Friday, August 22, 2014

What Happens Next: SM Stirling's Nantucket Trilogy

This is the first in what I hope may become an ongoing series where I speculate about what happens next after our favorite alternate history books and series conclude. For this inaugural post I cover SM Stirling's famous Nantucket trilogy that began with Island in the Sea of Time. Quick disclaimer: this is all based on my personal opinion.

It has been over twenty years since "The Event" sent the island of Nantucket circa 1998 to the Bronze Age and the world could not be more different. Technology is advancing at a rapid place and the sleepy town of Nantucket is now the center of a vast empire stretching across the Americas, southern Africa and Australasia, with Outport colonies and protectorates across Europe, Asia and Africa.

Of course that is the image the Republic of Nantucket likes to present (especially to its rivals), but in reality things are much more complicated. Most of Nantucket's territory is claimed rather than controlled. Nantucket settlements tend to hug the coast and the government relies on allied indigenous tribes to police the interior. To Nantucket's credit they take their treaties with these tribes seriously (enough people are alive to remember how Native Americans were treated by the country they came from), but they remain untested since there is still a lot of room between the Nantucketers and the natives (the entire world population is only near 100 million, but growing fast as future medicine and sanitation spread). As generations go by and populations grow and expand, conflict is likely inevitable and the Native American cultures of Central America and the Andes are advance enough that conflict may happen sooner rather than latter.

Due to the distances involved in travel or communication, Nantucket is more of a confederation than an empire. Local communities have a lot of autonomy and practice the town meeting form of direct democracy popular in New England. Representatives are sent from across Nantucket's Outports to the assembly in Nantucket proper to represent their interests, although colonies can often get away with not following certain dictates from Nantucket Town on occasion. The former Tartessian colony in California does it all the time and can be considered to be only nominally part of the Nantucket sphere (and if they thought they could get away with it they would break all ties immediately). For defense, communities rely on local militias and its quite common to go out in public armed (heck, most merchant ships carry a couple cannons just in case, even in the most civilized parts of the ocean).

This has made Nantucket rather conservative culturally, with a healthy dose of individual liberty, since most people feel if you don't like the way things are run you can pack up and start a new colony on the cheap and readily available land elsewhere (just as long as there is no one else living there already). Minorities, however, are well protected by Nantucket constitution, especially homosexuals who have long had the right to marry. The dividing social issue of the day is actually polygamy, which has become more popular in the newer colonies. Opponents feel such relationships are destructive for a functioning civilization, while supporters believe there is nothing that should prevent consenting adults from being in whatever relationship they wish to be in and point to many other cultures around the globe who practice it (some have pointed out, however, that you can always find a man who wants another wife, but rarely a woman who wants another husband).

The Coast Guard (still calling itself that despite being a world-spanning navy) is the glue that holds the Republic together. They patrol the sea-ways keeping an eye out for pirates, protect and supply struggling colonies and explore new places to trade and settle. The Age of Sail ended shortly after William Walker was defeated. Now steam ships form the backbone of the fleet, although hybrid sail ships are still used for exploration purposes where coaling stations are a few and far between. Airships are also used for travel and patrol in the more settled areas and there are even some heavier-than-air craft, although they remain rare since few countries fly them.

Alba remains a staunch ally of the Republic (calling them a "protectorate" is considered a high insult these days). Immigrants from there often make up the majority of the population for most colonies and they are well represented in the Nantucket military. They could probably even take the top spot away from Nantucket if the people ever got their act together. There is still a lot of animosity between the Earth Folk and Sun People, especially since the Sun People have become such zealous converts to Christianity and look down on their pagan neighbors. Some Sun People who just couldn't handle the many changes "went viking" in western and northern Europe and the more successful warlords even managed to "pull a Walker" over some primitive tribe on the continent. This has put most of the region in turmoil and while Nantucket would like to intervene, there have more pressing matters elsewhere.

The Mediterranean Sea is the center of civilization. Here the great powers trade and maneuver for position. Relations between Tartessos and Nantucket have normalized since Walker's defeat. Most of the highborn young men (and some women) go to school in Nantucket and generally have a good opinion of Islander culture. Tartessos merchants compete with Nantucket across the globe, but their rulers try not to antagonize the Republic in exchange for Nantucket to look the other way as Tartessos expands across Western Europe and North Africa (Republic naval bases in West Africa are there to make sure they don't get any ideas about entering the local slave market). Although Tartessos is forward thinking enough that they do prepare for a potential conflict with the Republic and have looked into "submarines" as a viable way to fight Nantucket if worse comes to worse.

Despite what some doubters expected, Sicily managed to survive without suffering any nasty bouts of ethnic cleansing (although things were rough in the beginning). The tripartite democracy between the natives, Greek colonist and freed slaves (who are in agreement they need a better name to call themselves) has stood the test of time through their policy of not rocking the boat. Their neutral stance makes them the perfect place for the powers to settle disputes and conduct shady business dealings. That coupled with the nascent banking industry has brought a lot of wealth to the island and the prosperity has helped keep the peace.

Then there is Achaea, the number two power in the world, with its large and well trained army. Although driven out of the Middle East by Nantucket and her allies, this has not stopped their expansion into the Italian and Balkan peninsulas and their push into Western Ukraine. Under wise leadership of the aging Odikweus, Achaea has grown by leaps and bounds and any threats are dealt with accordingly (although only a few know the real reason why that small village on the Tiber had to be burned to the ground and the land salted so nothing could grow there again). Unlike Tartessos, Achaea's relations with Nantucket remain poor and they would like nothing better than for a strong leader to arise in Alba and take the island nation out of the Republic's sphere. Yet there is a growing threat to the east that has made the Achaean leadership rethink there relationship with Nantucket.

