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Conquistador (2004)

Conquistador (2004)
3.85 of 5 Votes: 1
0451459334 (ISBN13: 9780451459336)
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Conquistador (2004)
Conquistador (2004)

About book: This is a story with a great scenario and Stirling's usual very thorough research and above-average writing, with plenty of detailed scenic descriptions.It's the story of two worlds: one very close to our own (though not exactly the same), and an alternative world in which Alexander the Great didn't die at 32 but lived on to be 76. As Alexander lived a dangerous life and seems to have been a heavy drinker, this scenario is rather unlikely, but possible.The consequences include no Roman Empire, no Latin, no Christianity, no Islam, no surviving Judaism, retarded technological development, and no European discovery of America; until a young Virginian ex-soldier called John Rolfe steps through his private, accidental gateway in California in 1946. Developments are rather interesting for those involved.Characterization is competent and reasonably varied, considering that most of the main characters have military training and combat experience (in different times and places). However, there are more memorable characters in some other Stirling books.The first half of the book describes limited and secretive interaction between our California and the alternative version. This part of the book is well paced and fascinating.Halfway through, all the action moves to the other world, and suddenly slows down as we're given a sort of guided tour. This is mildly interesting but fails to maintain the pace that we've become accustomed to.The rest of the book is basically the story of a quasi-military operation in the alternative California; the distinctive characteristics of the other world are still there, but the story becomes preoccupied with tactics; readable enough, but the initial sense of wonder has dissipated because we're now familiar with the whole situation.At the end, the story is wound up briskly and in a fairly satisfactory way, though it leaves me wondering how events would unfold on the other world in future. I suspect the answer is that it would gradually become more like ours, although that would disappoint both the author and most of his characters.This book started with a really great idea and exploited it well, but Stirling was unable to come up with a second half that maintained the impetus and matched the standard of the first half.When I first read it, I thought the political system created by Rolfe on the second world rather bizarre, and I wondered why Stirling chose it when he had a free hand to choose anything. I've since come to realize that he didn't really have a free hand. The whole situation rests on the key issue of gate security: if the US government in the first world discovers the gate, Rolfe and his partners stand to lose everything they've built up, and would surely destroy the gate to avoid that. So strict gate security is essential, which has implications for the political system. In fact, as the story reveals, Rolfe's gate security is strict, but not strict enough.The gate is fragile and unreliable, and no-one understands how it works. For all Rolfe knew, it could have closed permanently at any time, from his first visit onwards. He was very lucky to have continuous use of it for decades; if he had as much sense as the author credited him with, he presumably took into account that any passage through it might be his last.He was also lucky in finding partners that he could trust. If in the early stages he'd needed to kill someone (or even just prevent him from visiting the first world), and that someone was known to be linked to him in the first world, the police might have noticed a missing person and might well have searched his house in a routine attempt to find the body. Discovery of gate, end of game.After rereading and reconsideration, I've decided to uprate the book from 3 to 4 stars, because I really like the scenario, the first half, and the eloquent descriptions. The second half is relatively disappointing and could have been better, but it's adequate and doesn't ruin the book.

