by S. M. Stirling
This book really charmed me - as it will anyone who grew up enjoying the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs and all those who envisioned earth-like and habitable climes on Mars and Venus.
It manages to turn the Burroughs-esque stories into something they never were: credible HARD science fiction. And a good story, too! (not to say ERB didn't do good stories - he certainly did that!)
I'm afraid this will inspire me to read (or listen to) more Burroughs and Verne until Stirling's next episode comes out in '08 - at least he's got some previews online: http://hem.bredband.net/b104699/books/crimson/crimson_p.html
Here - I'll let others describe it.
Publishers WeeklyFor this rollicking first of an alternate history series, Stirling (Island in the Sea of Time) 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.