Post-Apocalyptic Novel - Dies the Fire

Sharon September 8th, 2008

Welcome to “Energy Apocalypse” Month, always a subject near and dear to my heart, of course.  And SM Stirling’s _Dies the Fire_ to me always seems like a cookie of a book - flat, sweet, the occasional delicious chocolate chip, the occasional weird, slightly off-raisin ;-).  It suffers from “apocalyptic novel disease” in which the apocalypse itself, dramatic as it is, is insufficient to keep the story going, so we have to have a cartoon bad guy too.  You’d think that the survival of our two small plucky bands, and the taking over of the world by the SCA would be sufficient for a novel, but no, Stirling gets bored with that right out, and we move on to the evil dude and the evil dude’s machinations.  Stirling even makes fun of his own evil dude, saying that no one is really that evil, but goes on to write three books about him and his doings, and of course, his defeat by our plucky bands of allies.

 Of course, I’m mostly interested in the “how do we adapt to the fact that all gizmos plus guns don’t work” goes.  While I think few of us have to worry much about “Alien Space Bats” changing the laws of physics, it does offer a fun bit of fantasy about a low (or rather, no) power world. 

Some things I think are probably right were the (unlikely) transition from a high tech to a low tech society to happen quite quickly:

1. The the nuclear family is simply too small - organizations are at the tribe/clan/community institution/warlord level. If you want to expand, you need to figure out how to have an autonomous subgroup with formal alliances.  But fundamentally, in a very low energy world, small groups of a few dozen to a few hundred make a lot more sense that large state-sized organizations or small nuclear families. 

2. Organizational motifs vary quite a lot, but they tend to have strong narrative/story/religious components - that is, people will need to create a history and a story about who they are and why.  Thus, the book of the bear clan, the religious culture of Juniper’s group, etc…

Things I think would be damned unlikely, even if thing otherwise occurred as Stirling projects.

 1. That the SCA would take over the earth.  No offense to the SCA, but while some people join just because they want to do medieval style stuff, most participants I’ve met (and I’ve met quite a few) find the SCA to be a geek subculture.  This is not bad - I participate in several geek subcultures myself, although not that one.  But generally the sorting process that gets people engaged into geek subcultures and out of mainstream ones is partly preferential, but also includes a hefty dose of well, geekiness.  It isn’t terribly unlikely that the SCA could produce a few mainstream leaders, but “few” would be the operative term.  I’ve heard someone refer to this book as “self-indulgent” and I think that pretty much covers it in a host of ways.

 2. That self-organization would in fact, occur quite so quickly - warlords get the idea right off, the bearkillers start recruiting and their long march (and no one dies, except the inconvenient mother figure, who was toasted anyway).  Everyone figures everything out right away, everyone has immediate occasion to try and fire their guns (because of course, there are so many bad guys roaming around Oregon) - this seems very unrealistic to me.  Much more likely is that the pace of understanding, and unfolding occurs much more slowly. 

The books are fun, but I admit, I get bored by the bad guys, and bored by the wargames bits.  What did the rest of you think?

 Sharon

53 Responses to “Post-Apocalyptic Novel - Dies the Fire”

  1. Karinon 08 Sep 2008 at 3:09 pm

    I read the first two books. I enjoyed the first more than the second . I was too bored with the second to keep going on the third. And apparently he has a second series with the children of Dies the Fire.

    One thing that struck me was the willingness of the characters that join the wiccan band to adopt a new religion so easily. The character that reflects christianity is killed off. By the second book the setting is a few years after the “change”. I would think that under such drastic change that many folks would hold on to what is most familiar. Most of the wiccan band have adopted the new religion. Their existence is more earth based so the transition seems likely but as a theme running under the pace of the rest of the story it doesn’t seem that convincing to me.

  2. Zach Freyon 08 Sep 2008 at 3:22 pm

    Well, to be fair … both Juniper’s and Mike’s groups had reasons to understand early that Things Were Different(tm), because of their respective plane crashes. And wouldn’t there be a bit of selection here? The story is about the survivors, who would of course be the ones who figured it out early. :)

    Our bad guy figuring it out that early is the least believable part. I’ll note, though, that he was smart enough to not rely on SCA nerds as his entire strategy…

    The thing I love about the Emberverse books is that they do show (after the world rebuilds a bit) visions of how there can be a good life without high-energy technology. (This is also why Stirling gets hate mail — there’s a certain subset of people who are offended at the notion of a halt to technological “progress”.)

