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Literature / The Lords of Creation

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A series of Alternate History science fiction novels by S. M. Stirling. A Reconstruction of classic Planetary Romance novels and tropes for the modern audience, the novels explore a world built around a simple concept: what if Mars and Venus really were approximately like we envisioned them before all that boring reality got in the way?

The series thus far consists of:

  • The Sky People (2006)
  • In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (2008)
  • "Swords of Zar-Tu-Kan", published in the anthology Old Mars (2013)

As scientific observation of our nearest planetary neighbors intensifies during the early 20th century, it becomes clear that both worlds have oxy-nitrogen atmospheres much like our own. By 1948, the possibility of life on both is so strong that the Space Race kicks in early and keeps going, radically altering political history from that point on as the Cold War begins to lose importance and military spending is diverted to exploration. And when the Russians finally land a probe on the surface of Venus in 1962, the first image its cameras send back is of a dinosaur-infested jungle. And the second image is of a beautiful blonde woman in a Fur Bikini being chased by a savage horde of neanderthals.

Two months later, when the American Viking probe tells us about the canal-building biotech-using humanoid Martians, the race to land on both worlds shifts into high gear.

But once contact has been made and permanent scientific studies begin, oddities begin to creep up. For one thing, the humans of Venus are entirely too human to be a product of parallel evolution — a conclusion reinforced by the simultaneous discoveries that some tribes speak a language clearly descended from Indo-European, and that only two hundred million years ago the planet was an uninhabitable acid-veiled hothouse, becoming Earthlike practically in the blink of an eye as far as the cosmic time scale goes.

As evidence mounts that someone has been tinkering with the worlds of the solar system for millions of years, continuing right into the last few millennia, the question humanity must ask is: Who are the Lords of Creation, and what do they intend for their great multiplanetary experiment?

Not to be confused with Lords of Creation, a very weird role-playing game published in the mid-Eighties.

This series provides examples of:

