Book Review: Island in the Sea of Time – by S. M. Stirling

What would happen if you were suddenly flung back in time more  than 3,000 years with no warning and the clothes on your back? How long would you survive if there were no stores, no houses to find shelter in, and you didn’t know the language of  the people around you, if there were people around you?

I have backpacked enough, and I know that carrying a minimum load of survival gear, not including food, puts about 40  pounds on my back. That does not include weapons for hunting, as I’d have to live off the land. I would survive days, maybe weeks.

In Island in the Sea of Time, the island of Nantucket, off the coast of Massachusetts, experiences a strange and unexplained electrical storm after which its inhabitants realize something is very wrong with their world. An astronomer who happens to be researching on the island is able to conclude the year to be 1250 B.C. They fly across the water to Boston harbor and  find that Boston is simply not there. Only dense woods. As luck would have it, a U.S. Coast Guard training sailing ship happens to be near enough the island when “the Event” occurs that it comes along. This fact makes a huge difference for the survivability of the island, since they now have a seafaring vessel that can cross oceans, along with a fledgling military force of about  300 cadets, officers and crew.

This is reminiscent of another book I recently read, Stephen King’s Under the Dome, where a town of similar size was forced to deal with a totally impossible situation.

The book describes what would happen if the gasoline stored in the local gas station and in everyone’s cars was the last gasoline on the planet. How long would water keep running? How long would the electricity remain on? How long would the ammunition last? Would anarchy take over?

And what would happen to the rest of the world, happily in the Bronze age, if a 300 foot sailboat showed up off the shores one day, with people who could perform magic, with their weapons, with their healing power, and with their communications?

The main conflict arises when one of  the senior officers on the ship, Lieutenant William Walker, becomes rogue, breaks away, steals most of the weapons, and sails to England in a quest to become king. England in that period is populated by bands of superstitious and fierce warriors who raid one another periodically. Bring in modern weaponry and warfare techniques and see what happens.

Stirling appears preoccupied with female warriors and martial arts. One of the protagonists is the ship’s captain, Marian Alston, a female, lesbian martial artist and ninja warrior. This is a bit improbable, but  you get used to it. I guess it helps to write a good warrior story without having to create another Captain Bligh.

I will stop here.

S. M. Stirling tells a great alternative history and time travel story that kept me turning the pages and had me thirsting for more. Fortunately, it’s a trilogy and the next two books are already awaiting on my Kindle.

Rating: ***

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