    peace,

  3. Susan in NJon 08 Sep 2008 at 3:38 pm

    I’m halfway through the first book and kind of bored with what should be an entertaining idea, SCA takes over the earth and evil professor raises the eye of Sauron — I do identify a bit with elfgirl, when I was around that age and for a good time thereafter, I had a serious LOTR jones, I took my jr. high class notes in elvish script, took up archery, etc.
    From this book, I’ve picked up some new tricks and list items for post-disaster shopping (personal check? and crossbows, look for treatise on making mithril). And the sorting is pretty fast (and lucky at least if you are not in Portland).
    It reminds me of early text driven computer games (and D&D, which is specifically referenced). Who knew there were so many folks around skilled in making bows? Some Mad Max channeling going on too in Lord Protector land. And the cannibals seem to be a little more politically correct (if not more devolved) than in LH, love that greasy woman canibal in the business suit, lawyer? (and we have the self-referential mention of cannibals as allegory too).
    A lot of people disappear really fast — the Lord Protector folk clean stuff up but what about all those cars on the highways.
    Interesting observations on self-made clans though forming around resources or strong personalities and an interesting look at cannibalizing resources of the industrial age when you’re sure the world that was is gone.

  4. […] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Post-Apocalyptic Novel - Dies the Fire Welcome to “Energy Apocalypse” Month, always a subject near and dear to my heart, of course. And SM Stirling’s _Dies the Fire_ to me always seems like a cookie of a book - flat, sweet, the occasional delicious chocolate chip, the occasional weird, slightly off-raisin ;-). It suffers from “apocalyptic novel disease” in which the apocalypse itself, dramatic as it is, is insufficient to keep the story going, so we have to have a cartoon bad guy too. You’d think that the survival of our two small plucky bands, and the taking over of the world by the SCA would be sufficient for a novel, but no, Stirling gets bored with that right out, and we move on to the evil dude and the evil dude’s machinations. Stirling even makes fun of his own evil dude, saying that no one is really that evil, but goes on to write three books about him and his doings, and of course, his defeat by our plucky bands of allies. […]

  5. Rebeccaon 08 Sep 2008 at 4:35 pm

    Karin, actually from everything I read the prevailing religion usually goes down amidst the flames of collapse, but naturally that process takes generations, not years.

    The SCA taking over the world. Oh goody, I love fencing and renfaires! And if it ever did happen, considering that I know so many SCAers I think I would be pretty well off! Hmm, where did I put that bow…

  6. Heather Grayon 08 Sep 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Okay, I wasn’t going to participate in the book club but I’ve actually read this one… I’m a little puzzled by the description of the world being taken over by the SCA. Arminger is a history professor who was an SCA outcast. Yes he recruited some SCA people, but he also had gang members. The Wiccan group also had a couple of SCA people but the Bearkillers didn’t have any — they had a person who trained with ARMA, which has nothing to do with the SCA. And also there are a few other groups like the university in Corvallis, the monks and nuns at Mt. Angel, and the ranchers of CORA, although I realize they’re not as major factors as the big three, things would have gone very differently without them (especially Corvallis, I think). Oh, and can’t forget the eventual Tolkien rangers, but they don’t exist in the first book. That aside…

    Juniper’s group was very lucky to have had the stores of the dead Mormon couple to rely on the first winter. Although some of her coven had to foresight to nab supplies, wagon and horses from the museum the restaurant was attached to, and to get some gardening supplies on the way, they would have all starved to death without those stores. That was something I though Stirling did well, which was point out how poorly prepared most people are for a prolonged disaster of any kind.

    I do wonder how well people would do at getting organized, even in a small town. And which groups would be most pro-active. Back to the SCA, I tend to agree that some SCA groups would either be too spread out geographically (assuming travel-restrictions of some sort like no cars in Dies the Fire) to work together well, and that there are many geeks in the SCA. I have no idea if the group in our area is terribly different from other groups, but I’d like to think we’d do all right, but would likely not gather into a single group but rather into a few groups (geographical and housing practicalities) — certainly not immediately! But we have a rather high percentage of people with useful skills — most of our cooks have camping/open fire experience, people who know how to shoot, hunt, fight (not just rattan combat or fencing), sew, woodworking (yes, by hand), first aid and other medical skills, and we even have one blacksmith. Biggest drawback in food supplies is that very few are gardeners or have farming experience. Many probably only have a month of food supplies although I could be wrong about that…

    But the SCA doesn’t have the kind of community presence that a church has for instance, so I kind of doubt that any of the groups would take over :D