    open/close all folders 

  • Aliens Never Invented Democracy: Downplayed as the "aliens" are all human transplants, but the earth is the only planet with any form of democracy. Mars has a centuries-old stagnant monarchy and Venus is just clawing its way out of tribalism.
  • Alien Space Bats: The Duology, and one short story, is set in an alternate history where Mars and Venus are habitable (having been made so millions of years ago by the eponymous advanced alien race, for reasons never revealed).
  • Alternate History: Explored in the chapter breaks. People have suspected that Mars and Venus were inhabited for centuries, but the dawn of space travel gave them proof. The political situation on Earth became much less volatile once life is discovered on the other planets, but the Cold War has been exported to Venus and Mars.
  • Amazonian Beauty: Both the female protagonists for vary different reasons.
  • Amazon Chaser: Both of the human male protagonists, though for different reasons. Both the female protagonists fit the trope in different ways.
  • Ancient Astronauts: The titular Lords of Creation have been mucking about in the Sol System for tens of millions of years.
  • Badass Bookworm: Every Earth person not actually on Earth, as you have to be this just to qualify for the space program.
  • Casual Interplanetary Travel: Averted; Space travel and colonization is so expensive only the superpowers can afford it, using up the resources that would otherwise be spent on the East/West arms race or Third World conflict.
    • The fact that Mars has Bio Tech that can be used in trade goes a long way in justifying this trope.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Downplayed but it's there. The Sol system has been the playground of an alien species and telescopes have picked up superstructures in the Galaxy; we are definitely not alone.
  • Humans Are White: Averted; the Americans are ethnically diverse and so are the Eastern Bloc representatives. Neither of the human protagonists is white.
  • Human Subspecies: The Venusians are human, or can at least breed with Earthlings. The Martians have genetically engineered themselves to hell and have a Fantastic Caste System, but are still close enough to find humans attractive (though most see us as uncultured, gluttonous dwarves that practically ooze sweat). There are even some Neanderthals around!
  • Indo-European Alien Language: Justified as the Transplanted Humans living on Venus and Mars have had their language evolve and change over time.
  • Lost Technology: All over the place, in the form of the Lords of Creations' stuff, but also the fact that the Martians are said to have lost a great deal of their own biotech.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Justified as all flora and fauna, micro and macro, is ultimately Earth derived, with the expected parallel evolution there are unique diseases and allergies that show up.
  • Planetary Romance: Justified as the douology, and one short story, use real science to justify the tropes. There admittedly need to be Alien Space Bats to do it but pretty much all the genre tropes how up here.
    • The Moon doesn't seem to be inhabited, nor Mercury or the larger local gas giant moons.
  • Precursors: the Lords of Creation, except that it seems they're not so much Pre- as Presentcursors. They're also neglectful, as something has gone wrong with their monitoring system and its "schedule" for the three worlds.
  • Science Hero: All astronauts from Earth are an example of this otherwise they couldn't survive on the planet. More specifically the main male protagonists are directly aided by their specialties, Mac by his ability to control animals and Jeremy with his Archeological expertise helping him get out of a labyrinth.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Teesa's dead former mate Jondlar, named after Jondalar from the Earth's Children series.
    • The zeppelin Vepaja is named after the major friendly nation on Edgar Rice Burroughs' Venus.
    • Scrat, of all rodents, has a cameo on Venus.
    • Christopher Blair is named after the same character from Wing Commander.
    • Star Trek is referenced through the Show Within a Show New Frontier, and is used throughout the books to make even more specific nods:
      • At one point a character notes "Hey, that's a stereotype. Like the unemotional half-Martian Science Officer on the Federation Starship New Frontier..." This is also a Development Gag, as Spock was almost a Martian. The green makeup tested better on Nimoy than the red.
      • A moment where someone says, "Resistance is futile," and one of his hearers' grumbles, "Now he's quoting from a New Frontier episode...."
    • The title "In The Court of the Crimson Kings" is a shout-out to the King Crimson album "In the Court of the Crimson King".
    • The convention scene in the opening chapter of "Courts of the Crimson Kings" features just about every significant science-fiction author of the time.
    • The "very weird dig" in Arizona that was the only exciting thing to happen to Jeremy Wainman before he went to Mars appears to be the cave in which John Carter's body lay during his first astral trip to Barsoom.
    • When the excavating party are attacked by feral engines, there are 42 of them, and the description of them sounds a lot like larger versions of H.G. Wells' Martians. (It's even mentioned that if bred with too much intelligence, they'd try to escape. Escape to Earth, perhaps?)
    • Rodents of Unusual Size are found in the caverns under Olympus. Mind you, the "unusual" size is ''small''. Their threat to the protagonists comes from the fact there's thousands of them.
    • Martians have their wounds close up so fast they might as well be Fremen.
  • Single-Biome Planet: Averted sort of; Mars has several varieties of "cold and dry", for example. Venus is like Earth only wetter and more tropical.
  • Transplanted Humans: To both Venus and Mars, combined with Human Subspecies. Given that the main Terrens are all scientists, this is Discussed to Jove and back. The jury's still out on the other planets in Sol.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: Used by the Earthling explorers on Venus and, in slightly more fantastical airship form, by the native Martians.

