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A series of Alternate History science fiction novels by S.M. Stirling, consisting thus far of The Sky People and In The Courts of the Crimson Kings. A Reconstruction of classic Planetary Romance novels and tropes for the modern audience, the novels explore a world built around a simple concept: what if Mars and Venus really were approximately like we envisioned them before all that boring reality got in the way?
As scientific observation of our nearest planetary neighbors intensifies during the early 20th century, it becomes clear that both worlds have oxy-nitrogen atmospheres much like our own. By 1948, the possibility of life on both is so strong that the Space Race kicks in early and keeps going, radically altering political history from that point on as the Cold War begins to lose importance and military spending is diverted to exploration. And when the Russians finally land a probe on the surface of Venus in 1962, the first image its cameras send back is of a dinosaur-infested jungle. And the second image is of a beautiful blonde woman in a Fur Bikini being chased by a savage horde of neanderthals.
Two months later, when the American Viking probe tells us about the canal-building biotech-using humanoid Martians, the race to land on both worlds shifts into high gear.
But once contact has been made and permanent scientific studies begin, oddities begin to creep up. For one thing, the humans of Venus are entirely too human to be a product of parallel evolution -- a conclusion reinforced by the simultaneous discoveries that some tribes speak a language clearly descended from Indo-European, and that only two hundred million years ago the planet was an uninhabitable acid-veiled hothouse, becoming Earthlike practically in the blink of an eye.
As evidence mounts that someone has been tinkering with the worlds of the solar system for millions of years, continuing right into the last few millennia, the question humanity must ask is: Who are the Lords of Creation, and what do they intend for their great multiplanetary experiment?
This series provides examples of:
- Adventurer Archaeologist: Lampshaded and played straight in The Courts of the Crimson Kings.
- Always Chaotic Evil: The Neanderthals of Venus are presented as undilutedly vile and filthy creatures.
- Though they're only seen from the viewpoints of their enemies and/or victims.
- At one point a group of Neanderthals give their lives so the women and children can escape, and the main characters reflect that they might have misjudged them.
- Awesome Moment of Crowning: the Invisible Crown of the Tollamune Emperors supplies its own awesomeness, but the official ceremony is pretty darn impressive.
- Badass Bookworm: Every Earth person not actually on Earth, as you have to be this just to qualify for the space program.
BambooShamboo Technology: Space travel is EXPENSIVE, which means the Venusian colonists have to make do with bronze age materials for their equipment wherever they can.
- Big Creepy-Crawlies: The combination of lower gravity and higher oxygen pressure on Venus allows insects to grow to the size of Chihuahuas.
- Chess Motifs: Subverted in that atanj, the Martian chesslike game from which many a motif is drawn, is vastly more complex than mere Earthly chess. With ships, merchants, boycotters, bribes, the possibility of pieces defecting on their own, as many as eight players, and the use of dice, it's more like Dungeons and Dragons motifs in some ways.
- Darkskinned Blonde: Teesa and the rest of the Cloud Mountain People have olive skin and light blonde hair. The Venusians of Kartahown and its surroundings are mostly dark-haired, but some are either this or Dark-Skinned Redhead.
- Deadly Decadent Court: The City That Is A Mountain is made of this trope.
- Desert Punk: Mars.
- Everything's Better with Dinosaurs
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin / Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Two pirate vessels in Crimson Kings are called "Robbery With Armed Violence" and "Insensately Vicious Plunderer".
- Frazetta Man: the Wergu.
- Giving Radio to the Romans: The Venusians get bows and arrows, plus steel-smelting technology from the humans. There's some concern about exactly where this is going to lead.
- Human Aliens: the Venusians are human, and the Martians have genetically engineered themselves to hell and gone but are still close enough to find humans attractive.
- Though most of them see humans as race of uncultured, gluttonous dwarves that practically ooze sweat.
- Human Chess: Atanj, the Martian version, see above.
- IKEA Erotica: Happens due to the nature of the Martian language. "I request more energetic intromission, empathic tense!" is the closest you can get to talking dirty.
- Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: all the science fiction writers gathered to watch the Mars probe images in the second novel's prologue.
- Lost Technology: All over the place, in the form of the Lords of Creations' stuff, but also the fact that the Martians are said to have lost a great deal of their own biotech.
- Lost World: the entire planet Venus.
- The Mole: Christopher Blair.
- Nubile Savage: Teesa of the Cloud Mountain People.
- Organic Technology: Deconstructed. Martians rely on this, in the absence of major metal and fossil fuel resources. Almost all technology more complicated than a sword is biological, to a very high level, with living guns (recharging after firing takes time, which is why swords are not obsolete), living engines to supplement the sailpower of desert-crossing wheeled ships, rugs that crawl onto your feet to warm them, giant creatures that eat rocks and vomit road-paving material. However, Stirling points out that it requires food and oxygen, as well as being less durable then metal. It is useful enough however that some of it has been imported by Earth.
- Planetary Romance: lots.
- Precursors: the Lords of Creation, except that it seems they're not so much Pre- as Presentcursors. They're also neglectful, as something has gone wrong with their monitoring system and its "schedule" for the three worlds.
- The Red Planet
- Royal Blood: Justified by the Invisible Crown and the Ruby Throne, which scan your DNA and kill you if you don't have the Tollamune genome. Given that the instrumentalities of both are vital to keeping Mars viable in the long term, the Tollamunes themselves have come to regret the system.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Martian Demotic is an extremely precise, detailed, and blunt language.
- Shout-Out: Tons. Mostly to Edgar Rice Burroughs, but several to other sources.
- Teesa's dead former mate, Jondlar.
- The zeppelin Vepaja is named after the major friendly nation on Burroughs' Venus.
- Scrat of all rodents has a cameo on Venus, believe it or else.
- Christopher Blair. Wing Commander Christopher Blair no less.
- Rodents of Unusual Size are found in the caverns under Olympus. Mind you, the "unusual" size is small.
- A Scream Out: "Hey, that's a stereotype. Like the unemotional half-Martian Science Officer on the Federation Starship New Frontier..."
- Even in our world, Spock was almost a Martian. The green makeup tested better on Nimoy than the red.
- There's also a moment where someone says, "Resistance is futile," and one of his hearers grumbles, "Now he's quoting from a New Frontier episode...."
- How about the band King Crimson, and their album "In the Court of the Crimson King"?
- The convention scene in the opening chapter of "Courts of the Crimson Kings" which features just about every significant science-fiction author of the time.
- The "very weird dig" in Arizona that was the only exciting thing to happen to Jeremy Wainman before he went to Mars appears to be the cave in which John Carter's body lay during his first astral trip to Barsoom.
- When the excavating party are attacked by feral engines, there are 42 of them, and the description of them sounds a lot like larger versions of H.G. Wells' Martians. (It's even mentioned that if bred with too much intelligence, they'd try to escape. Escape to Earth, perhaps?)
- Single Biome Planet: Averted sort of; Mars has several varieties of "cold and dry", for example.
- Somewhere a Palaeontologist Is Crying: Justified in that the Lords of Creation seeded Venus with Earthly lifeforms two hundred million years ago, and have been coming back and adding new batches of Earthly life roughly every two million years since then, including human specimens only a few thousand years ago; with no mass extinction on Venus, dinosaurs coexist semi-peacefully with critters from every era since. The harsher Martian climate, coupled with extensive bioengineering, averts this.
- Stock Dinosaurs: The species that flourished on Venus happen to be all the popular ones, like triceratops.
- That Makes Me Feel Angry: The hat of the Martians.
- Transplanted Humans
- Vertical Kidnapping: "FERAL ENGINES!"
- Vestigial Empire: The Tollamune emperors once ruled all of Mars. By the time of the story they are reduced to ruling the territory around their capital at Olympus Mons, where all the old court officials and functionaries continue, though largely without actual functions.
- Zeppelins from Another World: Used by the Earthling explorers on Venus and, in slightly more fantastical airship form, by the Martians.