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by S. M. Stirling

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"If you could re-create civilization, what would you do differently?" "Oakland, California, 1946. Ex-soldier John Rolfe, newly back from the Pacific, is about to make a fabulous discovery. It happens with a flip of his shortwave radio switch, a thunder crack of sound, and a blinding light. He blinks his eyes to discover a portal to an alternate world where Europeans…  See more details below


"If you could re-create civilization, what would you do differently?" "Oakland, California, 1946. Ex-soldier John Rolfe, newly back from the Pacific, is about to make a fabulous discovery. It happens with a flip of his shortwave radio switch, a thunder crack of sound, and a blinding light. He blinks his eyes to discover a portal to an alternate world where Europeans have never set foot on the land he knows as America. Able to return at will to the modern world, Rolfe summons the only people with whom he is willing to share his discovery: his war buddies. And tells them to bring their families." "What mistakes would you repeat?" "Los Angeles, twenty-first century. Fish and Game warden Tom Christiansen is involved in the bust of a smuggling operation. What he turns up is something he never anticipated: a photo of authentic Aztec priests decked out in Grateful Dead T-shirts, and a live condor from a gene pool that doesn't correspond to any known in captivity or the wild. These finds soon lead to a woman named Adrienne Rolfe - and a secret that's been hidden for sixty years." As danger brews on both sides, two realities are threatened, and so too are the lives of everyone who crosses the boundary between them.

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Editorial Reviews

This novel of alternate history occurs in an America still unconquered by Europeans. In 1946, ex-marine John Rolfe VI blunders through a portal into a mind-bending pre-1492 mirror image that he can scarcely understand. Engaging from the first words of the prologue to the finish.
The Washington Post
Stirling is a facile and interesting writer. Politically, he seems to be a right-winger who admires authority. But he also sounds like an environmentalist, and many lyrical passages in Conquistador celebrate nature. He is thus one of the few writers who can be enjoyed by both greens and gun lovers (his heroine delights in doing one-handed pushups and smelling the "nutty whiff" of gun oil). But he is also a serious student of history, and his analyses of how Alexander the Great's extended lifespan changed the world are quite ingenious. Conquistador is first-rate sf adventure fiction, the start of what should prove to be a very entertaining series. — Martin Morse Wooster
Publishers Weekly
One adjustment to his radio sends John Rolfe VI, a descendant of the Virginia colonist, from 1946 into a California New World never touched by white men in Stirling's (The Peshawar Lancers) mesmerizing new novel. Having discovered the Oakland Gate that allows one to switch secretly between worlds, Rolfe and a passel of army buddies found New Virginia, a Southern Agrarian "pirate kingdom," and proceed to build wealth and power on both sides. Stirling cleverly switches between vignettes of New Virginian history since 1946 and the "present" of 2009, when a neo-Mafioso is plotting to take over Rolfe's "theme park of perverted romanticism run amok." In this luscious alternative universe, sidekicks quote the Lone Ranger and Right inevitably triumphs with panache. What more could adventure-loving readers ask for? (Feb. 4) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"In this luscious alternative universe, sidekicks quote the Lone Ranger and Right inevitably triumphs with panache.  What more could adventure-loving readers ask for?"-Publishers Weekly

"A novel of complex landscapes, both moral and geographical...Copious amounts of suspense and action." -Locus

"The moral landscapes of this novel are intriguing, and the sight of an undeveloped West Coast is unforgettable."

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Product Details

Roc Hardcover
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Product dimensions:
6.38(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.41(d)

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A Novel of Alternate History
By S.M. Stirling

Penguin Group

Copyright © 2003 S.M. Stirling
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0451459083

Chapter One

Los Angeles

June 2009


I joined the Department of Fish and Game because I couldn't be a soldier anymore and I hate cities, Tom Christiansen thought, the Berretta cold and unforgiving in his hands. It didn't have the heft of an assault rifle, which would have been comforting right about now. God is an ironist.

He and his partner were crouched behind the rear door of a car not far from the SWAT team; the FBI agent was up beside the front wheel. It was a typical early-summer day in LA; the ozone was enough to fry the hairs out of your nostrils, his eyes hurt from the smog that left a ring of dirty brown around the horizon, and the nearest vegetation was a tired-looking palm a block away, if you didn't count weeds growing through cracks in the pavement. It was better than going after holdouts in the Hindu Kush, but that was about all you could say for it.