    The Sky People 
  • All Animals Are Domesticated: Double Subverted The others are not happy about Marc Vitrac raising a great wolf pup as a pet, thinking it will turn on him when it grows up. However, Marc is well aware of the history of domestication and has owned dogs and wolfdogs before and knows how to break one to bridle.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Neanderthals of Venus are presented as undiluted vile and filthy creatures.
    • Though they're only seen from the viewpoints of their enemies and/or victims.
    • At one point a group of Neanderthals give their lives so the women and children can escape, and the main characters reflect that they might have misjudged them.
  • Artistic License Paleontology:
    • Justified in that the Lords of Creation seeded Venus with Earthly lifeforms two hundred million years ago, and have been coming back and adding new batches of Earthly life roughly every two million years since then, including human specimens only a few thousand years ago; with no mass extinction on Venus, dinosaurs coexist semi-peacefully with critters from every era since. The harsher Martian climate, coupled with extensive bioengineering, averts this.
    • Invoked In-Universe when an actual paleontologist examines some fossils (and the surrounding rock) and realizes that what she's seeing isn't possible.
  • Shamboo Technology: Space travel is EXPENSIVE, which means the Venusian colonists have to make do with bronze age materials for their equipment wherever they can.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: Justified,] The combination of low gravity and higher oxygen pressure on Venus allows insects to grow to the size of Chihuahuas.
  • Death World: Venus and Mars are this to earthlings. They don't all die and the native humans have adapted somewhat but Everything Trying to Kill You is in full effect.
  • Domesticated Dinosaurs: With a liberal dose of Cyborg thanks to Neural Implanting. It's routine to the point that a non-specialist can carry out the operation.
  • Frazetta Man: The Wergu, which are Neanderthals by all appearances.
  • Giving Radio to the Romans: The Venusians get bows and arrows, plus steel-smelting technology from the humans. Discussed as there's some concern about exactly where this is going to lead. Some of the native priest cast don't like it, and sic a mob on some humans who are caught photographing a sacred site.
  • Jungle Opera: The entirety of the Venus book is a send-up to this genre as it is others.
  • Lost World: The entire planet of Venus.
  • The Mole: Christopher Blair.
  • The Native Rival: Downplayed as the native is the younger brother of the female protagonists mate. His death means the younger brother moves up in position. Then the earth protagonist arrives and his position is threatened. He does end up hooking up with a female from earth though.
  • Nubile Savage: Teesa of the Cloud Mountain People.
  • Proportionately Ponderous Parasites: The native, well transplanted from earth but that was millions of years ago, megafauna such as dinosaurs are shown to have the equivalents of lice the size of crayfish; you do NOT want to get one on you.
  • Smells Sexy: Tessa as a Venusian native has a better sense of smell then erath humans and can scent that human explorer Marc Vitrac is attracted to her, and is puzzled why he can't scent the same about her.
  • Stone Punk: Venus's Hat, being transplanted onto a planet full of giant man-eating monsters can't have done much for technological or cultural development.
  • Venus: Like Mars, it has all the basic features of the actual Venus, up until about two hundred million years ago.
  • Venus Is Wet: Played With, the entire planet is covered in jungles, but there are different types of jungles along with flood plains and mountains and more.
  • Universal Translator: Deconstructed, the Neural Implanting used to break through the language barrier could have driven the target haplessly mad if it had gone wrong. Mark is not happy when he finds out.

