So, Jackie asked me to do a few reviews for her site – the first one is Dies The Fire by S.M. Stirling. The premise is pretty decent – what would happen if the laws of nature changed and technology just stopped working? Gunpowder burned like sawdust, electronics just stopped working, and gasoline burned more like petroleum jelly? This is exactly what happens when “The Change” occurs. The book follows the experiences of two characters along parallel storylines.
Mike Havel is a former Marine turned private pilot who was shuttling the wealthy Larsson family to their weekend getaway in the northwest when the lights went out. With the engines died, he’s forced to glide the plane down for a crash landing. Mike and the family try to get back to civilization and eventually realize there’s no civilization left. Along the way, they save a guy and his wife from some racist nuts who think the apocalypse is upon them, but inadvertently drive the loons back to where the wife and girls were hiding, resulting in the mother being killed. The children take it poorly, and the youngest daughter (who happens to be a Lord of the Rings fanatic and has archery as a hobby) decides to take her anger out by shooting a black bear with an arrow and pissing it off. The resulting battle scars Mike’s face and earn the group the nickname “The Bearkillers.”
As their journey continues they come to the conclusion that everything is going to hell in a hand basket and they should head for safer territory. They pick up helpful people along the way and start training in medieval warfare to protect themselves from any threats. Since technology no longer works, food quickly runs out and people become violent, or even become cannibalistic. They find out that a professor in Portland who specialized in the dark ages and was an SCA geek has decided he was going to become ruler, and supplied gangs of thugs with chainmail, swords and training. He quickly takes over the city and the surrounding areas. He rules through fear and is generally a bad guy. Mike and company visit Portland on a scouting mission and realize they’re eventually going to butt heads with “The Protector”.
Meanwhile, Juniper Mackenzie, a traveling musician (who also happens to be Wiccan) is in the middle of a show when the lights go out. A plane falls out of the sky and crashes into the city, and she attempts to help the survivors. Fearing the Change would be permanent, she decides to head to the cabin her uncle left her out in the hills, and takes her deaf daughter and her bar-owner friend with her. She makes it to the cabin and they immediately get to work planting and preparing for the end of the world.
As they work to protect their land and newly planted crops, they also have a run-in with the Protector and his thugs. The surrounding towns and families end up banding together to make it through the winter. As their group gets bigger, they take on a Celtic clan structure and many people become Wiccans to help fit in with the group. Not all the neighbors are fond of this, and there is a bit of awkwardness that results. The two groups eventually cross paths, with Mike unknowingly knocking up Juniper after a one night stand, then getting engaged to the older of the two Larsson girls. The groups later work hand-in-hand to destroy one of the Protector’s fortresses that was erected too close to the Mackenzie clan’s farmlands.
Overall the book was pretty good; the Wiccan stuff seemed to be laid on a bit heavy at first, but it ended up fitting real well by the end of the book. Many interesting topics arise from this premise:
- How exactly will society break down if this happens?
- How will people from different backgrounds handle it?
- Who will lose power, who will acquire it?
- How far will people go to survive?
I have to say the book didn’t grab me at first, but I’m glad I stuck with it. I ended up putting it down for a few months to work on another project, and was able to pick it up with little difficulty. I mean no disrespect when I say this, but the writing style is very simple and approachable – the down side is it’s not as rewarding as it could be, but it’s more accessible to a wider audience. Go read this book. The rest of this series is now on my to-read list.