"Leave the `Freeze!' and `Hands up!' stuff to our esteemed colleagues of the LAPD, a.k.a. `those fucking cowboy assholes,' Tom," the FBI agent said quietly, glancing over at him. She was a thin, hard-looking black woman named Sarah Perkins. "`Game wardens shot dead in LA bust' doesn't make a good headline."

Tom nodded, grinning; it was an expression that came easily to his face. He was a broad-shouldered, thick-armed, long-legged man three inches over six feet, dressed in T-shirt, a Sacramento Kings jacket and jeans, with battered hiking boots on his feet. His short-cropped white-blond hair topped a tanned square-cut face and a straight nose that had been broken and healed very slightly crooked a long time ago. He looked every inch the east-Dakota Norski farm boy he'd been born thirty-two years ago, down to the pale gray of his eyes. A very slight trace of Scandinavian singsong underlay his flat Midwestern accent, despite the fact that his great-grandparents had left the shores of the Hardangerfjord a hundred and thirty years before. The wheat country north of Fargo hadn't attracted a whole lot of newcomers since then.

"Ever hear what happened when they sent the LAPD to find the rabbit that attacked President Carter, back when?" he said softly.

Just sitting and waiting before action let you get knotted up inside. Gallows humor was the only sort available on a battlefield, but that was when you needed to break the tension.

"I'll bite," Perkins said.

"Well, the LAPD went into the woods, and half an hour later they dragged out a grizzly bear by its hind feet; it didn't have any teeth left and both its eyes were swollen shut. And it was screaming over and over, `All right! I'm a rabbit! I'm a rabbit!'"

She snorted laughter, quietly, and without taking her eyes off the target. Tom exchanged a silent glance with his partner, and Roy Tully grinned back. It wouldn't be tactful to mention the other part of the joke-the FBI burned down the whole wood and shot everything that came out on the grounds that "the rabbit had it coming."

And there was no real reason to complain, even if working for Fish and Game was more like soldiering than he'd anticipated; he was a cop, sort of-he was part of the Special Operations Unit; the SOU was the enforcement branch of the DFG. That made him smile a little too; SOU, DFG, FBI, SWAT, LAPD, the alphabet soup of police bureaucracy. Still, guys like him were as necessary as the scientists and administrators; without them there wouldn't be any condors left, or eagles, or cougars, and Lake Tahoe would be ticky-tack all the way 'round, and the whole of California would look like this. If that meant he had to crouch here next to a crummy little warehouse of rusting sheet metal in South Central LA, hoping he wouldn't get shot and frying his sinuses when he could be hiking in the Sierras breathing air colder and cleaner than crystal, or canoeing in Glacier National Park, or even just taking a break to help out on his brother's farm back in North Dakota, then so be it.

The SWAT troopers' heads came up; something was going on, and they were getting the word through their ear mikes. He'd never liked the Imperial-Death-Star-Nazi look of the black uniforms they insisted on, like hanging out an "Oooooo, AIN'T WE BAD!" sign, but they had good gear.

There was a loud whump from within the warehouse. Flames shot out of windows at the rear-he could tell by the plumes of smoke-and the big sheet-metal doors at the front slammed outward as they were struck by an invisible fist of hot dense air; the clerestories on the roof shattered upward in a weirdly beautiful shower of broken glass, glinting in the harsh sunlight. Smoke followed seconds later. It wasn't a big explosion, but it had obviously been linked to incendiaries; flames were licking out as well.

Subtlety might be a problem with the LA cops, but firepower and straightforward kick-ass aggression were things they did well; they all charged forward, M-16s and machine pistols at their shoulders. The other teams would be going in from around the warehouse, and the snipers were ready on the flat roofs of the neighboring buildings. The troopers went through the doors, leaving them swinging and banging-and almost immediately there was a second explosion, the sound much lower and sharper.


Tom wasn't sure if that was him or Tully or Perkins; they all reacted identically too, getting up and running toward the door. He found that comforting. Running toward trouble wasn't always the right thing to do, but people with that reflex were generally the ones you wanted around you when things got rough.

There were two policemen down just inside the door, one limp, the other putting a field bandage on his own leg.

