My rating is 3 out of 5 stars.
What if Mars and Venus had been living worlds just like ours?
And what if humans discovered this at the start of the Cold War space race?
Would the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. still squabble over the Korean Peninsula and Vietnam, or would they set there sites and space rockets toward a more lofty goal?
And once that race began what would they have found on these other worlds and how did it get there?
These are some of the questions that S.M. Stirling poses here, and he does a great job of making this interplanetary space race interesting.
The story itself revolves around the planet Venus, where Soviet planetary probes have discovered both Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthalensis. Manned space flights by both the Soviets and Americans have established bases on the planet, where other familiar animals like dinosaurs and plants from the dinosaur era are found to exist. Our main character is one Lieutenant Marc Vitrac, a rugged Cajun from the Louisiana bayous who is now a Ranger in the US Aerospace Force. He and a small party of other Americans – along with one Soviet – are sent out in an airship (i.e. ballon-type airship) to recover the crew of a downed Soviet shuttle.
Needless to say, weather, animals, mechanical failure, natives and sabotage from an unknown enemy cause this mission to become exciting. But throughout our near nonstop adventures, Mr. Stirling always manages to seamlessly return to the mystery of how could evolution on Venus have produced people, animals and plants so similar to Earth. A mystery that only deepens when the natives turn out to speak a language similar to those found on Earth thousands of years before.
Of course, like all good scifi novels, there is a cute, savage princess who falls for our leading man; numerous fights between man and animals or man and natives; and the introduction of an unknown alien force that might hold the answers to all the questions about how similar life exists on Earth, Venus and Mars. What more could any scifi fan want from a book that is not trying to be anything other than a good old-fashioned scifi romp?
Nothing. That is why you should give this book a try.