Thursday, August 23, 2018

Dragon Award Finalist, Best Alternate History: Dream of the Iron Dragon

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Preliminaries AND Disclaimers. This is the 11th book I have reviewed in my series on the Finalists for the 2018 Dragon Awards; I've also written two additional blog posts ABOUT the series, that don't review specific novels. This is the third nominee in the category 'Best Alternate History Novel.'
Disclaimer: I am not on the Dragon Awards Committee, and that's something for which I am truly grateful. However, if I HAD been on the Committee, I don't think I could have allowed this as an entry in the 'Alternate History' category. Yes, it SAYS it's alternate history, right there in Amazon listing, the full version of which is: The Dream of the Iron Dragon: An Alternate History Viking Epic (Saga of the Iron Dragon Book 1). But, for those of us of a certain age, we remember that there used to be a product known as 'Carter's Little Liver Pills' that had absolutely nothing to do with the liver. Saying it don't make it so; this is a time travel story, mostly. A bit of mil sci-fi as well. But I just don't see calling it alternate history. 

The review part. In the present day, an American air force colonel and a British air force major are engaged in a cover-up of ancient artifacts related to space travel. The current find is a thousand-year-old space helmet.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, two hundred years in the future, humans have zoomed all the way from space flight to space colonies to space empires to space refugees, with only a few, out of the way planets still alive on the losing side of the genocidal war waged by the Cho-ta'an. An exploratory probe ship picks up a beamed transmission of the first 17 numbers in the Fibonacci sequence. The author, by the way, includes those number, split into two bite-sized pieces, for those of us who have forgotten what the Fibonacci sequence is. I appreciated that.
The beam is, of course, from the aliens. A splinter group, actually, evidently infected with a love of numerology, and SERIOUSLY out of favor with the Cho-ta'an leaders. They have discovered a planet-busting bomb in the ruins of an abandoned race, and have flagged down the humans so they can present it to them, so the humans can wipe out the Cho-ta'an home world.
I was seriously tempted to spell the alien name differently every time I used it in this blog post. Cho-at'an, Cho-ta'ra, Cha-ta'ru, and so on. Would you have caught me in that feeble attempt to protest alien names, Gentle Reader? I think not.
Wait: we haven't gotten to the weird part yet.

A different alien faction decides to retrieve the planet buster (it liquefies solids, briefly, long enough for all life to die and buildings to fall) , and chases the human exploratory ship. At high accelerations. High enough that it's not safe to use a warp gate, but there is no other option, and at the warp gate, SHAZAM! enough bad things happen that the humans AND the aliens are transferred back through time, to Earth in 883 AD. The human ship is damaged, no longer capable of interstellar voyage, and the aliens are still after them.

However, this IS an exploratory ship, after all, and thus there are a number of scientists and engineers aboard, in addition to the regular Navy-type ship's crew, so they put their heads together and come up with some CRAZY ideas. One of them, of course, is So Crazy That It Just Might Work, and so they send a landing party of four down to Earth so they can fix the Big Metal Thing That Makes It Work. Those four are Head Engineer, Chemist/Geologist, Biologist/Shuttle Pilot, and the (usually red-shirted) security guy who is a former Marine/amateur historian, and y'all ain't gonna BELIEVE this, but in the future, Space Marines provide their own MEDICS, and he is one of those, too! I don't know HOW that happened, because the Navy provides the Marines with medics, but, this IS a work of fiction, right?

And then, all the typical clash-of-cultures-across-time things happen. Book ends, not so much on a cliff-hanger, but on a 'here's what we are gonna do next' note.

Commentary. I do NOT know how you can communicate a Fibonacci series unless you have a shared language system, but evidently all that is worked out.
I also don't know how you go from where we are today to the peak of technology they were at before the aliens appeared, in only two hundred years.
The social/ political systems have changed enough that there is support for a galaxy-wide ban on eating meat. That's carried over to the point that the engineer has a conniption fit when she discovers that some horses are going to be used as meat. It's a big issue; really it is.
I found this to be fascinating reading. Even though I didn't particularly like any of the characters, except for a couple of the Vikings on 883 Earth, I was intrigued at how they were going to survive, once they lost the high-tech weapon systems.
In all of the other time-traveler stories where the people from the future have to go back to black powder, the sulfur is just...there. In some cases, and I'm thinking particularly of 'The Wheel of Time' series, the future-tech people have access to a highly developed transportation system, and mines are already established. However, I had no idea that iron pyrite (fools gold) could be processed to produce sulfur, but the author did; and that is, by the way, a real thing, that was at one time a common industrial process.

A sort-of conclusion. The book is highly entertaining, and I can recommend it as an interesting read. With respect to the Dragon Award in the 'Best Alternate History' category, though, I'm just not making the connection. However, it's pretty obvious that others do NOT hold to the rather narrow definition of 'Alternate History' that I evidently have developed, else it would not be included in that category. So, you be the judge; that's the way it works!

Peace be on your household.  

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