    In a real disaster situation, I wonder if there are any congregations out there that would come to the fore in each of the towns and cities, or one of those Masonic orders, or some other group — assuming one isn’t dealing with instantaneous apocalypse of course… in Stirling’s Nantucket series (the other half of the equation), the sheriff and various of the folks living in the town get it together, figuring out how to work together (mostly) — exploring yet another survival setup. Of course then they accidentally get into empire-building, etc. :D

    Yes, I’ve read a number of Stirling’s books. Not high literature, but I liked reading about how they figured out what low-tech things would and wouldn’t work, and the explorations of different systems, even if they might not have been terribly realistic at times. L and I also like to poke at the various ideas and compare them to real life likely outcomes — some things hold up better than others. For instance the Bearkillers were fortunate to have a really good engineer, although that isn’t impossible in real life (we have a number of folks who are low-tech designer/builders in our area). I kind of like that they took advantage of that knowledge and skillset — one of the smarter things that happened in the book… um, can’t remember which of the three it was in, but they didn’t just build war machinery, they also built stuff useful for agriculture, IIRC.

    I think Stirling was using the revolutionary cycle of governance I learned in a history class years ago… let’s see if I’m remembering it correctly - chaos-strong man-king-democracy-oligarchy-tyranny-chaos. Something like that… So, out of chaos come various strong men/women to bring unity to their local areas, etc. Not all of the setups went from strong man/woman to king of course, but I wouldn’t call Arminger’s, Juniper’s, or the Bearkillers systems democratic either (although in theory they sort of tried with the Bearkillers).

    In the real world, even assuming an apocalypse of some sort, I suspect that the survivors would be a very mixed bag of different types of folks who end up working together, and that cultural stuff adopted would probably reflect whatever was already in the area. But certain types of things might get accented whether or not it makes sense, if it’s something that can successfully bring people together. So I don’t see our area changing to a medieval governmental system for instance, but if we were reduced to bows and swords we might see some elements introduced along with the swords. But I wouldn’t expect the majority of women to suddenly start wearing floor-length gowns — they’d have better things to do than waste time and fabric!

  7. MEAon 08 Sep 2008 at 6:05 pm

    I think Arminger took over the structer of the SCA — which is very top down — grafted the organized nastiness of gangs onto it. Now, grangs tend to reach a certain size and self distruct (not all, obviously) and he was able to stop that by having an almost endless lader of honors for people to climb. I think that he also channelled a lot of engery that might have gone into people rebellig against him — people at court that is, not ye average tiller of the soil — by having them in competition against each other, even to the point of one-upping-each other in terms of dress.

    I totally agree that things happened to fast and that SMS had too much fun with founder effect. And I got sooo bogged down in the politics and woo-woo stuff. At least he had the grace to have various characters commenting on the fact that they’ve been lucky and that only the lucky are going to survive and that sooner or later their luck will run out.

    I also love the relationship between Juniper and Sandra.

    But the best part of this series (and Island in the Sea of Time) is how the stuff of this world is reused in the next so to speak. I could have just read all that, without any plot, but them I’m a bit of a geek that way.

    I also have a bit of a problem that none of his female character seem bothered by a lack of birth control or feel over burdened by children; that all the children are perfectly behaved all the time, and that with the exception of Juniper Super-Deaf daughter and the doctor who had his foot eaten, there don’t seem to be any characters with disabilities (yea, I know they’d be more vunerable in a die-off, but once we’ve been in this brave new word for a few years, the only ref. is to the fact that any other Deaf people are children born since The Event). Oh, yes, and the fact that all the adopted children have 0 issues, even though the author at least talks about people having their own children and adopted ones.

    But all that aside, it’s a good read.

    MEA

  8. DEEon 08 Sep 2008 at 6:33 pm

    I enjoyed the series actually–sure,not deep thought provoking lit but as my family says I’ll read anything to get my fix!…more into the Juniper band and how they kept themselves fed…parts where they were hungry and having to ration out the calories. I think about that as we’d all be doing alot more physical labor in a likewise scenario and expending alot of calories….carbs will no longer be a no-no. DEE

  9. Bob Waldropon 08 Sep 2008 at 9:47 pm

    I’ve always liked the Stirling books, I did “Island in the sea of time” series first, then found the DTF books. The same event that causes DTF also hurls Nantucket Island baked to 1200 BC or so, complete with its present population and a coast guard sailing ship that fortuitously happens to be in the area.

    there’s some fanfic at http://www.smstirling.com/ , one of which — Kin Bonds — expands considerably on how Arminger took over Portland and established his little kingdom. Another fan fic — Fire — has two chapters on the theme “What happened in Denver”.