"Fire set off something," he said. "Rodriguez is OK, I think."

"Good pulse, no bleeding, no concussion," Perkins confirmed, peeling back an eyelid and pressing her fingers to the man's throat.

She and Tully helped the man with the wounded leg, swinging arms over their shoulders and carrying his weight between them; they were about the same height, five-six or so. Tom stooped and lifted the unconscious officer in a fireman's carry, rising easily under the hundred and ninety pounds of man and gear-he was even stronger than he looked, and that load was fifty short of his own body weight. The waiting paramedics ran up to take the injured men, so that was all right; sirens of several types were screaming or yodeling nearby.

Tom scooped up a Colt Commando carbine someone had dropped as they went back in. This was the interior loading bay of the warehouse, with nothing in it but oil stains and orange paint on the concrete. There were two sets of stairs along the walls leading up to the higher interior floor, and two big orange-painted vertical sliding doors buckled and jammed in their frames. Smoke was coming out of those, but up near the top-that meant most of the fire was going out the roof for now. The dull roar was getting louder with every heartbeat, though, and the heat of the combustion was drying the sweat on his face faster than it could come out of his pores. Perkins nodded at him, and the three dashed through, ducking under the twisted sheet metal. There hadn't been any shooting, and he could hear the members of the SWAT teams calling to each other.

It took a few seconds for what he was seeing inside to sink in. Piles of crates, boxes and bales ... And piles of tusks. Elephant tusks, a couple of hundred of them. Walrus tusks. The fire had the piles between him and them, but he pushed into the smoke, close enough to confirm what the heavy burnt-leather reek had told him. The skins were polar bear, and grizzly, and tiger, and sea otter-stacks of them, hundreds at least.

"Oh, my God!" he said, acutely aware of the utter inadequacy of the words. "Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!"

That wasn't up to the occasion either, but it did a better job of expressing how he felt. Tully's amazing flow of scatology and obscenity was a little better, and more sincere than usual-the smaller man's Arkansas accent was notably thicker.

The SWAT team came back, coughing and crouching as the smoke grew heavier and came closer to the floor. One of them held a big cage, with an even bigger bird jammed into it, something like an enormous vulture, thrashing and screeching hoarsely. A really enormous vulture ...

An adult California condor.

Tom felt his teeth show in an involuntary snarl of rage. There weren't more than a couple of hundred of those in the whole world, and only a captive breeding program had saved them from complete extinction. This one warehouse could have pushed a couple of species halfway to the brink! The rising shuddering roar of the fire, the rumble of sheet metal buckling and twisting, the ptank! as rivets gave way, all seemed to pale before the thunder of his own blood in his ears.

The officer in charge of the SWAT team grabbed him as he tried to push farther in; the offices were in a glassed-in enclosure up against the far wall, and it was there that any evidence would be found.

"No use!" he shouted, flipping up his face shield. "They must have had some warning-the charges there went off first. We took everything we could find, but I think there's thermite planted here that hasn't gone off yet, and sure as shit someone drenched the place in gasoline. Out of here before someone gets killed!"

They did, retreating before the billowing rankness of the smoke made by things not meant to burn. The leader of the SWAT team pulled off his helmet, coughing and rubbing at a gray-and-red mustache.

"Son of a bitch!" he said, as they dodged aside to let the first wave of firemen wrestle a hose forward. "I didn't think there was that much ivory in the world," he said, grinning through smoke-smuts. "These must be some seriously energetic smugglers you're after."

"There are only two hundred forty-seven condors in the world," Tom said grimly. "That one your people got out is one half of one percent of the entire goddamn species. Congratulations on that, by the way."

"Oh," the LA policeman said, then nodded to them and walked away.

"Also Known As," Perkins muttered.

"As the bear said, I'm a rabbit," Tully said, his grin making his face look even more like a garden gnome's than usual. "Guy must have been a marine." Perkins raised her brows, and Tully went on: "Marine-Muscles Are Required, Intelligence Not Essential."

Tom took a deep breath, not even minding the air much-or that Tully had stolen the Ranger joke. Anger seemed to burn the impurities out of his system. "You know what makes me really mad?"

"No, Tom, what makes you really mad?" Perkins said.

