This book falls into a strangely particular sweet spot for me; there’s something about the alt-history technological bootstrapping genre that I find appealing, and the obviously idealized social dynamics presented in this book are endearing if not convincing. Furthermore, S.M. Stirling’s cover blurb pulled me over the edge into reading it. I was not quite as automatically engrossed as he apparently was, but Into The Storm has made excellent reading material while I’ve been laid up following an unfortunate paintball incident.
The basic concept is very simple, transposing an American WWI destroyer caught in action against the Japanese at the opening of WWII from our world into an alternate world in which (more or less) the dinosaurs never really died away. The story is all about the destroyer’s crew doing their best to survive in a strange new world, and doing what they can to find friends who might be able to help them keep their ship operating instead of simply falling apart. It feels a little like S.M. Stirling’s Island in the Sea of Time crossed with Eric Flint’s 1632, but instead of dealing with a town or island it focuses entirely on a very small warship. The crew is wonderfully convincing, right down to their malicious pranking and oddly neurotic idiosyncrasies, and I enjoy following all of their various perspectives as the story progresses. The crew actually reminds me a little of the residents of an Apocalypse World hardhold or members of a Chopper’s gang.
Now, when I say “endearing if not convincing” up above, I don’t mean to disparage the author’s conception of hierarchical systems founded on an egalitarian society. As it’s presented, it seems to work pretty well. But the author’s clear preference for the system by which ‘the good guys’ operate is so transparent that I feel unable to accept it at face value. I don’t have experience with living and working on a US Navy vessel, I have no idea whether or not Anderson’s description is anything like the truth, and I suspect that what Anderson describes is closer to the ideal towards which his hierarchical system strives rather than the reality. I’m certainly aware of many failure modes that would prevent a hierarchical system from working nearly so well as it’s presented in the book. I think of it as a variation on the likable / wish-fulfillment protagonist problem; it’s really not actually much of a problem, so long as we remain aware of the fact that we’re idealizing the subjects of our attention, be they characters or systems of governance.
Also, I found the gender relations of the human characters (and characterizations of the male vs. female human characters) to be pretty frustrating. I had a hard time taking the characterizations of the male and female leads seriously, because they seemed so stereotypically 1940s to me. At a guess, Anderson was trying to ensure that these things were appropriate for a group of people in the US Navy in 1942 (unsurprising given his previous work as a technical and dialogue consultant for movies and documentaries), and I’m ok with that for the most part even though it turned me off the book to some extent (some things, methinks, are better left in the 1940s). But he doesn’t really explore any of the disconnect between the humans’ attitudes and those of their newfound allies in this first book. If/when he does get around to exploring that, and looking at the ramifications of further association between their two cultures, I think that has the potential to be super interesting. If he just glosses over that topic over the next several books, I suspect I’d be a bit disappointed.
So! If you’ve read and enjoyed Stirling’s Island in the Sea of Time, or Flint’s 1632, I suspect you’ll enjoy this book as well. If you haven’t read them but are intrigued by the idea of a group of wanderers on the seas of time and space, doing their best to reestablish themselves safely in a dangerous and not-so-subtly different world, you’ll also probably enjoy this book. If you don’t think you can tolerate some nearly-stereotypically-1940s gender roles, or some very nearly Apocalypse World-like shenanigans, maybe wait and see what I have to see about the next book before deciding whether this one is worth it.