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Literature / Island in the Sea of Time

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A trilogy by S.M. Stirling, in which the entire island of Nantucket is sent back in time to the late Bronze Age by a mysterious dome of light. "The Event" also brings along the Eagle, a Coast Guard training vessel—a mixed blessing for Nantucket, for while the ship and its crew prove invaluable in saving the island from starvation, one of the officers, William Walker gathers a band of followers and hijacks a ship for England, where he sets himself up as a warlord among the Indo-European tribes of the area. For obvious reasons, the people of Nantucket are not pleased with this, and the Town Meeting, under the leadership of former police chief Jared Cofflin and Marian Alston, captain of the Eagle, sends a force after him.

The first book, Island in the Sea of Time, covers the first couple of years, from the Event up to the Battle of the Downs, where Walker and his local allies meet the expeditionary force from Nantucket and their local allies.


The second book, Against the Tide of Years, sees Nantucket facing a threat from Tartessos, a kingdom in Spain that has been rapidly "modernizing" under the rule of one of Walker's friends. Contact is made with the kingdoms of Mycenae and Babylon, and an expedition prepares to follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark.

The third book, On the Oceans of Eternity, brings with it the end of the war.

There is also a short story, "Blood Wolf", set in the same milieu, but about a generation later.

The series is tenuously connected to the Emberverse, which covers what happened in the world Nantucket left behind.


Island in the Sea of Time provides examples of:

