Sunday, May 22, 2011

Book Review: Dies the Fire, an alternative history

Dies the Fire
What happens when the lights go out . . . for good?

The Change occurred when an electrical storm centered over the island of Nantucket produced a blinding white flash that rendered all electronic devices and firearms inoperable--and plunged the world into a dark age humanity was unprepared to face . . . 

S.M. Stirling has written a trilogy of novels about how humanity adapts to the sudden, catastrophic change in potentialities: where, basically, the technologies of medieval times are all that "work"--an artificial imposition on our planet, imposed by an unknown source--labeled "alien space bats" by one wit.

The three novels of this series are Dies the Light, The Protector's War, and A Meeting at Corvallis.

Stirling's website describes the series in the following manner:
A trilogy set in the world that the island of Nantucket left behind when it became an "Island in the Sea of Time". This world is hit by "The Change" causing electricity, high gas pressures, and fast combustion (including explosives and gunpowder) to stop working.
 The effects of this imposition are anything buy funny, though. Food is the immediate pressure for Change Year 1. How to grow food and keep others from taking it organize CY2. As the years progress and the trilogy plays out the conflicts, Stirling's vision focuses on several groups that survive--some life-supporting, and some life-destroying.

The most interesting aspect of the trilogy is who survives. Stirling emphasizes luck as being essential, and also an early-on recognition that the Change wasn't changing back. Those who adapt early make decisions that lead to survival--getting out of big cities and away from the masses of hungry people, finding a protected spot to survive long enough to put some seed into the ground.

Interesting characters--including dynamic, strong, and charismatic women characters--make these novels worth reading.
  • Mike Havel, a former Marine, whose small plane conks out while flying over the Bitterroot Mountains, who eventually organizes the "BearKiller Outfit"
  • Juniper Mackenzie, a Celtic musician and Wiccan priestess who says that in order to survive, a clan must be formed--and that's just what happens, kilts and all
  • Norman Arminger, a history professor and medieval re-enactment buff who decides the Change is an opportunity to bring back the Middle Ages--and guess who will be king?
  • Astrid Larsson, who deals with the Change by becoming an elf-like warrior princess right out of J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Eilir Mackenzie, Juniper's daughter, who is deaf and mute, but who finds abilities that allow her to move through the changed world with a grace and power that creates the perfect complement to Astrid Larsson's fantasy
  • Sam Aylward, from British Yorkshire, former Special Forces soldier, who happens to know how to make yew bows in the ancient manner
Stirling has chosen an alternative history that begins with a catastrophic upheaval and tumble-down of human society. Out of that, a time filled with fighting for survival ensues. I find his vision an interesting exercise for the imagination--and a thrilling read. I don't agree completely with his vision--I tend to think there would be more cooperation and less head-bashing insanity, for instance, but the basic premise of a return to low-technology existence and how new cultures are formed is developed by Stirling into a stirring story of derring-do and back-to-the-land adventure.

Copyright 2011 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved


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