    Lots of suspension of belief is required, but the depiction of the nearly total die-off world-wide is gripping in its intensity.

    As to the weirdness of the surviving cultures, well, it seems to me that when even the natural laws change, the survivors would be so shocked by the loss of everything and the massive loss of population that more than a little weirdness would be part of the resulting cultures.

    It’s not surprising to me that religiosity becomes very important, in all of its surviving forms. Indeed, one of my worries in general about fast-crashes is the potential for mis-use of religious fervor.

    DTF could be seen as a metaphor for what is coming at us — the collapse of world-wide systems of energy, agriculture, and industrial production.

  10. Texicalion 08 Sep 2008 at 11:19 pm

    An enjoyable read. Certainly more so than Tepper. I think an interesting question would be - How did Utah do? The book killed off the one group that had planned ahead (the Mormons) to provide food for the Juniper’s group. My understanding of Mormons is that they are very community oriented and they are required to keep something like 3 months of food on hand. Many of the ones I have known have also been pretty handy. Much less so the one SCA type I have known. Can’t really say he was SCA, but he liked to fence people with foam/PVC swords and played D&D. Not a useful type, actually might have been the last person I would have gone to for help at that time.

    I disagree that the household is too small to do most of the things to survive. However, it would certainly be so in a short term crash as people would not have the experience to know how to do things well/efficiently. Also too small to ward off marauding bands. My own ideal community would be clustered housing around a square with wedges of land going out from every house. I am not opposed to helping others, and I believe in sharing your excess to the less-fortunate. But as a person generally inclined to hard work I can’t stand working with people who are inclined to slack. It either makes me angry, or makes me inclined to slack - which makes me miserable. That is one other thing the book doesn’t really address much, particularly in Juniper’s group. Suddenly everyone is miraculously hard working and relatively joyful. Most of the difficult experiences that I have experienced have included lazy individuals and folks who just like to bitch about what is going on. Even the wino who beat his family, and betrays the Bearkillers, has a change of heart and dies honorably in the end. Certainly such folks would not make for an interesting page turner, but something to consider when gathering together with the impromptu community.

    But it was fun enough that I may check out some of the other books. Not for a while yet though, Sharon has us busy.

  11. Hummingbirdon 09 Sep 2008 at 5:59 am

    I was thinking along the same lines as Texicali. The Mormons as a group seem best prepared to survive a disaster and emerge in an organized fashion. They have a culture that emphasizes having a year of food stored, strong patriarchal family values, and well organized community service that sees the weaker and less advantaged in the community taken care of. They are likely to emerge from such an event in good shape.

    Another well- prepared group would be the Amish and like cults. They are another patriarchal group that has retained strong community ties and working knowledge of fossil fuel-free technology.

    Hmm. Sounds like I’m saying that patriarchal cultures are best prepared to survive the apocalypse. I hope not, but that may be true, at least in the short run. Then again, maybe it’s just a lack of visible working alternatives. The commune culture of the hippie era, where everyone sat around in a circle until they all agreed,
    seems a really inefficient way to survive a disaster.

    If it turns out to be true that the patriarchal model is the best organizational strategy for the apocalypse, it would be bad news for women. Maybe there are enough strong and seriously motivated women in egalitarian relationahips to prevent this outcome, or at least provide an alternative model this time. I hope so.

  12. Sharonon 09 Sep 2008 at 7:47 am

    Personally, I liked Island in the Sea of Time better than this series - and while I appreciate that Stirling actually gives us a Deus to explain all the ex machina stuff - that is, the Goddess is actually doing them favors - I think I would have liked the book better without that.

    The reason I think household levels won’t work that well is that they are simply too small - there are few records of low energy societies organized into anything that small without a strong community around them. And yes, everyone is automatically quite perfect.

    As for patriarchal cultures, I think it would be most accurate to say that some patriarchal cultures are better prepared for difficult times than mainstream patriarchal culture. But I’d also point out that there are patriarchies and patriarchies. Eric Brende, who lived with the Amish, points out that while they are theologically patriarchal, Amish cultures also have strong elements of matriarchy - I don’t know LDS culture well enough to know if that’s true or not, but I’d suggest that “patriarchy” is probably too broad a term to usefully evaluate the future - we live in a patriarchal culture now, in some ways more repressive to women than many formal patriarchal cultures (the cultural pressures on women to provide economic remuneration as well as do all domestic labor are quite severe, the level of violence much higher than among, say the Amish (and yes, I know they have domestic violence too - it is still higher in the mainstream culture)) - so I’m not sure we can use the term patriarchy to evaluate whether the future will be better or worse for women, since we’re really just picking between patriarchies ;-).

