Dies the Fire
S. M. Stirling
It's worth mentioning at the start that the plot of Dies
the Fire relies upon an impossible change in the laws of physics - or a
super-advanced energy-absorbing field that zaps it into hyperspace (my theory) -
to serve as the premise. People who
know just how impossible the former is have the option of plumping for the
latter, deciding to ignore it or just giving up. Fair warning.
Dies the Fire begins at the same time as the Nantucket
books (ISLAND IN THE SEA OF TIME
AGAINST THE TIDE OF YEARS
ON THE OCEANS OF ETERNITY),
when Nantucket is sent back in time to the Bronze Age by an unknown agency.
At the same time in 1997, the world Changes; gunpowder no longer
explodes, internal combustion engines no longer work, electricity doesn't flow
and pressure refuses to build. From
that implausible premise, Stirling builds the saga of two very different groups
of survivors; the 'Bearkillers' and the 'witches coven'.
Both groups are very well realised, even if I do think that there are too
many people with just the right sort of skills needed to survive in the Changed
world. That said, it would be a
boring story about lawyers and bankers who starved or were eaten in the first
week or so.
A third plot concerns the development of a medieval empire
by a guy called Arminger, a former medieval professor with dreams of empire.
Unlike William Walker of Nantucket, Arminger is far more realistic and
ruthless; I wish we'd seen more of him.
The main problem, in my view, is that most local
governments just vanish. The last
we see of the formal government is a cop who is saved by one of the main
characters. Now I understand that
the entire US won't function anymore, but surely the city governments, police
and the National Guard could have held bits of civilisation together. This leads nicely to the secondary problem; we're not
serfs from 1300 or whenever!
The characters in the book seem to have regressed back to
the days of knights on armour. However,
we have the habits of democracy and freedom; can even someone like Arminger
break many Americans to his will? Even
without firearms, there are plenty of ways to bring down knights in armour with
modern wreckage; do Molotov Cocktails still work? We don't play by the rules of 1300 - why should we?
Arminger might last for a while, but the serfs would overthrow him when
he started being more than a Churchill and became a King Richard.
What about gas? No one seems
to think of burning down Iron Rod's stronghold.