Dies The Fire

My Review: 9

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I’m really excited about this book. It’s rare that I find a new author who I immediately like and gravitate towards, but S.M. Stirling is one such. I am so impressed with the writing in this book. The characters are rich and interesting. The setting is both grand and comfortable at the same time. The story is a big, big idea. And there are lots of references and homages to other stories that I love, Tolkein in particular. I was struck also that in the first 3 pages I was already hooked. The time it took to empty my bowels was all I needed to become entranced in this story. After that, whether on the pot or off, I wanted to read this book.

The premise of the book is that one day all technology stops working. Electricity, and most high-energy chemical reactions stop working. That means internal combustion engines don’t work, electricity doesn’t flow, and even guns don’t fire. For all intents and purposes, the human race is thrown back into the 14th century. Swords, spears and armor are the weapons of the day. Knowing how to shoot a bow and arrow (or better yet to make them) is a rare and prized skill, as is blacksmithing and horse-shoeing.

The concept is really engaging, and S.M. Stirling (the author) does a wonderful job bringing the idea to fruition and exploring many far-reaching ramifications of an idea like this. What happens after a couple of days in a big city like New York or San Francisco when the water doesn’t flow, the trucks and trains don’t move, and fire fighters can’t drive to anywhere to put out a blaze. It’s a scary thought.

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Also, one of the really neat ideas Stirling raises with this book is the way people use their time in modern society. Take blacksmithing for instance. As a society we do not need or have blacksmiths, not in the historical sense. But there are people who have the time, leisure, interest and resources to take up traditional blacksmithing as a hobby. In Stirling’s world, these people are now the few who have a necessary skill set in a profession long since made obsolete by technology. Re-enactors of medieval society (Renaissance Fair types) are also one-up on the rest of us. 🙂

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The principal characters in this story are also really compelling. One is an ex-Marine and pilot who crash lands with some charter customers in the Idaho wilderness. Another is a Wiccan musician with a 14 year-old daughter in central Oregon. Stirling does a wonderful job exploring vastly different reactions (from vastly different people and groups) to an incredibly difficult concept, namely the loss of all high-technology in modern society.

Stirling’s website is not great, but it does give a brief history of the author and a list of his writing. The wikipedia entry about him offers some more information about him and his stories. Dies The Fire is the first book in a three part series dedicated to this event (called “the Change”) which robbed humanity of the benefits of technology. Other books and series by Stirling cross-over and refer to one another and to the Change. Currently I am finishing the second of these three books, and I am already getting sad to see the stories end. I’m looking forward to exploring more of Stirling’s work though.

I am happy to give Dies The Fire a very solid 9 out of 10. I think the book is a wonderful piece of fantasy fiction, and I am glad to have picked it up.


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4 comments so far

  1. Christopher on

    This sounds like an intriguing novel.

    What it depicts could well become reality, particularly now that communications satellites can be shot down easily by countries not friendly to the country to which the satellite belongs.

    It is the desert nomads and tent dwellers of our world who will survive intact a worldwide catastrophe, while we, the glib children of technology, will be as lost as little children without their mothers.

  2. David on

    Thanks for the comment Christopher. I know what you mean; sometimes the idea of living a much more primitive lifestyle sounds kind of attractive. This book borders on sci-fi or magical realism though, insofar as the technology is not just shot down or disabled, but the laws of physics and thermodynamics themselves seemed to have somehow been affected. Crazy stuff.

  3. Justin on

    Thanks for the review. I’m a Tolkien fan, and have recently been looking for some post-modern fiction. I really like Stirling’s concept. This looks like my next read.

  4. David on

    Awesome Justin, thanks for the comment. I hope you enjoy the book – I am on my 5th Stirling novel now. 🙂


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