    Sharon

  13. MEAon 09 Sep 2008 at 7:47 am

    SMS has written a mystery short story (a good one, IMO) in which one of the Rangers’ marked arrows is a clue, and and the mark is described as a squid juggling — you can’t say the man doesn’t poke fun at himself.

    As for the Later Day Saints — only one elderly couple died to provided for Juniper’s lot. In the 4th book the main characters run into a bunch of people who while not called LDS sound very much like them

    MEA

  14. Frostwolf in Troyon 09 Sep 2008 at 8:33 am

    I’m actually reading the latest in SMS’s next trilogy, “The Scourge of God.” “Dies the Fire” was the first one of his books that I read, and I have to say I appreciate two aspects of the book and they are really the reason I kept reading:

    1) The pagan elements. While I understand that it isn’t a lot of people’s taste, I picked up the books BECAUSE of the Goddess elements to begin with.

    2) The gay/lesbian characters: My favorite of all the characters is the wily, her-own-person Tiphaine d’Ath, who has a wicked sense of humor, and an interesting kind of honor in her own dark way. She has a skill being a detached observer of other people’s “isms” and I love how she can use people’s homophobia against themselves. Everyone knows her “secret” but because of her ruthlessness and perceptivity of others’ flaws, she has earned a grudging respect in the top-down authoritarian culture of Portland. In the Islands series, Marian Alsop and Swindapa are a lesbian couple who have a delightful relationship throughout, and likewise they’ve earned a respect, sometimes grudging, sometimes not. I also like how the doctor in the Bearkiller clain has a crush on Mike Havel (forget which book it’s in), and Mike is flattered and awkward with him. It’s rather sweet.

    3) I also like the communal aspects of the books and that the pagans at least get to play the part of the American revolutionaries in that struggle. They present a honey approach to community while the Portlanders are the vinegar and torture school, admittedly a cartoon, but again I appreciate that the pagans have the better way, the lighter way and the more attractive way.

    Off the topic. Check out the movie “Big Eden.” Must see.

    These three positives said, a couple of things I don’t like. I know he has to limit the world to just the Northwest, but my goodness! Does every place else have to become a deathzone? Puh-leeeeez! It made me want to write my own version of the story, with Vermont becoming a lot like his Portland. Guh!

    I pretty much skip over the combat stuff. That bores me in so many of these books. (Echel-blechel-blech, Batman!) I’m sure some combat appreciatin’ readers might have some things yea/nay to say, but that’s me.

    The out-and-out evil stuff is over-the-top, though the subtle evil of Sandra Arminger again is something I appreciate as a reader. It’s always a wonderful tickle to read “fun evil” characters like Sandra and Tiphaine. Even though they are selfish and ruthless, Sandra and Tiphaine understand that they have to live in the world and to always have their ears and eyes open. They sort of remind me of the women characters in that fabulously fun-evil movie “The Grifters” where Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening are the bad-gals who are BAAAAAAAAAD, and yet people kind of root for them. That’s perhaps an interesting/piquant/disturbing element of American cultural attractiveness. The sexiness of our addictive lifestyle if you will, that carries over into SMS’s books. So if the Powers keep up this strange world we live in long enough to read his entire series, I will stay with it to the end.

  15. Hummingbirdon 09 Sep 2008 at 9:14 am

    I certainly agree that this is a patriarchal culture for all its lip service to equality. I am glad to hear that the Amish have evolved a female power center as well. It makes me like them more as a template.

    I think the reason Stirling chose the pagan culture (besides his apparent predilction for the Goddess) is because all Christian cultures seem to be more or less patriarchal and the pagans offer a more egalitarian structure.

    My partner was once a Mormon and reports that all the power resides win the priesthood which all males and apparently no females participate in. However, I have never heard of a more efficiently organized society, and the women have an organization of their own and run their affairs within it–as time permits given their mission to populate heaven with children.

    I am not trying to evaluate religions here, just to suggest that there seem to be no good templates for social organization. The Mormons offer an organizational model, the Amish have preserved necessary skills and a sense of community, while the pagans seem to offer an egalitarian power structure–however differently it may evolve in individual situations given the personalities involved.

    Stirling seems to be showing the various possibilities and the places they may evolve from. Certainly a thought provoking exercise.

  16. Hausfrauon 09 Sep 2008 at 9:19 am

    I have a bad habit of just skipping pages of the battles and that kind of stuff. Just not interesting to me at all. Of course then when I start reading again I figure out that I missed something and have to go back and pinpoint how X person died or whatever. I don’t skip skirmishes though ;).

