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    Review of THE SKY PEOPLE by S. M. Stirling (see his website)

    Tor, November 2006

    Not only are Venus and Mars habitable, they are inhabited--by humans. Unlike Earth, however, Venus is inhabited by modern humans, neandertals, sabertooth cats, and dinosaurs, all living simultaneously and in close contact. Russia and the US have transferred their rivalry from Earth to Venus, with the US playing catch-up to the early Russian settlement, and the European Union wanting to get into the game but unable to do so due to their more simplistic technologies.

    Cajun Marc Vitrac is part of a small airship team sent to rescue a Russian supply ship that crashed deep in the forbidden territory. Sabotage, natural disaster, and some alien power combine to force down the airship--and put Marc in charge of the small group. There Marc learns of a mysterious alien technology--apparently responsible for the placement of earth-derived species on Venus, and a dangerous weapon that the Russians planned to deliver. Back on Earth, Science Fiction has become the primary form of literature, studied in all of the universities, and more literary fiction is pretty much ignored by the academics.

    Author S. M. Stirling (see more reviews of novels by Stirling) creates a charming homage to the Venus stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, complete with earth-stud, sexy native woman, beast-like near-humans, charging dinosaurs, and other usual suspects. In creating an homage, however, I felt that Stirling missed a chance to transcend this genre--or even to show its evolution.

    Modern science is working hard to create a picture of the neandertal people, but the stupid and brutish people depicted by Stirling belong more to the SF of the 1920s than to the modern view. While Marc might have had a momentary concern over the fate of the neandertal women and children, he certainly never made plans to do anything less than eradicate as many as possible--all for the sake of his beautiful cave-girl. That kind of genocidal impulse really should be left out of modern science fiction. Also, Stirling chose not to really give his characters a lot of emotional depth. While they might have had tragic pasts, they went through their daily lives with a 'just the facts' attitude that is, again, consistent with the pulp fiction of the early 20th century Stirling is emulating, but that cheats the reader out of the chance to really buy into the character.

    Fans of pulp SF will enjoy THE SKY PEOPLE for what it is--an homage to a literature that is past. It's a fast-moving and readable story with plenty of action, military scenes, and dinosaur hunting. But I, for one, can't help thinking that Stirling also missed a chance to take this kind of pulp fiction to a higher level.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 1/21/07

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