On the Oceans of Eternity: A disappointing finale

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsOn the Oceans of Eternity by S.M. Stirling science fiction book reviewsOn the Oceans of Eternity by S.M. Stirling

On the Oceans of Eternity is the final novel in S.M. Stirling’s NANTUCKET series. In the first novel, Island in the Sea of Time, which I really enjoyed, a strange electrical storm caused the entire island of Nantucket to be transported back in time to 1300 B.C. It was entertaining to watch the island’s citizens make this discovery and deal with the resulting personal, cultural, economic and political changes. Then, one of the citizens, William Walker, decided to use his modern knowledge and technology to attempt to establish himself as emperor in this “new” world. He left the island to search for people he could rule.

The second book, Against the Tide of Years, felt very much like a middle book. We watched the islanders trying to usher in an industrial revolution, but most of the plot focused on the build-up of forces and alliances by both William Walker and the islanders. A subplot involves the discovery of smallpox which one of the American characters will try to deal with. In my review, I complained that the book was teachy and that the characters were thin.

Unfortunately, On the Oceans of Eternity, which begins a couple of years after the events of Against the Tide of Years, continues in the same vein. All of the characters do pretty much the same things they were doing in the previous book. Most of them are dull. Walker and his sadistic wife, Alice Hong, are too evil to be believed. Everyone’s amazed (why?) that some of the ancient people they meet seem to have normal IQs.

The prose suffers from extremely long descriptions when each scene is set, and lots of irrelevant backstory on minor characters. There are, again, many teaching moments, making On the Oceans of Eternity often feel like a history, sociology, economics, geography, agriculture, or medical textbook.

Another problem that started to irritate me was the repetitive pattern of Stirling’s prose. The story is written in a third-person limited voice with multiple points of view. Nearly every paragraph includes an italicized inner thought which sounds like the character is interacting with the narrator:

“There were records of everything, now. The chief scribe’s office could torment a man to death and destroy his House with writs and forms. Paper is as great a power in the land as bronze or steel, today. Greater than a bloodline descended from the Gods.

Or:

“He wouldn’t have thought her the type to do the romantic-plunge-into-the-unknown thing, but then, she was his sister. She’d been an annoying brat for most of his life, then they’d become friends after the Event, but when he’d thought of her love life at all, it had always seemed sort of comic. Until it rose up and bit us all on the ass. Of course, it had been even more disconcerting to the Babylonians to see…”

Once I noticed the pattern, it became impossible not to be waiting for the interruption and to be annoyed every time it happened. Perhaps this is not as annoying in the print version as it is in the audio version I was listening to. In print, the internal musings are written in italics. These are probably easy to read over in your head in whatever voice you want to use. However, in the audio version, Todd McLaren speaks them in a slightly whispery voice, distinguishing them from the surrounding text. It’s then the pattern becomes so noticeable and irritating.

On the Oceans of Eternity is a disappointing finale to a trilogy that was fascinating at first but then gradually declined. I still recommend the first book, Island in the Sea of Time. You could stop there, or continue with the sequels if you don’t mind the teachiness and flat characters. Readers who enjoy this type of story might also like to try Taylor Anderson’s DESTROYERMEN series or Julian May’s PLIOCENE series.

Nantucket — (1997-2000) Publisher: A colossal dome of fire and a violent storm shift the universe, reduce the North American continent to wilderness, and sweep the island of Nantucket into the year 1250 B.C., placing its inhabitants in a battle for survival.

S.M. Stirling Nantucket Series 1. Island in the Sea of Time 2. Against the Tide of Years 3. On the Oceans of EternityS.M. Stirling Nantucket Series 1. Island in the Sea of Time 2. Against the Tide of Years 3. On the Oceans of EternityS.M. Stirling Nantucket Series 1. Island in the Sea of Time 2. Against the Tide of Years 3. On the Oceans of Eternity


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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3 comments

  1. I might read the first one. This giving in to the temptation to overwrite your world because it’s this just-so-cool thing you invented!!! is annoying to me. I’m glad you figured out how to boil water; now please tell me the story.

    • Exactly. Perhaps I would have felt differently if it had been enlightening, but it wasn’t. I should have mentioned this in my review: most of the “teaching” was stuff that modern people already know such as the importance of irrigation, how to create gunpowder, and how immunization works.

  2. I’ll definitely check out the first book, since I’m curious about Stirling’s style, but I doubt I’ll rush to find the rest of the trilogy.

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