    I thought Wicca being one of the dominant religions was pretty cool - although when I read the book it seemed a strange choice - I thought it would contribute a lot to the sustainability of the culture.

    Because that’s one of the things I worry about if there is a radical change in everything - TEOTWAWKI - that we will just sort of gravitate to what is familiar - our exploitative, unsustainable, dominating, taker ways - same s^&t, different era, you know? Without having learned anything at all.

  17. Zach Freyon 09 Sep 2008 at 9:44 am

    How did Utah do?

    In the later books, we find out that Utah pulled through semi-intact. Our characters only learn that later, after some travel is re-established in the years and decades following the Change.

    And as for religious groups pulling through, also note that the monastery at Mount Angel is a player in all of this too, and that Wicca isn’t the only religion that gives a survival advantage — the Catholic Church pulls through, too.

    peace,

  18. Sharonon 09 Sep 2008 at 11:36 am

    FW, while I like Tiphane (who isn’t a character in this novel, btw, if you are frantically trying to figure out what we’re talking about - she appears in the 2nd and 3rd books in the series), I find Marion and Swindapa just plain boring - Marion is “super-lesbian” - black, lesbian, ship’s captain, good cook, can pass for a man in other cultures, great with a sword, no problems except lack of a girlfriend…oops, fixed that one. The same is true of Juney and her plucky band of pagans - so very, very perfect, and everyone just can’t wait to be one. IMHO, overcompensating for your minority characters isn’t quite as obnoxious as leaving them out, or turning them into cannibals, but it is a much more nuanced way of undermining them as well - lesbians aren’t normal, they are super-powered, and acceptable as such. I give him credit for trying - real credit - but I’m not *that* impressed ;-).

    Sharon

  19. Frostwolf in Troyon 09 Sep 2008 at 2:15 pm

    I’ll have to give what you say a bit of thought. Funny, but as I typed my response to the list, I was feeling a bit unsteady with it all.

    Btw, is Starhawk’s Book-length spell, “The Fifth Sacred Thing” on your reading list?

    And, strange thought out of nowhere since I wish to write a 45-minute one-act spell and a full length play-spell as well, have you thought of Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros?” Thematically, it might actually fit in…

  20. Nancyon 09 Sep 2008 at 2:20 pm

    I enjoyed Dies the Fire much more than the others of the series. Like some of the other commentors I tend to skip the battle scenes (boring!). In fact the last time I re-read the book I also skipped all the sections about the Bearkillers too.
    I found the whole Wicca thing to be somewhat distracting but Juniper is a great character. I was mostly interested in how the Mackensie clan survived, how daily life changed etc. I would like to see more fiction written from this angle. (And yes I’ve read Kunstler’s World Made By Hand but hated how he treated his women characters)
    The subsequent books in the Dies the Fire series I found hard to get into with lots more of the warrior stuff (Bearkillers)and less of the community-survival stuff (Mackensie Clan).

  21. MEAon 09 Sep 2008 at 2:24 pm

    Just as some of the characters long for the days when the only problem was how to survive until the next day or harvest, so does this reader.

  22. MEAon 09 Sep 2008 at 2:50 pm

    And I keep meaning to ask — what’s going on with the Matter of Britian leitmotif?

    There is a bit of a twist in that our Arthur is believed (at first, and offically) to the son of the queen’s dead husband, when she knows full well it was Mike. I suppose his return from the East (when long given up for dead in book 6 or so) might be what saves us all.

    He is the first born son of Mike, and despite what he and Juney both avow, he might well end up head of the *Bear*killer Clan.

    And Mike’s other children are his half siblings. Will one of them do him in? (You know that the original Arthur fathered Mordred on his half-sister or aunt — she knew they were related; he didn’t — Oh, that material is so rich — was the rot at the heart of the vir modestus’ vision at the begining or was he willfully blind. — sorry, please excuse rambling.)

    Who is Juney in this version?

    Anyone have any clue?

  23. Bob Waldropon 09 Sep 2008 at 3:42 pm

    As we learn in the 2nd trilogy, Utah Mormons survive as Deseret, bordered on the north by the United States of Boise (a rump US). However, in the 2nd trilogy, the Church United and Triumphant is the new bad guy. Centered in Montana, after the collapse, the uni-bomber Kacinski apparently escapes and becomes their leader, they adopt an anti-tech viewpoint, and seem to be being used by evil Alien space bats in various possession episodes. Anyway, they have been attacking Deseret, and have conquered most of the Idaho portion of Deseret (southern and eastern, Idaho’s Mormon belt). The largest post-change population center seems to be Des Moines, and Iowa in general, due to the presence of lots of stored food post-change.

