In the Courts of the Crimson Kings

In the Courts of the Crimson Kings is a 2008 alternate history science fiction novel by American writer S. M. Stirling.

In the Courts of the Crimson Kings
In the Courts of the Crimson Kings
AuthorS. M. Stirling
CountryUnited States
Genrealternate history, science fiction
PublisherTor Books
Publication date
Media typePrint
Pages304 (hardcover)
813/.54 22
LC ClassPS3569.T543 I6 2008
Preceded byThe Sky People 

Plot introduction

The story takes place on the planet Mars in an alternate universe 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 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, and Leigh Brackett, among others.

It is a sequel to The Sky People, which is set on Venus. Stirling later wrote a short story prequel, "Sword of Zar-Tu-Kan", which was published in the 2013 anthology Old Mars, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.

Plot summary

The novel begins with a prologue set at the 20th World Science Fiction Convention (Chicon III) in 1962 where a large group of famous science fiction authors in attendance are watching a television broadcast of an American space probe as it lands on an inhabited Mars. Those present include Frederik and Carol Pohl, Poul Anderson, H. Beam Piper, Guest of Honor Theodore Sturgeon, Jack Williamson, Robert and Virginia Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Larry Niven, Isaac Asimov, L. Sprague and Catherine Crook de Camp, John W. Campbell, Frank Herbert, and Leigh Brackett. Heinlein mentions an idea for a novel about Mars he had had but set aside when "the preliminary orbital telescope reports" had come in. (In actual history the completed book, Stranger in a Strange Land, won the Hugo Award for Best Novel at this convention.) The authors watch and comment as the broadcast from the probe reveals a Martian canal and wildlife and then, startlingly, the arrival of human-like Martians in a "land ship" who haul the probe off.

The main action of the novel commences in 2000, at which time both the US and Sino-Soviet "Eastbloc" have bases on the planet. The US has its base off in the wilderness away from the major cities while the Eastbloc has placed its base inside the remnants of the Tollamune emperor's realm within Olympus Mons, a ruling dynasty that once ruled all Mars. Although in decline, Martian civilization is significantly older than that of Earth and has considerable expertise in genetic engineering, to the point that Martian engines, ranged weapons, and other complex equipment are actually advanced creatures specifically bred and engineered for certain tasks.

Archaeologist Jeremy Wainman is sent by the U.S. Aero-Space Force to explore the lost city of Rema-Dza out in the "Great Beyond", or the Martian desert. The USASF also hires a female Martian mercenary, Teyud za-Zhalt, who leads the expedition to the city. While fighting a pack of feral engines under the city, Jeremy and Teyud fall in love.

It becomes apparent that there is more to Teyud than she initially recounts. When the expedition discovers the lost "Invisible Crown" of the Tollamune emperors, a symbol of authority that gives the wearer immense power, everyone is startled to find that Teyud can wear it even though only someone from the Tollamune dynasty is capable of doing so. Teyud admits that she is the illegitimate daughter of the current emperor. Now the former mercenary commands the power of an ancient technological artifact allegedly created by the aliens that terraformed Mars and Venus, and seeded them with life from Earth.

Jeremy and Teyud soon discover that there are Tollamune dynastic factions who know of Teyud's ancestry and are looking to either kill or capture her. Jeremy himself is captured while attempting to protect Teyud. This forces her, with the help of her father's soldiers, to attempt to rescue him from the fortress of a potential usurper, who had been displaced from the imperial succession after the Emperor recognises his daughter's legitimacy. The Crown Prince is later defeated after playing a game of Atanj (Martian chess), using people as the pieces, including Teyud and Jeremy. Teyud's father also dies passing the title of emperor to her.

With the Crown Prince dead and a Tollamune once again ruling all of Mars, Teyud takes Jeremy as her prince consort. The couple are visited by an ancient alien computer program which cryptically announces that they will proceed to the next stage. Though both are unsure what this means, but they soon discover that three interplanetary "Gates" have opened up on Earth, Venus and Mars, each leading to another world. The book ends with Teyud and Jeremy visiting "Vow'da" (Moon-World) the new world on the other side of the Martian gate.


Publishers Weekly called it "charming", and praised Stirling for "successfully creat[ing] a truly alien environment", but criticized his "inclusion of pirates with eye patches, heavily armored guards riding 'fat-tired, self-propelled unicycles' and other moments of near-parody."[1] Kirkus Reviews lauded Stirling's "magnificently wacky Martian biological machines" and "fully developed and carefully crafted social system", calling the book overall an "unexpectedly rich lode of creative ore", and judging it extremely favorably compared to Stirling's previous work.[2]

At the SF Site, Dave Truesdale "heartily recommnd(ed)" the book, saying that he could not "think of a better [example]" of planetary romance.[3]

See also


  1. ^ In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, reviewed at Publishers Weekly; published December 17, 2007; retrieved June 11, 2018
  2. ^ IN THE COURTS OF THE CRIMSON KINGS, reviewed at Kirkus Reviews; published December 1, 2007; archived online Mayh 20, 2010; retrieved June 12, 2018
  3. ^ Novel Delights in 2008, by Dave Truesdale, at the SF Site; published 2009; retrieved June 11, 2018
20th World Science Fiction Convention

The Hugo Awards, named after Hugo Gernsback, are presented every year for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year. Results are based on the ballots submitted by members of the World Science Fiction Society.