The evidence had been set up temporarily in the back of one of the LAPD vans; the condor was farther in, in shadow with an improvised cover thrown over the cage, and seemed to be all right except for being agitated. And rather smelly; condors were naturally carrion eaters, and messy diners at best. The rustling of the great bird's wings inside the confining cave gave a slithering undertone to the murmur of the growing crowd, the noise of the fire and the firefighters' machinery. The LAPD evidence team were at work with their Baggies and tweezers, making sure everything was preserved properly, and taking continuous video as they did.

"My father and the potholes, that's what makes me angry."

Perkins's thin eyebrows went up; she noticed that she still had her 9mm in her hand and put it back in the holster at the small of her back and let the thin polyester jacket fall over it again.

"Told you my dad farmed, didn't I?" Tom said; she nodded, and he went on: "Well, up in the Red River Valley, the land's flat as a pancake-a lot of it had to be tile-drained before it could carry a crop; it's naturally swampy all through the spring and fall. Some of it's still in these little isolated marshy lakes, we call 'em potholes. And it's on a big migratory bird flyway. Millions of birds depend on those potholes to get to and from their breeding grounds. Problem is, after you've drained them, those potholes are prime land ... and there's not a farmer in the world who can afford to pass up another hundred acres, even if he's farming twenty sections, which Dad wasn't. The bigger you are the bigger your debts get. So we're coming back from duck hunting one fall; one of those sunny crisp days, with a little haze on the horizon, the wheat's in but some of the sunflowers are still nodding in the wind.

"And I'm on top of the world because it's the first time I've been allowed to take a shotgun out with Dad and my brother Lars and we've each gotten a couple of mallards, and it's been the best goddamned day in my life. And we stop at a crossroads and talk to a neighbor-who did farm twenty sections-and he says that if he was Dad, he'd have drained that pothole for his kids' sake, not wasted it on ducks."

Perkins looked at him a little oddly. "What did your father say?"

"Nothing, until the neighbor was on his way. Then he turned to us, Lars and me, and smiled, and said: `And if I did drain it, you boys would never get to see the ducks going over in the fall, or go hunting with your kids. Better than getting a motorbike for Christmas, eh?'"

Tom kicked the wheel of the van, remembering the rough hand tousling his hair, and the smells of pipe tobacco and Old Spice he'd always subliminally associated with his father.

"Dad worked himself to death keeping that farm going, but he wasn't going to steal that from his grandsons. And now some son of a bitch had that place stuffed to the rafters with the carcasses of animals maybe nobody will ever see again except on a recording, and for what? For money to shove candy up his nose, to give some hooker a diamond, to buy some three-a-dollar Third World politician."

He very carefully did not slam his fist into the side of the van, letting the fingers unclench one by one. "Sorry," he muttered, embarrassed by the outburst; he normally wasn't a very verbal man.

Perkins patted him on the shoulder as she came up to his side. "Hey, that's more emotion than has ever been shown in Sweden before," she said. "No, it's all right, Christiansen. Every good cop has got to have a little passion in them about something in the work, or they burn out. Your passion is critters and trees; that's OK. I like collaring scumbags: this bunch, terrorists back in the war, whatever. Our passions coincide." A grin. "Don't tell my husband I said that."

"Yah, you betcha," he said, with a relieved snort.

They moved over to the van, where the specialists had completed their work; the yellow tape was up, and uniformed police were keeping the crowds back. Tully took out a piece of the beef jerky he always kept in a pocket and tried to interest the condor in it; the big bird just cowered lower in his cage, which was quite an accomplishment, since he essentially filled it.


Excerpted from Conquistador by S.M. Stirling Copyright © 2003 by S.M. Stirling
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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What People are saying about this

Harry Turtledove
One of the best time travel/alternate history stories I've ever read, period.
From the Publisher
"In this luscious alternative universe, sidekicks quote the Lone Ranger and Right inevitably triumphs with panache. What more could adventure-loving readers ask for?"-Publishers Weekly

"A novel of complex landscapes, both moral and geographical...Copious amounts of suspense and action." -Locus

"The moral landscapes of this novel are intriguing, and the sight of an undeveloped West Coast is unforgettable."

Meet the Author

S. M. Stirling is the author of numerous novels, both on his own and in collaboration. A former lawyer and an amateur historian, he lives in the Southwest with his wife, Jan.

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