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Saturday, August 18, 2018

Reading List: The Dream of the Iron Dragon

Kroese, Robert. The Dream of the Iron Dragon. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2018. ISBN 978-1-983729-21-8.
The cover tells you all you need to know about this book: Vikings!—spaceships! What could go wrong? From the standpoint of a rip-roaring science fiction adventure, absolutely nothing: this masterpiece is further confirmation that we're living in a new Golden Age of science fiction, made possible by the intensely meritocratic world of independent publishing sweeping aside the politically-correct and social justice warrior converged legacy publishers and re-opening the doors of the genre to authors who spin yarns with heroic characters, challenging ideas, and red-blooded adventure just as in the works of the grandmasters of previous golden ages.

From the standpoint of the characters in this novel, a great many things go wrong, and there the story begins. In the twenty-third century, humans find themselves in a desperate struggle with the only other intelligent species they'd encountered, the Cho-ta'an. First contact was in 2125, when a human interstellar ship was destroyed by the Cho-ta'an while exploring the Tau Ceti system. Shortly thereafter, co-ordinated attacks began on human ships and settlements which indicated the Cho-ta'an possessed faster-than-light travel, which humans did not. Humans formed the Interstellar Defense League (IDL) to protect their interests and eventually discovered and captured a Cho-ta'an jumpgate, which allowed instantaneous travel across interstellar distances. The IDL was able to reverse-engineer the gate sufficiently to build their own copies, but did not understand how it worked—it was apparently based upon some kind of wormhole physics beyond their comprehension.

Humans fiercely defended their settlements, but inexorably the Cho-ta'an advanced, seemingly driven by an inflexible philosophy that the universe was theirs alone and any competition must be exterminated. All attempts at diplomacy failed. The Earth had been rendered uninhabitable and evacuated, and most human settlements destroyed or taken over by the Cho-ta'an. Humanity was losing the war and time was running out.

In desperation, the IDL set up an Exploratory Division whose mission was to seek new homes for humans sufficiently distant from Cho-ta'an space to buy time: avoiding extinction in the hope the new settlements would be able to develop technologies to defend themselves before the enemy discovered them and attacked. Survey ship Andrea Luhman was en route to the Finlan Cluster on such a mission when it received an enigmatic message which seemed to indicate there was intelligent life out in this distant region where no human or Cho-ta'an had been known to go.

A complex and tense encounter leaves the crew of this unarmed exploration ship in possession of a weapon which just might turn the tide for humanity and end the war. Unfortunately, as they start their return voyage with this precious cargo, a Cho-ta'an warship takes up pursuit, threatening to vaporise this last best hope for survival. In a desperate move, the crew of the Andrea Luhman decide to try something that had never been attempted before: thread the needle of the rarely used jumpgate to abandoned Earth at nearly a third of the speed of light while evading missiles fired by the pursuing warship. What could go wrong? Actually a great deal. Flash—darkness.

When they got the systems back on-line, it was clear they'd made it to the Sol system, but they picked up nothing on any radio frequency. Even though Earth had been abandoned, satellites remained and, in any case, the jumpgate beacon should be transmitting. On further investigation, they discovered the stars were wrong. Precision measurements of star positions correlated with known proper motion from the ship's vast database allowed calculation of the current date. And the answer? “March sixteen, 883 a.d.

The jumpgate beacon wasn't transmitting because the jumpgate hadn't been built yet and wouldn't be for over a millennium. Worse, a component of the ship's main drive had been destroyed in the jump and, with only auxiliary thrusters it would take more than 1500 years to get to the nearest jumpgate. They couldn't survive that long in stasis and, even if they did, they'd arrive two centuries too late to save humanity from the Cho-ta'an.

Desperate situations call for desperate measures, and this was about as desperate as can be imagined. While there was no hope of repairing the drive component on-board, it just might be possible to find, refine, and process the resources into a replacement on the Earth. It was decided to send the ship's only lander to an uninhabited, resource-rich portion of the Earth and, using its twenty-third century technology, build the required part. What could go wrong? But even though nobody on the crew was named Murphy he was, as usual, on board. After a fraught landing attempt in which a great many things go wrong, the landing party of four finds themselves wrecked in a snowfield in what today is southern Norway. Then the Vikings show up.

The crew of twenty-third century spacefarers have crashed in the Norway of Harald Fairhair, who was struggling to unite individual bands of Vikings into a kingdom under his rule. The people from the fallen silver sky ship must quickly decide with whom to ally themselves, how to communicate across a formidable language barrier and millennia of culture, whether they can or dare meddle with history, and how to survive and somehow save humanity in what is now their distant future.

There is adventure, strategy, pitched battles, technological puzzles, and courage and resourcefulness everywhere in this delightful narrative. You grasp just how hard life was in those days, how differently people viewed the world, and how little all of our accumulated knowledge is worth without the massive infrastructure we have built over the centuries as we have acquired it.

You will reach the end of this novel wanting more and you're in luck. Volume two of the trilogy, The Dawn of the Iron Dragon (Kindle edition), is now available and the conclusion, The Voyage of the Iron Dragon, is scheduled for publication in December, 2018. It's all I can do not to immediately devour the second volume starting right now.

The Kindle edition is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Posted at August 18, 2018 15:08