    In the Courts of the Crimson Kings 
  • Adventurer Archaeologist: Lampshaded and played straight with earthling protagonist Jeremy Wainman, who's already had several weird experiences before he came to Mars, which makes him more than qualified.
  • All Animals Are Domesticated: Deconstructed with Martian fauna where the Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke means that the surviving animals on the Death World are more dangerous than they would be otherwise. Standout examples are feral engines and tool-using dinosaurs that are descended from hunting dogs.
  • Archaeological Arms Race: This trope is name-dropped when discussing the United States renewed interest in the architectural ruins of Mars and it also serves as the impetus for the plot.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: the Invisible Crown of the Tollamune Emperors supplies its own awesomeness, but the official ceremony is pretty darn impressive.
  • Biotech Is Better: Discussed, given how resource-poor Mars is, Biotechnology is an adequate solution and they've achieved things that Earth humans are only now learning from. Sill, it was Earthlings that developed space travel and showed up on the Martian doorstep.
  • Chess Motifs: Subverted in that atanj, the Martian chess-like game from which many a motif is drawn, is vastly more complex than mere Earthly chess. With ships, merchants, boycotters, bribes, the possibility of pieces defecting on their own, as many as eight players, and the use of dice, it's more like Dungeons & Dragons in some ways.
  • Chocolate of Romance: What cements Jeremy's romance with Teyud is his gifting her his earth Chocolate ration worth more than his weight in gold given how realistically difficult space travel is.
  • Cultural Posturing: Martians, antagonists and protagonists, are very fond of pointing out how advanced they were while Earth humans were hunter-gatherers. The problem is that they haven't moved beyond that.
  • Decadent Court: The City That Is A Mountain is made of this trope, certain forms of assassination are disproved of not only because they don't work but because they aren't traditional.
  • DesertPlanet: Played With, as Mars is much colder and drier than Earth but the people have adapted to it and there are several varieties of cold and dry.
  • Desert Punk: Mars combines this with Bio Punk.
  • Domesticated Dinosaurs: Some were turned into hunting dog equivalents, that have returned to nature.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin/Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Two pirate vessels in Crimson Kings are called "Robbery With Armed Violence" and "Insensately Vicious Plunderer" curtesy of the Martian language.
  • Exotic Equipment: It's mentioned that the Teyud and Jeremy have physical differences that they need to work around, which only tests their inventiveness. The Martian scientist who examines him later seems rather squicked out by these differences though.
  • Family Business: Some clerks and bureaucratic positions are now dynasties onto themselves at this point, worse they quite like the privilege they enjoy from this without having to do actual work. To the point of hiring assassins to keep an heir from taking the throne.
  • Fartillery: The methane-powered living rifles of the Martians probably count; things like this are expected when you base your ordinance off of biotech.
  • Gender Is No Object: Justified, not only are Martians less sexually dimorphic than terrans, female Martians can choose whether or not to implant an embryo.
  • Guns vs. Swords: Lampshaded in the prologue of the second book. The first pictures from Mars show the inhabitants are armed with firearms and swords. Some speculate that it's due to a code of honor, but it's pointed out that it would give the cheaters too much of an advantage. It turns out Martians use biotechnology guns that are slow to reload, so they need to have a backup weapon handy in the interim.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Sally saves Jeremy from spore guns and essentially saves all of mars in the bargain.
  • Heavy Worlder: What earthlings are for martians, while they need to keep in shape for to make use of it and can't accomplish physics defying feats like in John Carter it means they can keep up with the local Super Soldiers.
  • Hidden Backup Prince: Teyud and resentful about it, it's actually part of their character development that they don't drop everything and try to claim the Crimson Throne when the chance presents itself.
  • Humans Are Ugly: The native Martian biologist/torturer that examines the captive Jeremy is squicked out by his excessive body hair and sweat despite the native Martians just being genetically augmented humans.
  • Human Chess: Atanj, the Martian version, see above.
  • IKEA Erotica: Happens due to the nature of the Martian language. "I request more energetic intromission, emphatic tense!" is the closest you can get to talking dirty.
  • Language Equals Thought: Discussed The Martians don't have separate words for "pirate" and "police officer" or "ruler" and "tyrant". They all fall under the broad heading of coercives which anyone can employ. Fun.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: All the science fiction writers gathered to watch the Mars probe images in the second novel's prologue.
    • A justified example: New Frontier is this universe's version of Star Trek, and is fundamentally somewhat different due to differences in world culture, but is every bit as influential as it is in our world.
  • Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair: Subverted as the civilization is explicitly still around and has been for millennia, even having the same dynasty, they're still in visible decay compared to earth and even Venus on the way out. Great works like canals and cities are seen abandoned despite comparably little work needed to repair them.
  • Mars: Explicitly still "our" Mars, though with more water imported by the Precursors. Things like gravity and the damage the sun can do to you still apply, as does the orbital period for working out people's ages.
  • Mars Wants Chocolate: Inverted; Martian spices are one of the reasons NASA still has funding for their missions. Played Straight in that earth chocolate is still appreciated.
