Long Boats, Iron Men

The Dream of the Iron Dragon: An Alternate History Viking Epic is the the type of “alternate history” that’s been around since Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” – a man of our time goes to the past, and starts changing things. Like Flint’s “1632” series, and Stirling’s Nantucket series, it’s not just one man. Like Weber’s Apocalypse Troll, you can throw out the “from our time” aspect. Our protagonists are from our future, the crew of an exploration ship desperately searching for possible boltholes for humanity to retreat to stumbles into a superweapon being offered by a breakaway faction of the enemy, and in trying to return to human space is pursued though one of the gates used to jump large distances, which is damaged as they shoot through, leaving them back in our Solar system 1300 years in their past, roughly 900 AD .

They try to land, to repair their thrusters, meet vikings, and adventures ensue.

Little goes according to plan.

The not quite so short recommendation – I was halfway through this book when MHM:Saints came out, and finished it before starting in on the Ringo book.

Why?

The writing and characters are top notch. I’ll point out that the future empire Robert Kroese references is at first fairly typical and nondescript. yes, they’re at war, and losing. Badly. Nevertheless, the characters we meet already begin to stand out for their personalities, and the tension of the superweapon handover and transport back to the ship is not only nail-biting, but gives you a visceral feel for the chaos, the tension, and how the characters perceive it. Later, you discover  through the character discussions of their future intentions that this future star league isn’t all sunshine and unicorn farts, but it’s also not a dystopian hell, or a reflection of some jaded hipster’s cynicism.

Once they (crash) land in Norway, things really get going.

I sincerely appreciated the characters having their strengths and weaknesses – they came across as human, with understandable motivations. The groundside leader, a woman, wasn’t an overpowered grrrrl power chick with no flaws except possibly caring too much and being tooo perfect. Yes, I’m thinking of Weber’s Apocalypse Troll with that one. If anything, the security expert’s knowledge of relevant history was the conceit closest to taking me out of the story for being just a bit too on the nose. In part because it is a team, none of the characters rise to the level of unlikely perfection present in some examples of this genre.

The book avoids a number of possible flaws. It doesn’t fall into the trap of “future people kick ass with their future tech”, nor does it stretch “future man with future knowledge uses it to impress and run circles around the stupid past humans” out of shape as it never treats the vikings or others from the past as stupid.

It’s fun, tense, relaxed, somber, and funny as hell in turns when needed.

I look forward to reading the second installment.

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