Title: The Sleeping Serpent
Author: Pamela Sargent
Anthology: The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories
Editors: Ian Watson and Ian Whates
Publisher: Robinson Publishing (25 Feb 2010)
When I read the first paragraph of The Sleeping Serpent I was slightly disorientated and confused…Franks, Mongols and Hiroquois? ‘Where on earth is this story set?’ was my initial reaction. But soon all became clear. This is a story of the European colonisation of North America, with a twist!
Europe was successfully conquered by Genghis Khan and his descendants generations before and the continent was divided into Khanates. This story tells of how Yesuntai Noyan, son of the Frankish Khan, comes to North America to enlist the help of the native people, the nations of the Long House. His aim is to get rid of the Inglistani presence in the region.
“They will come with more soldiers and muskets. They will pollute this land with their presence. The Khan my father will conquer their wretched island, and the people of Eire will aid us to rid themselves of the Inglistani yoke. My father’s victory will be tarnished if too many of the island dogs find refuge here. They must be rooted out.”
The Sleeping Serpent is told from the first person perspective of Jirandai Bahadur, a Frank, who as a young child sailed to the colony of Yeke Green with his father. He is the bridge between the two worlds, having spent many years living with the Ganeagaono of Skanechtade, also known as the Flint People. Jirandai is introduced to Yesuntai Noyan and the stage is set for a story which reminded me of James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans. There are battle scenes aplenty and no shortage of cruelty and ruthlessness. But there are also insightful moments of introspection along with some clever political commentary.
At 42 pages, The Sleeping Serpent is a substantial read for a short story with lots of little details that I could translate to today’s world. For example, the settlement of Yeke Green is set on a small island off the east coast of the continent, which, before the arrival of the Franks was the home of the Manhatan people. I really enjoyed these nuggets of information that allowed me to compare the alternate history with what I know of the early European settlement of New York and the surrounding area. Here the Inglistani or English are largely confined to what we know as Long Island today and it is the Franks, or French, who are the dominant European force in the area.
This is the story of a war and how this affects our narrator. Despite being born into the Frank/Mongol culture and later being adopted by the Ganeagaono, Jirandai is an outsider. Although accepted by both, he is still unsure of his rightful place; is it with his birth culture or his adoptive one? We find the answer at the end of the story, a very satisfying conclusion, in my view. I thoroughly enjoyed The Sleeping Serpent and I have found another new author whose work I want to explore further.
About the author
Pamela Sargent studied philosophy, ancient history and Greek in college, after which she continued to live in New York State, creating an awesome oeuvre ranging from big novels about the terraforming of the planet Venus (“a new high point in humanistic science fiction,” said Gregory Benford) to Ruler of the Sky, a truly epic novel of Genghis Khan, told largely from the viewpoint of women, prefiguring the no less ambitious Climb the Wind, an alternative history novel in which the Plains Indians, akin to the Mongols under Genghis Khan, unite behind a strong leader to defeat an America weakened by the Civil War. Besides, she edited the landmark Women of Wonder anthologies of SF written by women about women, and authored several Young Adult novels, of which Earthseed was chosen as best book by the American ibrary Association. Along the way, she picked up the Nebula and Locus Awards.