I wanted to like this book a lot more! Honestly I did! Personally, I love the 'Build the Nation' story arc, whether it was Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Leo Frankowski, or even his Nantucket Chronicle.BUT...Stirling wouldn't let me! This is one of the most cartoonish of his books. His introduction of the main character is laughable. "I AM THE GOOD GUY, from my chiseled Aryan abs to my cleft chin, blonde hair and my Devotion to Small Forest Creatures!" Frankly, Captain America isn't as White Bread as this guy was.And by the same token, the bad guys were just BAD guys. Evil. From the hunting natives to the raping of women to the serf like conditions and torturing malefactors. There was nothing redeemable in the bad guys.The best part, for me, was trying to get glimpses of 'what kind of society would they build? How do you deal with THESE conditions and make the most of your situation?" And for the most part, this WORKED. If I had an unlimited budget, I would probably invest exactly how these gentlemen did (oh...did I say gentlemen?)Which leads to the worst part of the story. For some reason, the Founding Father of this society decided 'Hey...I need to populate this world. Why don't I get every racist, sociopath, stormtrooper, and criminal and make them Barons on this world. What is the worst that could happen?'Considering how careful they were in planning everything from their street structure to their environmental plan, to suddenly have Hitler Youth and Afrikaners killing up a seemed inconsistent.And frankly, I found some of this insulting. Afrikaners, for example, have serious racial issues because they are a minority population surrounded by a different culture who hates them and is militaristic. I don't blame either side for their acrimony. So I take these people AWAY from their circumstance...and they still, decades later, viscerally hate Africans because...reasons. To make them bad. To give them motives to hate. And yet the 'good guys' on the other side all hold most of the PC qualities that S.M. feels are mandatory in any good person.Yeah.I enjoyed the book. I would have liked to read more about the growing pains of the society rather than the supple, hard body of Tom Christiansen or the wacky hijinx of his idiot friend.Worth it. But use eyedrops so your eyes don't get stuck mid roll.
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Russ Jarvis
When it comes to alternate history with a sci-fi/tech emphasis, S.M. Stirling is the best. This was a good treatment of how modern people would impact a more "primitive" earth and the mixed bag of destruction and preservation. The resolution of the conflict among different worldviews of the "settlers" from First Side was well framed and believable. The ending was unexpected but satisfying.I thought that all the space given to describing the unblemished world beyond the gate tended to slow down the story at points. I would put the book down and come back to it in a few days. Not the page-turned I thought it would be (unlike his "Terminator" novels). Best of all, most of the protagonists and some of the antagonists were multi-dimensional and I came to care what happened to them.I'll keep reading his books. Next up is "Against the Tide of Years."
Tom Kepler
It's 1946. The White Man is about to discover America.Oakland, California, 1946. Ex-soldier John Rolfe, newly back from the Pacific, is about to make a fabulous discovery. It happens with a flip of his shortwave radio switch, a thunder crack of sound, and a blinding light. He blinks his eyes to discover a portal to an alternate world where Europeans have never set foot on the land he knows as America. Able to return at will to the modern world, Rolfe summons the only people with whom he is willing to share his discovery: his war buddies. And tells them to bring their families . . .I am a native Californian who left the state many years ago--for one reason because I was sick of the damage to the state caused by people pollution, just too many people. S. M. Stirling's novel Conquistador provides a researched look at an environmental alternative, not a utopian alternative, but at least one with a greater regard for the environment and a "second chance" to do a better job of preserving the original beauty and variety of California. This new look at a familiar landscape is a major appeal of this novel, as it may be in any alternative history novel. Conquistador provided me with an imaginative alternative to my recent reading of John Muir's (see blog excerpt posts One and Two) My First Summer in the Sierra, which I read over this winter.Most of the action of Conquistador takes place in current times, though, with flashback chapters that describe the colonization of the new, alternate world and the foundation for the conflicts that fuel the action of the novel--because the new world, the Commonwealth of New Virginia, does have its issues, mostly fueled by the fact that colonization of the world has been accomplished by recruiting people who have been displaced by political upheavals--people who have cultural and ethnic issues.These issues lead two California game wardens to become "involuntary colonists" to New Virginia, where they meet the colony founder's grand-daughter, a dynamic and independent young woman in a culture that has somehow missed the feminist revolution, along with several other cultural revolutions in the world. The strong and interesting characters of the novel add to the book's power: gun-toting Game Wardens, a red-headed adventurous feminist (from a '50s culture), and minor characters of Native and African Americans who are characterized as real individuals and not stereotypes.When the hides, feathers, and ivory of endangered species show up on the black market in California, two California game wardens begin an investigation that lead them to a surprising discovery. But when specimens of extinct animals are found, they find themselves no longer investigating but the objects of investigation--by an organization rich beyond belief, wealth gained from the gold fields of an alternative universe.With humor (an authentic photo of ancient Aztec priests decked out in Grateful Dead T-shirts), research (the New World epidemics brought with the White Man), and compassion for our culture's achievements and foibles, Stirling writes a tale that provides a different possibility for our world. If you like this sort of thing, you'll enjoy this book.
I enjoyed the beginning much better than the end. The story kept building to the final showdown. Nothing wrong with that but the finale happens too quickly. The heroine's last desperate act ends it with nothing further explained. It just goes into an epilogue where all the events after her desperate act are explained as events that occurred in the past. The end was so lame it actually made me mad. Through the whole story you are wondering what's going to happen with "the gate" and wondering how it works and Stirling sets it up so as to have a much cooler ending than what he delivered. I don't read a lot of books and when I take the time to do it I would like to be satisfied. I probably won't read another one of his books.
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