3) Steppe, by Piers Anthony
This arose out of a conversation with a colleague who remembered having read it years ago. He described the plot to me, I posted his query here (and also on rasfw) and it was swiftly identified by
Our hero, a ninth-century Uighur, is yanked far into the future by players of a massive interactive game called Steppe, in which the history of Central Asia is simulated between the years 841 and 1227 at a rate of a game year for every real day that passes. The author takes the opportunity to regale us with much history transcribed painstakingly from Rene Grousset’s Empire of the Steppes (thanks to Mike Schilling for that tip-off).
For some reason, rather than have the whole game of Steppe a computer-generated environment, Anthony chooses to try and rewrite the Central Asian landscape into a space opera setting, so that the horses are spaceships, rough terrain equates to nebulas, camps are actually on planets. It’s not as well done as he managed in the five-volume Bio of a Space Tyrant series (and that set rather a low bar to exceed, featuring as it did the bizarre decision of Turks and Greeks to settle on the same asteroid when they had the whole solar system to choose from, purely so that they could reproduce the Cyprus situation in space).
It’s never clear whether the characters are supposed to get marks for recreating the historical record or deviating from it, and this is where Anthony really does run into difficulty with writing a decent story; he cannot choose between history lesson and plot. (A cantankerous afterword complains about his treatment by his publishers.) The women of the future are apparently “unversed in the refinements of pleasure” (this phrase is actually used), but fortunately our time-travelling hero is around to put them right by doing it the old-fashioned Turkic way.
Perhaps not the best book I’ve read all year, but I did at least find it much easier going than Dhalgren.