  • Metal-Poor Planet: Part of what justifies the martian reliance on biotechnology is their lack of metals, not so much that they don't have metals, just that earth has a history of things like stromatolites oxidizing the atmosphere and conveniently dying to leave behind iron deposits while mars have to filter metal from their dirt.
  • Modern Stasis: The Martians were never really stagnant but they had the tools of civilization handed to them and haven't done much with them since. While the specific reasons are portrayed as realistically complex again the fact remains they've reached the point where they don't know what they've forgotten.
  • Once-Green Mars: Played With, as are so many tropes. There used to be much more ecological diversity on Mars, but the Lords of Creation failed to check-in and it slowly became the desert that it is now.
    • A lot of the brown color comes from the grass which is one of the reasons for the main reasons for the continued breathable atmosphere. It's a bedrock for the planet's entire ecology.
  • Organic Technology: Deconstructed and Discussed. Martians rely on this, in the absence of major metal and fossil fuel resources. Almost all technology more complicated than a sword is biological, to a very high level, with living guns (recharging after firing takes time, which is why swords are not obsolete), living engines to supplement the sail power of desert-crossing wheeled ships, rugs that crawl onto your feet to warm them, giant creatures that eat rocks and vomit road-paving material. However, the characters point out that it requires food and oxygen, as well as being less durable than metal. Still, it's useful enough that some advances have been imported by Earth, microbes in sewage treatment to create natural gas for instance, and fertilizer.
  • Our Better Is Different: For Martians people strive to achieve Harmony, which is where everyone is subservient and answerable to the authority of the Crimson Throne and there is no banditry or wastefulness. This is hard for the Western bloc humans to wrap their heads around but easier for Eastern bloc humans.
  • Position of Literal Power: Justified as the leaders of non-earth planets have their authority typed to ancient machinery that recognizes them as on-site administrators to the systems.
  • Rescue Sex: After Jeremy Wainman saves female Martian mercenary Teyud za-Zhalt from feral engines, think land octopuses as ambush predators and you're not far wrong. Once everyone is safe, Teyud wordlessly takes Jeremy by the hand and drags him below deck for sex. Fraternization with Martians is not forbidden by NASA but certainly isn't encouraged among the human expedition, but when Sally gives him a Disapproving Look Jeremy just grins and flips her the bird.
  • Royal Blood: Justified by the Invisible Crown and the Ruby Throne, which scan your DNA and kill you if you don't have the Tollamune genome. Given that the instrumentalities of both are vital to keeping Mars viable in the long term, the Tollamunes themselves have come to regret the system.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Martian Demotic is an extremely precise, detailed, and blunt language.
  • Shoot the Messenger: Given that Organic Technology Instant Messenger Pigeons are widely available on mars this is an expected action. So much so one buries its head under its wing in fear after noticing the Emperor's displeasure, having retained genetic memories of what can happen to the bearer of bad tidings.
  • Shorter Means Smarter: Inverted, Martians consider anything under six feet to be stupid. Given that the manufactured servant caste is pretty short helped form this cultural stereotype.
  • Shout-Out: The title references the King Crimson album The Court of the Crimson King.
  • Spare to the Throne: Justified Mars Decadent Court politics is such that courtiers want the stagnation to continue over a new and vital monarch, additionally as the Genome must be kept "pure" any possible half-bloods are usually aborted. Also having an heir before you're a hundred year's old is seen as being unconfident of your position.
    • Teyud's mother went through hell and high water to ensure she was born. Phagic parasites were involved to start with.
  • Spice of Life: The martian language does not distinguish between spices and what Terrans would call 'hard drugs'.
  • Statuesque Stunner: Common among high caste female Martians. Anyone under six feet is treated with scorn.
  • Swashbuckler: Mars has quite a few of these, see below.
  • Sword and Gun: As the biotech weapons of the Martians take a few seconds to reload, swordwork is still important.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: A hat of the Martians thanks to the grammar of Demotic.
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!: Exaggerated in Martian Demotic where it is Serious Business; the Eastern-bloc ambassador nearly suffers a on-the-spot execution when he refers to their "fraternal aid" to the Martian Emperor, implying a blood relationship where none exists.
  • Variant Chess: Here it's called "atanj" which sounds suspiciously similar to "Jetan" form The Chessmen of Mars from the John Carter series, which as the title would indicate also has rules for Human Chess.
  • Vertical Kidnapping: "'''FERAL ENGINES!'''"
  • Vestigial Empire: The Tollamune emperors once ruled all of Mars. By the time of the story, they are reduced to ruling the territory around their capital at Olympus Mons, where all the old court officials and functionaries continue, though largely without actual functions, which they quite like thank you very much.

    "Swords of Zar-Tu-Kan" 
  • A Day in the Limelight: Sally Yamashita is the focus of the story and her mission to retrieve an American scientist. kidnapped by a consortium of east bloc interests and Martian radicals.
  • Evil, Inc.: The "professional coercives" mentioned previously are explored in more detail here, even if hired for a job they can also be paid to tell who hired them. They even have prewritten contracts for it.
  • Talking Animal: A guard dog that can literally talk accompanies Sally for free after failing in his literal job of defending her apartment.

Alternative Title(s): In The Courts Of The Crimson Kings, The Sky People