  24. jerahon 09 Sep 2008 at 7:34 pm

    He used the word “ruddy” about 6 times in the first 4 chapters. No joke.

    He is by far the worst writer we’ve had to read so far for this book club, and I really think that’s saying something. :)

    But. I’ve been recommending this book to people (with full disclaimers on the writing quality) because it’s so much fun to read. I mean, renaissance fair re-enactors inherit the earth? Everyone’s white, and purposeful (except for the one black guy, who’s a COWBOY, and his wife, who somehow finds a way to cook Mexican food in the Pacific Northwest after the crash of civilization)? Everyone willingly accepts that this young airplane pilot and folk singer are their natural leaders? All the leaders are all “aw shucks, you shouldna” about their follower’s adulation?

    Everyone converts to Wiccanism??? All the wiccans go around letting “lord and lady” and “merciful Lugh” pop out instead of swear words??? Hangliders attack a castle? Ok, that one was pretty cool.

    I liked his point about how the technology may be gone, but it’s not the Middle Ages cause time doesn’t run backwards: there’s a still a bunch of scientific knowledge that the Middle Ages didn’t have. Too true.

    It was a bit of wish fulfillment to just introduce a world where, just like that, guns don’t work. No incentive to figure out how to make gunpowder or retrofit modern guns to work with homemade gunpowder… I guess if civilization ever does collapse that dramatically, guns would probably be irrelevant in a few months - where would you get ammunition, you know?

    Anyways. Overall, fun, silly, silly, fun.

  25. Ailsa Ekon 09 Sep 2008 at 7:45 pm

    If anybody ever finds a post-apocalyptic novel without a vaudevillian villain and with non-awful female characters, please let me know.

  26. clewon 09 Sep 2008 at 10:20 pm

    Ailsa, what do you think of Gwyneth Jones’ _Bold as Love_ and following? (English; accumulating climate disasters generate complete political and considerable social dissolution; only hopeful government is built around rock musicians and encampments, *and* the four main characters are also the Matter of Britain. I realize this sounds unmanageable; I love it.)

    I would maybe characterize it as having a Border Marches/Hundred Years’ War/Warlord Era villain, and female characters who are struggling more or less well with intolerable fates.

  27. Ellenon 10 Sep 2008 at 4:24 am

    As another SCA member, I must admit there’s no chance we’re going to take over the world, and yes, we’re a bunch of disorganized geeks. ;) On the other hand, besides the various useful old-fashioned skills we pick up (Ok, I know that knowing how to grow flax and turn it into a bed sheet will probably never be truly practical, but my SCA housemate’s skill at raising and butchering livestock might come in handy) our frequent camping has given me practice in staying fairly comfortable in heat and cold, and in dealing with dehydration, heat exhaustion, and hypothermia. Not to mention, we have lots of nifty camping gear!

    Best of all, we have a social network that extends across the country– besides our personal friends, we could go to any SCA group in the country and get help including temporary crash space, provided the phones or internet were working so they could check our references. During Katrina and other disasters like the Southern California fires, I saw countless offers made by SCA people offering crash space to any members who were forced to evacuate. I know this kind of network isn’t unique to the SCA– some religious organizations work in a similar way– but I think this kind of community is always good, wherever you find it.

  28. Sharonon 10 Sep 2008 at 7:01 am

    Without a vaudeville villain and with decent women characters…hmmm….do you mean no bad guys allowed at all, or just that they can’t be cartoons. Jean Hegland’s _Into the Forest_ applies. If you offer “for the period discounts” ie, credit for when they were written, the women in _Alas Babylon_ aren’t that bad, and the bad guys are just generic bad guys taking advantage, not cartoons. _The Road_ might qualify, depending on your definition of “decent.” We’re reading all of them.

    Sharon

  29. Ailsa Ekon 10 Sep 2008 at 12:16 pm

    I would be ecstatic to find a post-apocalyptic novel with no villains at all. (A few antagonists here & there are fine; I know people don’t always get along.) It really seems to me that the situation is villain enough to run the plot, without some guy wringing his hands and cackling somewhere. I don’t expect to find it, though.

    I really liked The Postman, for instance, until the super-soldiers turned up. I finished the book anyway, but that part of it still makes me roll my eyes.

    I can definitely do period discounts, although I still rather prefer there be no women at all than that the women be alien beings I can’t identify with at all. (Robert Heinlein to the courtesy phone!)

