Friday, December 30, 2011

Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling

Dies the Fire a novel of the Change by S.M. Stirling was not the first of the author's works that I had read. I initially encountered Stirling years ago with a previous book in the same setting as Dies the Fire, that was Island in the Sea of Time. For some reason I could never get into Island in the Sea of Time and put the book down without finishing it. The same author's standalones; The Lancers of Peshawar and Conquistador interested me, and I did read those, and enjoyed them. I first became genuinely interested in his Change series was when I read Ariel by Steven Boyett, and heard that both Islands in the Sea of Time and the Change series in general were partially inspired by the events in Steven Boyett's dystopian fable. What eventually did make me pick up Dies the Fire was the short story Ancient Ways in George R.R Martin and Gardner Dozois' Warriors anthology. I thought Ancient Ways was a real fun swashbuckler and it was set in the Change world, this made me want to find out more about it.

Stirling is in pretty familiar territory with Dies the Fire, the earlier trilogy Islands in the Sea of Time, Against the Tide of Years and On the Oceans of Eternity, were all set in the setting that gave rise to the events of the Change. The main themes of Lancers of Peshawar and Conquistador shared something with Dies the Fire as well.

The premise is that some sort of event causes all technology worldwide to fail, and the world suddenly finds itself having to rediscover old methods of doing things and finding untapped reservoirs of resolve and determination within themselves to simply survive.

Most of Dies the Fire focusses on two groups in the Willamette Valley region of the United States who try to tame this brave new world. One group is led by ex-Marine and private pilot Mike Havel and comprises the Larsson family; engineer father Ken and the Tolkien obsessed teen April, amongst them. The other is folk singer and Wiccan priestess Juniper Mackenzie along with her deaf daughter Eilir and her publican friend Denny.

Both groups set up their own camps which seem to exist largely to help others come to terms with what has happened. Along the way they'll encounter others who have seized an opportunity to make the situation work for them, with little regard for who they hurt along the way.

One of Ariel's problems was that I didn't feel Boyett had totally thought things out about how a no technology world would really work five years after the lights went out, he did have working magic to help him out though, this is not the case with Stirling, if anything he's over thought how things may work and tried to cover nearly every base, he does an admiral job with few nit picks from me, although I think we could have done without some of the exposition, especially on Wiccan ceremonies, if I ever wish to conduct a Wiccan wedding ceremony I think I could make a pretty decent fist of it, having read Dies the Fire. Juniper's insistence of using old gaelic to express herself also became a bit tiresome. S.M. Stirling got some of his Wiccan information from George R.R Martin's wife; Parris, and he seemed determined to use every single skerrick of it in this book.

Although I liked Mike, he was a good, decent man in a pretty crazy world, he was very reminiscent of the lantern jawed hero from Conquistador. They even seemed to have similar pasts, and they acted much the same. Maybe a few more shades of grey were needed to flesh the character out a little.

The main bad guy was a shadowy character from Portland, who went by the name of the Protector, he was a former teacher of medieval history, who had set himself up as a brutal feudal warlord in the technology free world. There's too little screen time devoted to him. We could have had less of the Wiccan side of things and more on the book's 'big bad' for mine. I believe he will be covered in more detail in further books of the series. There are currently 8 books in what is called the Emberverse series, with at least two more planned for release in 2012 and 2013. Dies the Fire has whetted my appetite nicely and I look forward to seeing the further adventures of Mike Havel, Juniper Mackenzie and Co in The Protector's War.


  1. I read Dies the Fire a few years ago, and I remember enjoying it. Sure, it was loaded with plot devices (hey, we're ALL SCA'ers who study pre-industrial revolution life, wow, that's convenient!), but at the end, it basically scared the crap out of me. If all technology were to stop working, I'd have less than zero useful survival skills.

  2. It kept making me think that, too. Being a city person I kind of wished Stirling had included a few more chapters on what happened in one of the larger metropolises, he only just scratched the surface of that. Like you I'd be in trouble very quickly.

  3. There's not a doubt that if there had been no Ariel by Boyette, there would be no Dies the Fire. Its a total ripoff (Hang gliding commandos? Really?) and Sterling doesn't acknowledge it anywhere in the book.

    Boyette tears him a new one in the Ariel sequel, Elegy Beach, but most people didn't spot it. Hilarious.