Wjmacguffin's Reviews > Dies the Fire

Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling
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Jun 15, 11


The author has some talent and the writing isn't bad. Neither is the plot nor pace. The dialogue is a bit similar (characters often sound the same). But they are all adequate--not great, not good, but acceptable. What I could not stomach was the basic premise: everything changes in the universe to ensure RenFaire and SCA geeks rule. Really? (And I count myself among RenFaire geeks, so I'm not being snobby.)

If you didn't read it, here's the premise: Tech suddenly stops working. Electricity can't even be generated and gunpowder doesn't burn. So what happens to society? Why, it reverts to the Middle Ages, complete with knights, lords, castles, and crossbows. Um, sure. It also reverts back to paganism and wicca, for some reason. But the novel openly glorifies farming, simple living, and feudalism. Really?

A ridiculous point in the book perfectly showcases my problem. In Seattle, the street gangs are now ruled by a former professor of medieval history. Yes, hardcore thugs and dealers from the ghetto are ruled by a white-bread middle ages fan. Why? Because he understands how a feudal society works! Oh, please. If the shit really hit the fan, Mr. History Professor would be dog meat, not lord of crips AND bloods.

The whole novel reads like a fantasy by some over-eager D&D fan tired of being at the bottom of the social ladder so he writes a dream world where he is IMPORTANT!!!

Don't read this. Seriously.

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Fred I know this review is old, but it is something my mind won't let go unless I get this thought out there. I agree with you that it is a fantasy for D&D and RenFaire geeks, but that is the entire point of the entire book. A "what if" for this scenario.


Gunpowder DOES burn. It does not generate enough force to EXPLODE. Electricity works also, but the amount is limited. Later on in the book, they attempt steam power, but for some reason the force generated is lowered, if I remember correctly. I would have like some explanation on why this Change happened, but it does need seem feasible for the people to learn how, with technology being throttled back so far. Or even worthwhile since who is going to support a scientist who may take 10 years to figure it out.

It perfectly explains why society reverts back to feudalism. It is because we have to use methods of that time. We have to farm by hand. Does everyone want to farm? No. People with power (people with weapons and the know-how to use them) will subjugate the people who do not have that resource. A national government does not work. Long range communication can not happen, same for transportation. Said government does not have a cache of armour and swords.

Mr. History Professor does put on a ridiculous show, I'll agree. When guns are ineffective and people are roaming around with knives and steel pipes, armour ACTUALLY helps. Who would have thought? The History Professor WORE armour, when he fought those policemen, who were mostly unarmed and caught flat footed on the whole situation. History Professor was a part of a group that did RenFaire re-enactments and apparently did some sword play. Clearly he will have some advantage being better armed and protected. One cop does manage to hit the History Professor in the BACK with a 2 by 4, which does almost nothing, because knights of the Middle Ages actually knew how to protect against flimsy weapons.

The History Professor shows the gang leaders that this is the way to fight. You can either join up with him or die fighting armoured knights. He had the thought that this Change was permanent and started getting to work gathering weapons, armour, people, and food.

Of course it glorifies farming. How the hell would you eat? Even if you could factory produce food, how would you move it without combustion engines? It would take while to convert a lot of things to steam engines. The wiccan, shamanistic, mysticism is mostly a way of thought and belief system in the book. Some of which does get tiring to read, but it is an excellent way to solidify unity and does keep peoples' mind off of knowing your family in the next state over was probably dead.

A lot of people think, this Change is temporary, and they pay for this thought with their life. They represent the most common way of thinking, which I think you might be a part of. They wait around for the government to fix the world. Why would they think differently? A world where your way of life is completely unsustainable? No internet, which would be a huge blow to me.

Again, the idea that the "RenFaire geeks" will rule the world if guns and electricity weren't as effective as we are normally used to, is the point of this book. We have the knowledge, but the lack of technology to apply it. Therefore while true feudalism won't work anymore, it is a very valid government system. What would you do if this happened? Not farm? Not pick-up any weapons? You will die in this setting and no one would have the time to weep for you.


Wjmacguffin Fred wrote: "I know this review is old, but it is something my mind won't let go unless I get this thought out there. I agree with you that it is a fantasy for D&D and RenFaire geeks, but that is the entire poi..."
Actually, I don't care why the Change happened. I get that's not the point. It's looking into how society and people would change should this happen. I just cannot buy the author's premise on that change.

Feudalism is NOT guaranteed. Nothing is. Maintaining a large nation-state like the USA would be very hard, but smaller communities based on communism, anarchy-capitalism, democracy, or Greek-style republics could easily happen. Given the previous society ran on democracy, new societies would likely emulate that. The author seems to think everyone suddenly said, "Now that I have to farm, I think we need a feudal society!" No. Simply no.

