension, less anxiety over their survival, and thus a less involving read. In part this is because a much longer period of time is covered (hence the story becomes episodic, and laced with flashbacks to a parallel story), the stage expands to the Mediterranean and Near Eastern world, and the many new players are more civilized (fundamentally less exotic) than in the first story. The revival of near-modern skills happens a little too easily now, usually off-stage, with little dissension, and excessively focused on (19th century) military technology to wow the enemy (and us). Fascinating new characters appear, but the crucial women receive only flesh wounds. Here the renegade Yankee deserter, Walker, who was such a threat in the first novel seems actually a rather decent chap while he is enslaving Agamemnon and the world of Homeric pre-Classical Greece (and his first wife's now-comical Sadism proves that sin is ultimately boring)! In some ways this volume is just marking time, setting up the initial situation for the climactic battles with Walker and his Iberian ally. (Then of course there is Africa and China, if Stirling would only continue his intriguing world.) This is definitely a series to be read only from the start.
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on 21 April 1999
I have been eagerly waiting for this book since the first one came out, and it was worth the wait, but if you haven't read Island in the Sea of Time read it first or you will be lost. I was surprised by the jump of eight years, but in retrospect it makes sense, though the way the scenes in the first chapters shifted in time as well as place can be confusing--I found myself going back to the chapter headings to keep on track. The people are just as fascinating as the first book, though there is a shift of emphasis to the military and, with the primary focus shifting to Greece and Sumer, the main characters on Nantucket get little coverage. Walker continues to shine as one of the best villains I've ever read: smart, ruthless (but intelligently so) and aware of his own weaknesses. He certainly isn't any worse than most of the rulers of the time and better than many. His wife is still as twisted as ever, but Stirling was a little more discreet about it, for which I was grateful. Overall, this book fills the same position in the trilogy as The Empire Strikes Back does for Star Wars: incomplete without the other two, without as much action, but needed to set things up for the big blowout (the next book looks like it will be the first world war, with fighting from Spain to Egypt).
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on 8 May 1999
An excellent sequel to Island in the Sea of Time, which is a great book by itself. The Nantucket trilogy so far is surely among the best books I had the occasion to read. I enjoyed the depiction of the Bronze Age peoples and cultures, dead for millenia, but now living again due to the precise research and admirable depiction skills of the author.
There are some points I would have liked detailed in the book, such as a more detailed account of the Girenas expedition and the peoples it encountered. More Tartessian POVs could also have been added, leading to a deeper understanding of this people and their goals. Maybe the third book will present such things. Some nitpicks, the dates presented in some chapter headings aren't always in the good order, or refers to parts that have been deleted, which led to some confusion. A more thorough editing work would have been nesessary, I believe.
All in all, a book you'll probably read more than once, or twice!
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on 25 August 1999
I felt a lot of the "survival" tension from the first book was lost in this one. There were a few too many drawn out battle scenes for my taste, but all in all, still glad I bought and read it. I hope the next installment comes soon. I'm intrigued to see if he develops/integrates the group that left for the West Coast (which gets minimal coverage in this book)into the Nantucketters survival in the next book. Interesting possiblities there.
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on 17 May 1999
Despite wanting to turn the editor over to a certain A. Hong, I really enjoyed this book. The focus shifted a bit to different characters to some extent from the first book, but as the book primarily focused on off-island military campaigns, it would not be suprising that the on-island civilian head of state did not have a central role.
However the action was fast, furious and intelligent, the character were interesting and three dimensional. (Even if a lot of time and therefore character development happened off camera so to speak) and the villians a suitable threat to all we hold dear.
My only real critism is that the book come across as the second book in a trilogy. :-) Plot lines are brought up and not resolved and it is largely setting the scene for the big war in the next book.
In reply to some previous posts, I am aware that there are historical anachronisms in the book, such as female soldiers. These are a result of Islander interference you twit. The pace of technological development is fast, but that is because it is rediscovery, not new inventions, so all that the "inventors" have to do is get the bugs out. Finally, I'm not an authority on melee combat, but I do know that the Japanese had actually been using swords for serious fighting for longer and more recently than we have, and that Myamtoto Musashi did actually go around killing people, not writing best selling books so I think they know what they're talking about. Just remember that there is the sport version and the killing your oponent version and most places teach the sport version.