The 20th World Science Fiction Convention, also known unofficially as Chicon III (less frequently, Chicon II), was held August 31–September 3, 1962, at the Pick-Congress Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, United States.

Because the second Worldcon held in Chicago was officially called, in its publications, the 10th Annual World Science Fiction Convention (and once as the "10th Annual Science Fiction Convention") and not Chicon, the next Chicago Worldcon held in 1962 was occasionally referred to as Chicon II, though Chicon III is the generally accepted and preferred nomenclature.

The chairman was Earl Kemp. The guest of honor was Theodore Sturgeon. The toastmaster was Wilson Tucker. Total attendance was approximately 730.Following the convention, Advent:Publishers published The Proceedings: Chicon III, edited by Earl Kemp. The book includes transcripts of lectures and panels given during the course of the convention and includes numerous photographs as well. Events at the convention included an address by Willy Ley.

A World of Difference (novel)

A World of Difference is a 1990 science fiction novel by American writer Harry Turtledove.

The book begins with a space voyage that departed Earth in an alternate 1989. In the universe of the book, the fourth planet from the Sun, in the orbit occupied by Mars in our reality, is named Minerva, which is similar in size and makeup to Earth.


Barsoom is a fictional representation of the planet Mars created by American pulp fiction author Edgar Rice Burroughs. The first Barsoom tale was serialized as Under the Moons of Mars in 1912, and published as a novel as A Princess of Mars in 1917. Ten sequels followed over the next three decades, further extending his vision of Barsoom and adding other characters. The first five novels are in the public domain in U.S., and the entire series is free around the world on Project Gutenberg Australia, but the books are still under copyright in most of the rest of the world.

The Barsoom series, where John Carter in the late 19th century is mysteriously transported from Earth to a Mars suffering from dwindling resources, has been cited by many well known science fiction writers as having inspired and motivated them in their youth, as well as by key scientists involved in both space exploration and the search for extraterrestrial life. Elements of the books have been adapted by many writers, in novels, short stories, comics, television and film.

Catherine Crook de Camp

Catherine Crook de Camp, (November 6, 1907 – April 9, 2000) was an American science fiction and fantasy author and editor. Most of her work was done in collaboration with her husband L. Sprague de Camp, to whom she was married for sixty years. Her solo work was largely non-fiction.


Jetan, also known as Martian Chess, is a chess variant with unclear rules. It was created by Edgar Rice Burroughs as a game played on Barsoom, his fictional version of Mars. The game was introduced in The Chessmen of Mars, the fifth book in the Barsoom series. Its rules are described in Chapter 2 and in the Appendix of the book.

Jonbar hinge

In science-fiction criticism, a Jonbar hinge or Jonbar point is the fictional concept of a crucial point of divergence between two outcomes, especially in time-travel stories. It is sometimes referred to as a Jon Bar hinge or change-point.

L. Sprague de Camp

Lyon Sprague de Camp (; 27 November 1907 – 6 November 2000), better known as L. Sprague de Camp, was an American writer of science fiction, fantasy and non-fiction. In a career spanning 60 years, he wrote over 100 books, including novels and works of non-fiction, including biographies of other fantasy authors. He was a major figure in science fiction in the 1930s and 1940s.

List of alternate history fiction

This is a list of alternate history fiction, sorted by type.

List of science fiction novels

This is a list of science fiction novels, novel series, and collections of linked short stories. It includes modern novels, as well as novels written before the term "science fiction" was in common use. This list includes novels not marketed as SF but still considered to be substantially science fiction in content by some critics, such as Nineteen Eighty Four. As such, it is an inclusive list, not an exclusive list based on other factors such as level of notability or literary quality. Books are listed in alphabetical order by title, ignoring the leading articles "A", "An", and "The". Novel series are alphabetical by author-designated name or, if there is none, the title of the first novel in the series or some other reasonable designation.

Mars in fiction

Fictional representations of Mars have been popular for over a century. Interest in Mars has been stimulated by the planet's dramatic red color, by early scientific speculations that its surface conditions might be capable of supporting life, and by the possibility that Mars could be colonized by humans in the future. Almost as popular as stories about Mars are stories about Martians engaging in activity (frequently invasions) away from their home planet.

