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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.

Despite those flaws, the book is still a good read.  I can't wait for the sequel. 

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