Changes in Babylon have worried not just Achaea, but Nantucket as well. Ever since the untimely death of King Kashtiliash and his Nantucket-born Queen, the empire has been ruled by an anti-Nantucket Regency until the heir comes of age. It has bullied its neighbors (the Hittite Empire, Mitanni and Egypt) into vassalage and is expanding hard into Persia. The regency has also been quashing the young democracy movement, who they blame for the death of their King. Nantucket has hoped to contain the growing threat of Babylon by sending emissaries to the Indus Valley civilizations and the growing power of MeroĆ« (the diplomatic delegation includes the biological daughter of the former Walker lieutenant responsible for bringing the new learning to the region). Attempts were also made to court the Shang Dynasty of China, but without much luck. The King when he does deign to receive the Nantucket representatives is usually cold and dismissive of their proposals. There are rumors he is much more welcoming to a mysterious delegation from deep in Asia, but who they are remains a mystery to the Islanders.

For Althea Walker of the House of the Wolf and last true daughter of William Walker, that suits her purposes just fine. With the help of those still loyal to her father's memory, she has carved a small empire in the Fergana Valley and has untied the nomadic tribes under her Wolf's head banner. The Claws of Hekate continue to serve her and have been useful in helping her seek out new allies and eliminate any Nantucket spies who delve too deep into the interior. She has been biding her time, building her strength and waiting for the time when the Republic dominance of the waves means little to her new power.

A new faction has convinced her that time is right. They are a strange order of men who are extremely difficult to kill and have almost supernatural power over other humans. These "Seekers" believe the time is right for her to strike and proved their power to her by making Babylon more...acceptable as allies. Now with her Babylonian and Chinese allies to distract the Republic, she will drive her mounted army of carbine wielding warriors into the Indus Valley and India proper. With the wealth of the sub-continent to command, she will push aside her allies once they have weakened Nantucket and her allies and punish all those in Tartessos and Achaea who betrayed her father. Once Nantucket has been driven from the Old World, she will sail across the sea and burn Nantucket Town until there is nothing left.

As storm clouds gather in Asia, bizarre events are happening on Nantucket. People are having strange dreams about a disaster that happened to the world Nantucket left. They see burned out husks of once great metropolises where knights joust for sport and pagan rituals happen in forest preserves. Sightings of "ghosts" have also increased around Nantucket Town, even at the headquarters of the Coast Guard. People report seeing oddly dressed individuals gaping around at the buildings or walking as if in a daze before disappearing. While many in the Republic dismiss these reports as nonsense, older Nantucketers who remember the Event are not so sure. The Event was never really explained, what with survival overshadowing any serious investigation into what happened. What if these shared dreams and ghosts are somehow connected to what happened to Nantucket? Quietly, an informal task force headed by the Arnstein family has been created by several high ranking members within the Republic to investigate these phenomenons and the nature of the Event as well.

Who knows? Maybe they will even figure out how they were sent back in time, or more importantly, why.

* * *

Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a blogger on Amazing Stories. Check out his short fiction. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.


  1. Very interesting. I just perused the synopsis of the trilogy at Wikipedia. I also looked at articles about the series based on "the event" in the "present" from which Nantucket was taken. That would explain the "dreams" and/or "ghosts."

    I assume that "the Event" is never explained. I wonder if it would happen in the resulting present as well. Butterflies galore would spread given a successful Nantucket contamination of the timeline. Though it is conceivable that ancient history would overwhelm even a seafaring, technologically advanced people within decades or centuries, a head start would be probable.

    How much would even the evil factions from the future WANT to change the flow of history beyond the inevitable wish for power? I may have to read the trilogy to see for myself! Perhaps the legends and myths of the past would provide enough warning through "prophecies" to prepare the ALT for the "Event." It would could be a "religion" of sorts. Assuming that at least a sizable minority believed in the God of history, would not an awareness of the future assure them that certain changes would not be possible?

    Just some thoughts.

    1. Answer your emails. I still need your address to send you the book you won.

  2. And now I'd like to read that series...@PoliSciFiBlog

    1. Thanks, although I would write out the "Seekers" bit. I just couldn't think of a better name for the group.

  3. Great! Now, I would love to hear your thoughts on the continuation of Turtledove's World War series!

    1. Interesting suggestion, but to be honest I think Bruce Munro already did an amazing job on that one here:

      Granted I could do one that is farther in the future...

  4. I've been pissed that ole SM spent more time on the Change than the Event. So your take is fresh air

    1. Thanks, but to be honest, I like the Emberverse series. I, of course, would love to see more books set in the Nantucket universe, but right now I am content.

  5. I have read all the Emberverse novels, both Nantucket and Change, and agree that Stirling has done a sterling job of work with them. I do find, however, that his exhaustively detailed descriptions of battles and small fights become tedious over the span of 13 or 14 novels. That said, I am impressed by the breadth of his knowledge of historical weapons & tactics. One can, of course, skim over the lengthy battles and concentrate on plot on the second reading.
    You,sir, did a good piece of work with your blog. Congratulations, and keep up the good work.

  6. Great piece! I really hope Stirling comes back to this series. While the Emberverse novels have been good (I'm especially liking the trippy nature of The Sea Peoples), I've always seemed to prefer the Nantucket series. While it's cool to see how the world evolved without high-level tech, i'd be way more interested in seeing more of how the bronze-age cultures of the Event world evolve.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.