Tuesday, 11 March 2008

S.M. Stirling

I'm much obliged to Richard Guha for recommending S.M. Stirling's The Peshawar Lancers to me in 2006: it's become one of my favourite books, being a good adventure story with a fascinating alternate-history scenario.

I naturally investigated Stirling's other books, of which he's written quite a few. He generously provides the first few chapters of each book at his own Web site, so you can sample them without paying a cent.

I've bought and read The sky people and Conquistador; both have good scenarios but are merely OK as fiction. He's written several different series of linked novels, but I feel doubtful about them and probably won't buy them.

Stirling is six months older than me and a fluent and competent writer, who researches his stories thoroughly and populates them with some quite likeable characters. He evidently likes and respects women, and creates some strong female characters.

Unfortunately he seems to have a preference for authoritarian politics and a fascination with hand-to-hand combat, neither of which are to my taste, although I can tolerate them up to a point as part of a good story. The Peshawar Lancers provides a natural setting for monarchy, aristocracy, and old-fashioned swordplay, and these things are acceptable in that context. However, in Conquistador he had a free hand to choose almost any political arrangement he fancied, so what he came up with is disappointing. Furthermore, while his female characters are somewhat varied, his male characters all have a certain basic similarity.

I continue to recommend The Peshawar Lancers to anyone who likes alternate history, but so far I wouldn't give the same recommendation to any of his other books, though they're readable enough.

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