Mr. History Professor would have been stabbed in his face by gangbangers, who would have stolen his armor and weapons. The author ignores race and culture when he made some white, middle-class SCA member rule gangs. I wouldn't say it's racist, but I would say it's ignorant and completely unlikely.

Needing farming is not the same as glorifying it. Cyberpunk stories feature all kinds of tech while disdaining it and showing how it saps our humanity. But here, the author says farming is super! Subsistence farming is a tough life. Some will welcome the change from modern life to farming, but the author comes across as a preachy hippie. (Nothing wrong with farming or hippies, but this one-sided preaching feels wrong.)

And what happened to Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other major faiths in this country? Why did everyone in the book shuck their old religion and join in worshiping Wicca? Nothing wrong with Wicca, mind you, but people cling to religion in a crisis. Where are the hardcore Christians? It doesn't make sense.

Of course I would die in this setting. How does that make the novel better? I'd also die in any number of crap zombie novels, but that doesn't mean they're any good.

For the record, I love RenFaires and have played fantasy rpgs since 1980. I get this novel was written for RenFaire geeks. So what? If I wrote a novel for Bromies where My Little Ponies became real doesn't mean it's good.

The core problem is suspension of disbelief. That the Change works to make RenFaire folk and Wicca the dominant force in the setting is not supported by the author's writing. I cannot get past the huge gaps in explanation. If you can, good for you. You enjoyed this novel. I didn't.


message 3: by Fred (last edited Mar 09, 2012 10:47AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Fred Fuedalism isn't certain, but it depends on who has the power. Of course some gang banger could have stabbed him in the face, but would he give the gang banger that chance? If that did happen, would the gang members know how to survive? The History Professor was pretty much on a power trip making everything how he wanted it. As the story progresses, you do run into a couple of other types of societies, that do somewhat emulate democracy and other types of government. The point was that the Feudalism was a bit more active in taking land over and subjugating everyone.

When people are starving equally, would you really factor in race? It is still in the first year and people are trying to survive. Granted, I haven't read the other books in the series yet, but when your life isn't under constant danger from starving, then you have time to think about other things.

Do you happen to remember where the author implied farming is super and preachy? I did not pick up on that at all. The wicca main character story line does a lot of farming because they are established at her cabin. It states that it is hard work, but necessary to have something to do to stop thinking about all the loss. Also they are next to a little community that is, for the most part, a christian theocracy, who actually preaches against the wicca.

The people around the wiccan group were drawn into the charisma of the female lead. A lot of hero worship. Same with the male leader.

You are thinking more globally. This book is set in a very small part of the world. The author could have spent pages to explain the situation, but it would not be relevant to the scope of following two protagonist groups fighting against a powerful antagonist.


Edit: I just remembered that there is some race/culture play with the Native Americans and their plans to take back their lands from the whites.


Wjmacguffin Fred wrote: "Fuedalism isn't certain, but it depends on who has the power. Of course some gang banger could have stabbed him in the face, but would he give the gang banger that chance? If that did happen, would..."
Sorry, but I still cannot believe Mr. History Professor becomes lord of the gangs. It makes no sense. With armor and sword, would he defeat the gangbangers who came at him? Most likely. Would they follow his leadership? Hell no. If the author made him leader of a band of powerful folk dominating gangs through superior weaponry and skill, OK. But the author had the gangbangers willingly following his lead. Nope.

Would I factor in race when people are starving? No, but many would. Scarcity brings out the best and worst in people. It's not about thinking of "other things". It's about saving scarce resources for your people, and many view race as "their people". That's just race! What about class, neighborhoods, ethnicity, and religion? I'm not saying post-apocalypse worlds should be populated with homogeneous groups but ignoring all of that in favor of some white college professor ruling people of color as their Lord and Master? Puh-lease.

As for farming, his characters seemed happier living off the land than in the modern world. No doubt a simpler life has its benefits and some people would indeed be happier there. But living without toothpaste, condoms, penicillin, toilet paper, TV, and tampons? The author looks at an agrarian society with rose-tinted glasses and I found that naivete tiresome.

I hear you about the charismatic Wiccan girl, but really? Everyone abandons their faith just like that? Or did everyone believing in Christianity, easily the dominant religion in the area where the novel is set, not make it through the Change alive?

Lastly, I don't need the author to explain everything in his world. It's just that, for me, the setting and story lacked enough suspension of disbelief and the whole thing was laughable.


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