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    Review of CONQUISTADOR by S. M. Stirling (see his website)


    ROC, 2003

    When California game preserve officer Tom Christiansen comes across a smugglers warehouse that includes a California Condor unrelated to any other Condor, he is suspicious, but dismisses his theories as science fiction dreams. But when he follows up with another raid and finds a long-extinct dodo, he knows that his SF readings haven't been completely in vain. There's something out there and he intends to get to the bottom of it. Unfortunately for Tom, what there is out there is a parallel universe where Columbus never sailed to the new world, but where twentieth century dimension travellers have relaunched the diseases and wars of conquest that parallel the genocide European explorers created in our own universe.

    To preserve their secret, the conquistadors of this parallel world abduct Tom and his friend Tully across the dimensional gateway.

    Once in the new universe, Tom faces a problem. His abductors have created a pirate kingdom, genocided the native population, and created an almost all white fantasy world of a near-pristine California. Worse, many of the settlers were disgruntled whites fleeing African, Indochinese, and Algerian colonial ventures. Yet, Tom's abductors are the goodguys. A cabal of Africaneers dreaming of a return to South Africa, and of Russians looking to dominate both universes, threatens to overthrow the (mostly American) pirate government. Can Tom justify throwing in his lot with the Americans--especially as he has fallen in love with one of them?

    CONQUISTADOR gives a different slant on the parallel universes story. Rather than the single heroic individual (e.g., Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen (see our review)), an entire population migrates. According to the inhabitants, the diseases they introduced were largely involuntary--as was primarilly the case in our own universe. Based on this different approach, CONQUISTADOR is a very different story.

    Tom Christiansen's vaguely negative feelings toward what he calls the 'pirate kings' allows the reader to cheer him on through an exciting adventure that makes up the final third of the novel. Careful readers, however, will note that the resolution remains a racist white world that continues to commit genocide against the native peoples. Tom has been coopted (by marrying the princess, of course). Finding an even more definite evil has allowed him to assage any moral guilt.

    I also had some problems with the action sequence. First, once Tom's raiding party discovered proof of the conspiracy, why couldn't they have notified the authorities at once, rather than shooting it out with dozens of heavily armed soldiers? Whether Adrienne's final action at the gate is morally justified can certainly be argued.

    Author S. M. Stirling (see more reviews of novels by Stirling) has created an intriguing world--a world where ex-soldiers play at hunting, genocide, and cowboys-and-Indians. Perhaps Stirling's message is that even basically good people like Tom can be coopted by evil, as long as they see that they are doing some good. Or perhaps the message is that a feudal militaristic dictatorship would create a world where the environment was preserved (except the people, of course, who were eliminated) and manly men would prevail. It certainly gives the reader pause.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 9/08/03

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