In the 20th century, actual spaceflights to the planet Mars, including seminal events such as the first man-made object to impact the surface of Mars in 1971, and then later the first landing of "the first mechanized device to successfully operate on Mars" in 1976 (in the Viking program by the United States), inspired a great deal of interest in Mars-related fiction. Exploration of the planet has continued in the 21st century on to the present day.

Martian canal

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was erroneously believed that there were "canals" on the planet Mars. These were a network of long straight lines in the equatorial regions from 60° north to 60° south latitude on Mars, observed by astronomers using early low-resolution telescopes without photography. They were first described by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli during the opposition of 1877, and confirmed by later observers. Schiaparelli called these canali, which was translated into English as "canals". The Irish astronomer Charles E. Burton made some of the earliest drawings of straight-line features on Mars, although his drawings did not match Schiaparelli's. Around the turn of the century there was even speculation that they were engineering works, irrigation canals constructed by an intelligent alien race indigenous to Mars. By the early 20th century, improved astronomical observations revealed the "canals" to be an optical illusion, and modern high-resolution mapping of the Martian surface by spacecraft shows no such features.

Old Mars

Old Mars is a "retro Mars science fiction"-themed anthology edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, published on October 8, 2013. According to the publisher Tor Books, the collection "celebrates the "Golden Age of Science Fiction", an era before advanced astronomy and space exploration told us what we currently know about the Solar System, when "of all the planets orbiting that G-class star we call the Sun, none was so steeped in an aura of romantic decadence, thrilling mystery, and gung-ho adventure as Mars."Old Mars won a 2014 Locus Award.

Poul Anderson

Poul William Anderson (November 25, 1926 – July 31, 2001) was an American science fiction author who began his career in the 1940s and continued to write into the 21st century. Anderson authored several works of fantasy, historical novels, and short stories. His awards include seven Hugo Awards and three Nebula Awards.

S. M. Stirling bibliography

This is compete list of works by American science fiction author S.M. Stirling.

Sword and planet

Sword and planet is a subgenre of science fantasy that features rousing adventure stories set on other planets, and usually featuring humans as protagonists. The name derives from the heroes of the genre engaging their adversaries in hand-to-hand combat primarily with simple melée weapons such as swords, even in a setting that often has advanced technology. Although there are works that herald the genre, such as Percy Greg's Across the Zodiac (1880) and Edwin Lester Arnold's Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation (1905; published in the US in 1964 as Gulliver of Mars), the prototype for the genre is A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs originally serialized by All-Story in 1912 as "Under the Moons of Mars".The genre predates the mainstream popularity of science fiction proper, and does not necessarily feature any scientific rigor, being instead romantic tales of high adventure. For example, little thought is given to explaining why the environment of the alien planet is compatible with life from Earth, just that it does in order to allow the hero to move about and interact with the natives. Native technology will often break the known laws of physics.

The genre tag "sword and planet" is constructed to mimic the terms sword and sorcery and sword and sandal. The phrase appears to have first been coined in the 1960s by Donald A. Wollheim, editor of Ace Books, and later of DAW Books at a time when the genre was undergoing a revival. Both Ace Books and DAW Books were instrumental in bringing much of the earlier pulp sword and planet stories back into print, as well as publishing a great deal of new, imitative work by a new generation of authors.

There is a fair amount of overlap between sword and planet and planetary romance although some works are considered to belong to one and not the other. Influenced by the likes of A Princess of Mars yet more modern and technologically savvy, sword and planet more directly imitates the conventions established by Burroughs in the Mars series. That is to say that the hero is alone as the only human being from Earth, swords are the weapon of choice, and while the alien planet has some advanced technology, it is used only in limited applications to advance the plot or increase the grandeur of the setting. In general the alien planet will seem to be more medieval and primitive than Earth. This leads to anachronistic situations such as flying ships held aloft by anti-gravity technology, while ground travel is done by riding domesticated native animals.

The Chessmen of Mars

The Chessmen of Mars is a science fantasy novel by American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, the fifth of his Barsoom series. Burroughs began writing it in January, 1921, and the finished story was first published in Argosy All-Story Weekly as a six-part serial in the issues for February 18 and 25 and March 4, 11, 18 and 25, 1922. It was later published as a complete novel by A. C. McClurg in November 1922.

The Sky People

The Sky People is an alternate history science fiction novel by American writer S. M. Stirling. It was first published by Tor Books in hardcover in November 2006, with a book club edition co-published with the Science Fiction Book Club following in December of the same year. Tor issued paperback, ebook and trade paperback editions in October 2007, April 2010 and May 2010, respectively. Audiobook editions were published by Tantor Media in January 2007.The book 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.

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