The Sky People
||This article consists almost entirely of a plot summary. It should be expanded to provide more balanced coverage that includes real-world context. (December 2011)|
|Author||S. M. Stirling|
|LC Class||PS3569.T543 S59 2006|
|Followed by||In the Courts of the Crimson Kings|
The Sky People is a 2006 science fiction novel by American writer S. M. Stirling. It takes place on the planet Venus in an alternate solar system where probes from the United States of America and the Soviet Union, find intelligent life and civilizations on both Venus and Mars. The book is heavily influenced by the works of writers such as Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur C. Clarke, and Larry Niven, among others. The sequel, In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, is set on Mars.
In this alternate universe, life exists on Venus and Mars. Because of this discovery, the United States and the Soviet Union have poured all their resources into space exploration, sending their best and brightest to colonize Venus and Mars. Although there have been a few outbreaks of hostilities on Earth, an uneasy détente exists in space between the Americans and Russians who are struggling for supremacy, supported by their respective allies. The European Union is also anxious not to be excluded from this neo-colonial race but is far behind the other powers.
In 1962 the USSR drops planetary probes on Venus and discovers people, both humans and Neanderthals, on the planet. Crewed flights by the Soviets and later by the Americans establish bases on the planet (the American one named Jamestown; the Soviet one Cosmograd) and find other familiar species, including dinosaurs. Both fauna and flora are strangely similar to those from Earth's past.
In 1988, Lieutenant Marc Vitrac, a Ranger in the US Aerospace Force, has been on the planet for a year. Born in a Cajun family amidst the Louisiana bayous, his primary function is exploration of the vast wild lands but in the beginning of the novel he is tapped to welcome newcomers to the colony.
The new arrivals are somewhat taken back by the ceratopsia used as a shuttle bus. The dinosaur has been “iced” by the insertion of an Internal Control Device into its brain, which allows the creature to be controlled with messages sent directly to the brain.
These new arrivals include Cynthia Whitlock, a young African-American specialist, and Wing Commander Christopher Blair, a supposedly British linguist. As with all the Terrans on the planet, Cynthia and Blair also have other skills. Blair spends most of his time in the nearby town of Kartahown extending their knowledge of one of the native languages.
As the story progresses many of the characters comment about how similar evolution has progressed on Venus and on Earth. Naturally, the scientists at the Jamestown base are puzzled by the seeming parallel evolutions. Although the base doesn't have any means to check the DNA (as in this alternate timeline, the majority of research funding has been spent on space travel), other tests indicate that the natives are closely related to Terrans. The fossil record is very spotty, with occasional infusions of new species, but no one has an explanation as to why there are humans and other Earth animals and plants on Venus.
On another part of Venus, an unknown, external force interferes with the computer on a Soviet shuttle, causing it to crash land in the unexplored wild lands. The Soviets ask for American assistance to recover the crew. The airship Vepaja, with Captain Tyler commanding, is selected for the rescue attempt and Marc, Cynthia, and Chris are chosen as the crew. Jadviga Binkis, wife of the Soviet shuttle commander, is also included in the crew. Marc also takes his greatwolf pup, Tahyo, with them.
The weather, animals, mechanical failure and sabotage from an unknown enemy eventually forces the group to abandon the airship. Once they arrive at their destination they find themselves in the midst of a civil war between the very human Cloud Mountain People and the Neanderthals. Additionally, an alien AI is annoyed at the Terrans for interfering with the Venusians. The AI is sapient, but not sentient and is able to control both Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis within a short range. Unsure as to what to do, the AI calls for its creator race to return. Additionally, Blair discovers that the Cloud People speak a Proto-Indo-European language, indicating that the creator race has taken Homo sapiens from earth and seeded them on Venus within the last several thousand years. The group sides with the Cloud Mountain People, Marc having fallen in love with their princess, and help them defeat the Neanderthals. The Cloud Mountain People’s lands were destroyed, however, by a biological weapon on board the downed Russian shuttle. Marc thus leads the Cloud Mountain People on a five thousand mile overland journey back to Jamestown to settle around the base and brings with him an alien artifact that may be evidence of the alien race that brought life to Venus and Mars.