one of the things i like about S. M. Stirling - other that he just writes damn good (albeit dense) books is that he writes about non-mainstream characters in an ordinary way. It's not "oh, look, here's this lesbian character and this is going to be a major plot point and oh isn't this special", it's "oh, yea, here's this character, yea, she likes girls, some folks in the town aren't uber crazy about it, oh well, moving on." i started Dies The Fire last night, and one of the major characters is either Pagan or Wiccan or both - he hasn't actually said yet - and it's just "oh, yea, this chick was going to go to her coven ritual, but the world blew up, moving along." i don't know that i'm putting it terribly well, but it's nice, how he treats his characters. he also expects his readers to be smart and just run with it - many authors would have put in a long explanation of just what Wicca is. he did add a one line description for the acronym SCA, however. :)
i am loving Dies the Fire, at least, the 40 pages i've read. besides writing good non-mainstream characters, Stirling just writes good characters, period - smart and believable.
i should start Conquistador after i finish this one.