The Protector’s War
S. M. Stirling
“In 1998 – at least according to Stirling - the laws of nature suffered a mysterious change: gunpowder can't explode, electrical devices don't work and the last 250 years of high-tech gadgetry suddenly are useless. This sequel shows what has happened to the world since the collapse of civilization. A group of people in the Pacific Northwest have joined together to rediscover old skills; Mike Havel, leader of the Bearkillers clan, and Wiccan priestess/folksinger Juniper Mackenzie help their followers adjust to new possibilities. Nearby, however, kinky former college professor Norman Arminger is exploiting his knowledge of medieval lore to manage the Protectorate, a brutal and ruthlessly expanding dictatorship.”
From my own writing experience, it is considerably harder to create
a world than write in it; you have to show how humans react to the changed –
or Changed – circumstances. In
The Protector’s War, on the other hand, Stirling doesn’t have to revisit
Dies The Fire; he can just get on with the story.
Protector’s war, it should be noted, is something of a misleading
title. The war seems to be about to
begin on the last page! Instead, we
get the manoeuvring up to the open conflict between the Forces of Good, in this
care the alliance of the Bearkillers and the Wiccans, and the Forces of Evil,
represented (evil laughter) by former medieval history professor Norman
Arminger. Despite the apparent
clinch that that is, Stirling brings it off with skill and panache – I find
that I care more for Arminger than most of his other villains.
has not pulled his punches when it comes to the sheer bloody horror of the time.
From England – a land now ruled by Mad King Charles and his Queen (no,
not Diana or Camilla) – to the Protectorate, we see the ‘simple life’ that
people talk about so wistfully. It’s
horrible. Stirling is also willing
to have his characters be both good and evil, with Signe’s reaction to
Mike’s bastard son chilling and realistic.
the book is missing the appendixes that added such depth to most of Stirling’s
books, the book is very strong, very well written and a fine sequel to Dies The
Fire. It’s great to see what’s
been happening in the rest of the world as well.
on the next one…
spoilers coming…click away if you don’t want to be spoiled…you have been
warned…don’t blame me…get the idea?)
are some points in the novel that simply don’t ring right, notably the
almost-complete absence of democracy. While
the good guys do seem to have more of it – the Wiccans most of all – the
others seem intent upon recreating the medieval era, complete with knights in
armour. Norman Arminger,
especially, has created a land of slaves and other horrors.
King Charles rules without a Parliament, but with Icelandic immigrants
pulling the strings.
problem with that is democracy is part of the modern world.
I’ll buy Arminger establishing the Protectorate in the chaos following
the Change, but how can it have survived past the first handful of years?
The Protectorate abuses its citizens – many of whom will want to rebel
against him. Ok, they don’t have
guns…but the post-Change world is filled with items that can be used for
weapons. What about petrol used as
a Molotov Cocktail? How bad would
that be for a medieval knight? The
Protectorate depends upon an unspoken social contract, one that was broken long
ago. Arminger cannot trust
his servants and indeed most of his lords, each of whom will not have the
automatic deference to the crown that English noblemen at least pretended to
show. Arminger’s success depends
upon maintaining a perfect balancing act; any slip and he’s dead.
without any access to modern tools, it is worth noting that in the
fourteenth century the peasants in England revolted against King Richard (and,
more importantly, the landlords). That
revolt came to the brink of success and only failed because of the
respect that the peasants had for the teenage King; something that cost them the
war. The citizens of the
Protectorate do not have that respect, which may have only existed because
Richard wasn’t directly involved in pressing them. (Absent a time machine we’ll probably never know).
future conflict in the Bearkillers camp is likely to be worse, for Rudi is a
civil war waiting to happen. Signe
setting him up to die is likely to go down as a POD, for Rudi may have at least
a friendship with the Heir to Arminger’s throne. How is the next Lord Bear to be selected?
Are the A-listers to act as nobles, despite the fact that at least one of
them was taking advantage of his post for personal advantage?
Sooner or later, there’s going to be a revolt…
the problem is simple, provided that Mike acts in the correct manner.
Separating ‘Lord Bear’ from his family and making it an elective post
– and not a hereditary post – would prevent Rudi from trying to claim his
rights as Mike’s firstborn son, the more so because many people would see
advantages in uniting both parties – and perhaps whatever comes out of the
a different note, King Charles is an unlikely King for the UK.
At the time of the Change, Charles was…well, certainly actively
disliked by many people who bought into the Diana Myth, not a figure to inspire
confidence in people as clear-sighted as Loring.
I also don’t buy almost all of the UK being depopulated; while the
lower parts of England would be seriously depopulated, the highlands would
survive. Places up as far north as
John O’Groats and the Islands would be out of walking range for the
population, so they would survive.