Cast Under an Alien Sun (Destiny’s Crucible) (Volume 1), by Olan Thorensen

The basic theme or trope of this book would seem familiar to anyone who’s read or seen A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. In this story John Colsco, a 26-year-old married chemist, boards a flight to Chicago for a conference. There’s a sudden explosion on the plane and John finds himself falling to earth. He wakes up in a strange room where a mechanical voice explains that an alien observation craft was flying invisibly over the earth on an observation mission, but there was a computer glitch that put it into a collision with the jet where John was a passenger.

The voice goes on to explain that his injuries have been repaired and that he has been injected with nanotechnology to keep him healthy, but he no longer has the option of returning to earth. The aliens are afraid that if John returns that he’ll tell about his experience and alter earth’s culture. Instead, he’s given the choice of being left on one of the many planets that some earlier beings seeded with humans or being eliminated. John chooses the relocation.

He’s left naked on the shores of an island country not entirely unlike medieval England. There he must learn a new language, learn about the distinct culture, and generally find his place in an alien if human culture.

If you read Twain’s comparable book, one of the earliest examples of time travel and being trapped in an ancient culture, you probably see the similarities. Twain’s Hank Morgan, however, is a different character from the John Colsco of this book. Morgan approached the medieval culture he was dropped into with a snide sense of superiority. He was a Yankee engineer and he liked showing off his prowess with machinery and in many ways turns on the culture in which he landed. John, on the other hand, knows that this is not a temporary tourist in this new land but a permanent resident. He works hard to learn the language, makes friends, and cautiously introduces new ideas into this culture. One of his first introductions is ether (diethyl ether) so that surgery can be done without pain and he also introduces germ theory. This brings him new wealth which he uses for other purposes such as introducing banking (there goes the mercantile neighborhood) and the use of fertilizers. He’s always cautious to try to introduce these new ideas within the cultural context and to avoid clashing with the religious beliefs that have evolved over time.

Like medieval England, this island country faces a threat from the north, a race something like a cross between Vikings and Mongols who have invaded neighboring countries and now has its eyes on John’s adopted country. John is instrumental in helping them find innovative methods for defense.

John Colsco is a great character, as are the locals with whom he develops friendships. He’s a wise Edison bringing new ideas to those who need them. Along the way he has a romance or two, has frustrations trying to do business in a world where contracts are rarely used, and finds himself in a position of having to help defend his new friends.

There are now three books out in the series: The Pen and the Sword and Heavier Than a Mountain which are both going into my “to be read” list.