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Marc Vitrac was born in Louisiana in the early 1960’s, about the time the first interplanetary probes delivered the news that Mars and Venus were teeming with life—even human life. At that point, the "Space Race" became the central preoccupation of the great powers of the world.
Now, in 1988, Marc has been assigned to Jamestown, the US-Commonwealth base on Venus, near the great Venusian city of Kartahown. Set in a countryside swarming with sabertooths and dinosaurs, Jamestown is home to a small band of American and allied scientist-adventurers.
But there are flies in this ointment – and not only the Venusian dragonflies, with their yard-wide wings. The biologists studying Venus’s life are puzzled by the way it not only resembles that on Earth, but is virtually identical to it. The EastBloc has its own base at Cosmograd, in the highlands to the south, and relations are frosty. And attractive young geologist Cynthia Whitlock seems impervious to Marc’s Cajun charm.
Meanwhile, at the western end of the continent, Teesa of the Cloud Mountain People leads her tribe in a conflict with the Neanderthal-like beastmen who have seized her folk’s sacred caves. Then an EastBloc shuttle crashes nearby, and the beastmen acquire new knowledge… and AK47’s.
Jamestown sends its long-range blimp to rescue the downed EastBloc cosmonauts, little suspecting that the answer to the jungle planet’s mysteries may lie there, among tribal conflicts and traces of a power that made Earth’s vaunted science seem as primitive as the tribesfolk’s blowguns. As if that weren’t enough, there’s an enemy agent on board the airship.
Extravagant and effervescent, The Sky People is alternate-history SF adventure at its best.
"The Cold War still rages in 1988, and the Eastern and Western Blocs compete for colonies on Mars and Venus, both homes to humanlike sentient though primitive races. American Marc Vitrac, assigned to the U.S. base of Jamestown, finds the lands outside the Venusian colony teeming with quasiprehistoric life as well as filled with mysteries that could threaten the human presence on Venus. Stirling's alternate histories have dealt with misplaced islands ("The Island in the Sea of Time" series), asteroid impacts (The Peshawar Lancers), and technological disaster ("Dies the Fire" series). Now he tackles the world of pulp sf popularized by Edgar Rice Burroughs, bringing to the genre his talent for verisimilitude and appealing characters. A good choice for most sf collections, particularly where the author has a following."—Library Journal
"A fanciful, politically tinged tale from Stirling, set on the frontier of Venus circa 1988 as the Eastern Bloc rivals the US Sky People in the great space race. The Sky People have established a stronghold on the Gargarin continent of Venus, at the settlement called Jamestown, directed by Ranger Lieutenant Marc Vitrac, formerly of Louisiana Cajun country. He welcomes the arrival of fresh reserves on the spaceship Carson, including an attractive young geologist, Lieutenant Cynthia Whitlock, and RAF Wing Commander Christopher Blair. Together they comprise ‘explorers at the cutting edge of the human story.’ However, there are other settlements entrenched in the strange land habitable by both dinosaurs and mammals: the small community of Kartahown, made up of numerous Earthlings and local tribespeople, traders and pilgrims; rank, savage tribes of marauding Neanderthals of the Wergu tribe; and the blond-haired, ethereal Cloud Mountain People of the Far West, in fur loincloths and bearing blowguns. And all kinds of curious beasts flourish here, such as giant mountable reptiles called ceratopsians and strong, scary raptor-like Quetzas. While the Sky People explore the geography of Venus, Blinkis, captain of the low-hovering Eastern Bloc space shuttle Riga, crashes into Wergu territory and is captured and brainwashed by the hairy brutes, who nonetheless shelter and heal him. Among the superior Cloud Mountain People, young female warrior Teesa has visions of invaders, who turn out to be Marc Vitrac and his gang in pursuit of the Russians. In fact, Blinkis's own pilot wife, Jadviga, arrives with blimp and crew to find her husband, and all of them end up confronting the nasty, smelly Wergus. Stirling offers an easygoing, atmospheric tale airbrushed with fuzzy political overtones, along with a good bit of humor and lively characterization. The adventures of these nutty space dudes will surely set off a series of its own."—Kirkus Reviews
"For this rollicking first of an alternate history series, Stirling uses the terrific premise that Mars and Venus are exactly as depicted in pulp-era SF, eerily Earth-like and populated by prehistoric people and creatures. When 1960s space probes find that Venus is habitable, the Americans and Russians scramble to set up colonies and get in good with the natives. In 1988, a Russian rocket crashes in the wilderness and can only be reached by an airship from the U.S. Commonwealth base of Jamestown, crewed by a classic love triangle: Ranger Lt. Marc Vitrac, Harlem-born geologist Cynthia Whitlock and ultra-British anthropologist Christopher Blair. Stirling doesn't stint on old-fashioned elements, most notably the gorgeous native princess with magical powers, but the multiculturalism sidesteps most stereotypes while retaining a broad-brush pulp sensibility; the science is refreshingly realistic; and everyone cusses (sometimes in awkward translation). Readers will eagerly anticipate a trip to Mars in the sequel, In the Halls of the Crimson Kings."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)