  • Aerith and Bob: As Nantucket grows more racially integrated, with lots of Iraiina and Fiernan immigrants, as well as the odd Native American, names like "Llandaurth Witharaxsson" become increasingly common.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Marian Alston is a captain in the Coast Guard and she is in her late thirties. Her love interest Swindapa is around 19 when they meet. They eventually get married according to their own rules since neither of their countries allows gay marriage.
  • Alternate History
  • Ambiguously Bi: Sin-ina-mati really appreciates Kathryn Hollard's friendship...
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Walker makes a remark along this line when discussing his conquest of Sicily.
  • Anti-Villain: Isketerol, merchant adventurer-turned-king of Tartessos. When the Nantucketers invade Tartessos in the third book, they were undoubtedly expecting to find a totalitarian hellhole like the society Walker has established in Greece; what they find instead is a society which is a perfect example of Fair for Its Day, as Isketerol has made literally revolutionary improvements in all areas of Tartessian society, not just the military, and has put huge outlays of time, effort and money into making life better for the ordinary people.
  • Artistic License – Linguistics: Sun People language. Although words themselves are mostly fine, what little grammar we see is more like English than Lithuanian (or PIE reconstructions.) "Diasas," for example, is used to mean both male and female slaves, even though it most probably would've been two distinct words (to match grammatical gender) in an early Indo-European language.
  • Battle Couple: Marian Alston and Swindapa.
  • Bilingual Bonus: If you squint really, really hard, the names of Swindapa's tribe and her enemies look a little like "Fir Bolg" and "Aryan."
  • Book-Ends: The first book in the series begins and ends with Ian Arnstein arriving on Nantucket and musing about its history, his personal life and seafood dinners.
  • Break the Cutie: Swindapa.
  • Break the Haughty: Pamela Lisketter.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Quite a few, but among the prominent ones, Doreen Rosenthal being an astronomer comes in very handy when convincing the elders of Swindapa's tribe, who are basically the caretakers of Stonehenge, that the Nantucketers are friendly.
  • Critical Staffing Shortage: The island of Nantucket suddenly finds itself short-staffed in every single aspect of infrastructure after the island is thrown back in time to the Bronze Age.
  • Daddy's Little Villain: Walker's daughter Althea, with aspirations to become a Claw of Hekate as well.
  • Depraved Bisexual/Bondage Is Bad: Dr. Alice Hong, the Lady of Pain.
  • Egopolis: Walker's Alban base is called "Walkerburg." The capitol of his Greek territories is called "Walkeropolis."
  • Enemy Mine: Despite the antagonism between all sides, Nantucket, Walker's faction, and the Tartessians all exchange information and work together to contain a potential epidemic that could have wiped all of them out.
  • Exotic Extended Marriage: Most of the civilizations that the Nantucketers encounter practice polygamy.
  • Eyepatch of Power:William Walker, after the Battle of the Downs.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: A series of coincidences remove most modern firearms from use shortly after Nantucket arrives. The good guys suffer an armory fire and the bad guys find out that the guns that they stole on the way out of Nantucket have had their firing pins removed. This doesn't eliminate the idea of firearms but it does greatly reduce their impact.
  • Fighting Irish: Patrick O'Rourke of the Nantucket Marines.
  • Genre Savvy: Ian Arnstein is very prone to comparing the situation Nantucket finds itself in to science fiction and fantasy novels and using its tropes as guides to how to act.
  • Granola Guy: John Martins, oh so much.
    • Pamela Lisketter is a deconstruction of the trope.
  • Heroic BSoD: While not precisely a hero, Isketerol undergoes one of these when he realizes that in the future where Nantucket came from, experts aren't sure his nation even existed.
    • The king of Bablyon undergoes a milder one, assuaged by assurances that Nantucket's advances were only possible with thousands of years more time than the Babylonians had had to work with, and the foundation that Babylon itself helped to build. It's these assurances, diplomatically wielded, that establish Babylon as the first really powerful ancient civilization with which Nantucket is able to forge an alliance.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: In the first book, Marian Alston and Swindapa have to contend with a bitchy local woman who objects to homosexuality. Since Alston is the head of Nantucket's military, the woman's complaints are pretty much ignored by everyone else.
  • Historical Domain Character: A few - the king of Babylon, the Pharaoh, and maybe some of the Achaean and Trojan characters, depending on what you think of Homer's accuracy...
  • Hot Scientist: Doreen Rosenthal.
  • Hot Springs Episode: In the third book, oddly enough.
  • Human Sacrifice: The followers of the Jaguar God have this in mind for their captives.
  • I'm a Humanitarian:
    • Some of the Lisketter group meet their ends this way at the hands of the Mesoamericans, one almost immediately after capture since the Jaguar God followers apparently have a thing for freshly-drained blood.
    • And at one point Alice Hong mentions that she enjoys the taste of "long pig" and "long veal steak" - the implication being that she has killed and eaten children.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: Marian Alston, and later Swindapa. Still later, these seem to become standard-issue for Nantucket officers.
  • Jewish and Nerdy: Played very straight with Doreen Rosenthal, but averted in the case of her post-Event husband Ian Arnstein — though she jokingly mention he's the only eligible prospect around.
  • Lady of War: Raupasha of the Mitanni.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters
  • Malcolm Xerox: Sam McAndrews. He betrays Nantucket in the hopes that Walker will let him prop up the nearest African civilization. This turns out to be Ancient Egypt, whose people are more closely related to the Arabs than anyone that might be called "black". McAndrews isn't exactly thrilled.
  • Mass Teleportation: One of the Ur-Examples.
  • May–December Romance: Marian Alston is about twice Swindapa's age when they first meet, and then there is Professor Ian Arnstein and grad student Doreen Rosenthal.
  • Mighty Whitey: Gleefuly and consciously inverted by Marian Alston at every opportunity. McAndrews tries to do this too, with far less success.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Students of history might want to keep an eye on any compatriots named William Walker when dealing with less technologically advanced groups of people.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Pamela Lisketter's group aren't heroes except in their own minds, but their attempt to prepare the Mesoamericans against Nantucket/European encroachment winds up infecting the Mesoamericans with mumps and wiping out their civilization.
  • No Bisexuals: Averted by the Earth Folk in general and Swindapa in particular. Plus Alice Hong.
  • Perfect Poison: Averted in the somewhat prolonged deaths of Walker, Hong and their entourage at the end of the third book. Not that they didn't have it coming.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The first sign that Walker's going to be a bad guy is seeing his fondness of the word "wog" when we get inside his head.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Walker, very much
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Most of the Sun People fall into this category.
  • Public Domain Character: Odysseus (spelled Odikweos in the books) and a few other characters from the same source.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Several. William Walker is his own top general, and Kashtiliash and Raupasha take a direct hand in fighting for their respective countries.
  • Seduction-Proof Marriage: Played with in Against the Tide of Years. Marian Alston and Swindapa, a married lesbian couple, visit a war chief and are offered a woman as part of the Sacred Hospitality. Alston, who takes marriage very seriously, has absolutely no interest in the girl, but Swindapa, who comes from a culture in which polygamy is the norm, is intrigued, even though she doesn't take advantage. This is somewhat par for the course in their relationship; throughout the book, Swindapa is rather shameless about her wandering eye, even though she never does anything more than look and occasionally enthuse.
    "I promised to be monogamous, not blind."
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: The Republic of Nantucket takes a very dim view of slavery, as shown by the fact that almost all of its major warships are named after Civil War heroes or abolitionists. Given that one of its most prominent citizens is a former slave, this probably shouldn't be surprising. Naturally, the Big Bad, of the series, William Walker, heavily employs slavery in his empire.
    • Although for Walker personally, it's more of a means to an end than because he specifically likes it. As he notes to Alice Hong in Against the Tide of Years;
    "Slavery's your thing, Alice. Me, I just want to get the work done the way I want it done, as cheap and fast as possible. If I could, I'd hire them - less trouble if they find their own rations and flophouses. Thing is, there's no proletariat here. [...] The only way to get big groups of people doing unfamiliar things under supervision in this setup is slavery - only way to get them working regularly to clock-time, too; they just purely hate that. Not that I have anything against slavery, but mainly it's a management tool."
  • Starbucks Skin Scale: A mixed race child is literally referred to as having "café-au-lait skin."
  • Starting a New Life: Swindapa leaves Alba behind when it is taken over by the Iraiina, and heads to Nantucket, where she becomes Marian Alston's assistant (and later, her lover.) She's later able to return to her people, but she's changed quite a bit by that point.
  • Schizo Tech: Bronze axes, ultralights with napalm, katanas, breech-loading rifles, wooden frigates, bicycles, an airship... the list goes on.
  • Shout-Out: Involving William Walker and Ian Arnstein in particular. Prior to the Siege of Troy they exchange some lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
  • Shown Their Work: Bronze Age archaeology has enough competing theories that it would be impossible to be accurate to all of them, but the series is nonetheless impressive in this regard.
  • Strange-Syntax Speaker: The second book features a scene where Swindapa and her Fiernan peers converse in their own language. Their conversation is presented in English, but even that requires a further translation, because the Fiernan language is loaded with metaphors and figurative language.
  • Strawman Political: Pamela Lisketter and her group. Also Too Dumb to Live — it turns out the Followers of the Jaguar God were not interested in their help.
  • Theme Naming: Walker's horses are named Bastard and Son of a Bitch. Nantucket's ships are mostly named after abolitionists or related personages.
  • Torture Technician: Alice Hong
  • Twofer Token Minority: Marian Alston is a Threefer Token Minority, although she might not take kindly to that description.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Walker and Hong, in a case where the evil whole is definitely worse (and more dangerous) than the sum of the evil parts.
  • The Wise Prince: Kashtiliash qualifies.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men and Women. Part of the Schizo Tech. Though technically the USCGC Eagle is an iron-hulled barque, Nantucket goes back to its roots and revives the time-honored shipbuilding arts as a response to its relocation.
  • Zerg Rush: The primary tactic of the Ringapi against O'Rourke's supply base.

Alternative Title(s): Island In The Sea Of Time


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