A lot about the book is unlikely, but this is high adventure where mismatched heroes struggle against long odds. If you want a realistic version of the story, go read "Lord of the Flies". This is a tale of wonder, hope and the human spirit. The main characters from uptime may come across as overly competant, but they are the top half-dozen out of a population of 7,000 from the first book. They are literally one in a thousand.
This is the kind of brilliant story with depth I have come to expect from Stirling. I just pity people who havn't read his books. (This includes one or two of the other reviewers.)
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on 13 April 1999
"Against the Tide of Years" is S.M. Stirling's sequel to "Island in the Sea of Time"... and unlike so many sequels, this book is every bit as compelling as the first one. I may as get the bad part out the way first...I wasn't all that choked up by the cover...<g> other than that though..the book is first class in every way. The time is 8 years after the "Event" that propelled the island of Nantucket into the Bronze Age, and the islanders have adjusted as well as possible. Some of the characters from the first book who were major figures then are more or less minor in this one... Chief Jared Cofflin..now the "chief" of the Republic of Nantucket is only visible now and again..but other charcters are developing to replace this. The plotting is excellent..the battle scenes realistic...and the renagade Coast Guard officer, William Walker, is still a very capable and ruthless villian.(It is very refreshing to see a villian who is as intelligent as those who oppose them..)Some historical people from the Trojan War are around, as are some ancient (to us in the 20th century that is) empires that figure largely in the story. Once caution though... if you have NOT read "Island..." i strongly reccomend you do, as it will add much to your enjoyment of this book. But I also strongly suggest you don't miss either book.
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on 4 July 1999
OK, it's a nice premise for a story. But the sexual politics Stirling is pushing finally got to be too much for me and I couldn't finish it.
It goes BEYOND politically correct! It's as if the author has something AGAINST men. All the women characters are dominant, of course, I expected that from reading the first book. Jared Cofflin, the male Mayor, looks up to his wife who he knows is more intelligent than he is. The black woman in charge of the armed forces, Commodore Marion Alston, can beat anyone alive in a physical fight. ALL the women in the Nantucket armed forces (which carries out basic training with mixed sexes) win in ALL the physical encounters they have against men who try to harrass them (for example, by not wanting to take orders from them). But one event really stands out.
Commodore Alston and her wife, Swindapa, are lucky enough to witness a "Section Seven" punishment in basic training. A male recruit, breaking up a relationship with a woman recruit, hit her. (He gave her a black eye.) Swindapa mutters, when she hears this, "Scumbag!" The male recruit must either get four years of penal servitude in the salt mines, or pass a "gauntlet". Choosing the gauntlet, he is stripped naked and made to walk at a slow marching pace (to slow march drum) between two ranks of women swinging rifle slings at him, buckle-end uppermost. "Three quarters of the way, and his body and scalp were a mass of blood and welts, sheening crimson in the sunlight. The rifle slings were spraying drops of blood now, and the man fell forward, crawling the last dozen paces like a crippled dog."
Women can be physically abusive too! (Lorena Bobbit would have been EXECUTED by the rules here. OK, maybe her husband did some mean things to her, but I'm simply arguing women CAN BE physically abusive when they get angry. And a lot of mean exchanges can happen when a couple is breaking up!) Would a woman ever run such a gauntlet? Stripped naked and marching slowly between lines of men trying to beat her? I don't think so -- the picture of a naked woman in this role makes the implicit sadism of this scene too obvious. But the author seems to think this is a fine thing to happen to men!
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on 3 May 1999
Very welcome sequel to Island in the Sea of Time, with many of the same virtues, and the weaknesses a tad more apparent. On the plus side, the plot pulled me along - I loved Island, enjoyed Tide, and can't wait for the third of the series to know how it turns out. The numerous characters include a few one-dimensional extras, but many strong and well-written. The "locals" are shown as complex and intelligent, without the gullibility overused in some time travel stories. Minuses - the sex is not integral to the plot, but apparently used for occasional shock value/ titillation, especially female bisexuality. The technological progress is implausible, both on the island and elsewhere, and I can't reconcile the population of the island with the remarkable number of expeditions and settlements that it launches. But these are quibbles - this is speculative fiction and very enjoyable. To anyone who liked Island in the Sea of Time, this is a must-read. For those who haven't read Island in the Sea of Time, read that first and then enjoy this.
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