    I’ll have to check out Bold As Love. I’d never heard of it and it sounds interesting.

    On the topic of the SCA saving the world, has anyone ever heard Leslie Fish’s song “Serious Steel”?

    Oh, the bombs went up, and the crunch came down, in the middle of the Pennsic War.
    It left us stranded in Cooper’s field, ten thousand souls and more.
    We had nothing with us but what we’d brought: our cars and our camping gear
    And our arms and armor, tools and skills, that we’d worked on all that year.

    Chorus:
    So dress your ranks, lift your pikes,
    Tight as the teeth of a comb.
    Rattling, clanking, down the road,
    The War is going home.

  30. MEAon 10 Sep 2008 at 1:10 pm

    The earlier version of The Postman is much, much, better, IMO.

  31. Rebeccaon 10 Sep 2008 at 2:52 pm

    Alisa, I have Serious Steel on CD. Yes, I am that much of a geek. ;-)
    I think one of the problems with finding PA novels with decent women characters is that very few of them are written by women, and most of the men who write them are serious geeks. No offense to the male of the species, but most of them do not understand the female half well and this applies double to the Star Wars and fantasy set, of whom I know a couple of thousand members.

    I really, really like the idea of earth-based religions making a comeback. It’s hard to trash your planet when you view it as sacred. I doubt if it happens the prevailing POV would be Wicca, however.

  32. Ailsa Ekon 10 Sep 2008 at 4:06 pm

    Rebecca: Me too. *grin*

    I think if the authors would write women “just like a man, only with hooters” (to quote one of my favorite comic books) it would come out far more realistic that writing women as alien beings. But then, I’m a geek too.

    How about we forcibly convert all Christians to Mennonite-ism? ;)

  33. texicalion 10 Sep 2008 at 4:17 pm

    Not sure if the icon is meant to denote joking, if so please disregard. My understanding is that the Mennonites, Hutterites, Amish are all “Christians” in much the same way that both Catholics and Protestants are christians, and methodists and baptists are both protestant christians even though all of the mentioned groups disagree about something, and might not agree that the others are indeed christian.

  34. S.M. Stirlingon 11 Sep 2008 at 12:17 am

    Just one little thing; everyone in the series isn’t white.

    Eg., Mike is 1/4 Anishinabe, and hence his children with Signe are 1/8; Signe’s brother Eric marries Louanne Hutton (who’s black/mestizo), Father Ignatius is part-Vietnamese, the Liu family are part-Chinese, the ruling family of Idaho are black (well, partly), etc. The demographis were carefully researched.

    In fact, of the 9 questers in “The Sunrise Lands” and sequels, only Mathilda Arminger, Edain Aylward and Eddie Liu’s valet are actually “white”, technically speaking.

  35. S.M. Stirlingon 11 Sep 2008 at 12:37 am

    Marion is “super-lesbian”

    – nah, actually she’s just the action protagonist in a book where that character has to have an intimidating range of abilities for reasons of plot structure.

    In other words she’s super, and a lesbian, but not a super-lesbian. Any other character filling that role would have had to be just about as capable.

    The cadets at the Coast Guard academy didn’t find it in the least implausible that she’d be gay. It was her being captain of the Eagle while also being ‘up from the ranks’ that they thought stretched it a bit.

  36. […] See the rest here: Comment on Post-Apocalyptic Novel - Dies the Fire by SM Stirling […]

  37. Sharonon 11 Sep 2008 at 6:22 am

    Well, I’m flattered that you commented on my blog!!! I don’t find it at all unlikely that your Super and Lesbian ;-) would be a lesbian - that part seemed pretty plausible, it is just the net of everything else. I grew up in the gay and lesbian community (gay Moms) to a large degree, and I do think that Marian gets to be more perfect than Coffin or Lord Bear or any of the other leading figures. Still, as I said, I’d rather heroic black lesbians than “no women or non-white people at all.” I give you a good deal of credit for that.

    And I will say that whatever critiques I make of your novels (and guess what, there will be more next week - we’re spending two weeks on you ;-)), I own ummm…seven of them. Which suggests that in all the ways that count they don’t run that deep ;-).

    Cheers, and thanks for commenting!

    Sharon

  38. Rebeccaon 11 Sep 2008 at 8:07 am

    Super or whatever, can someone tell me where I can meet a girl like Marion? ;-) (Seriously though, most of the lesbians around here are female versions of Billy Bob. Aaahhhh!)

    Texicali, the wink is often meant as a joke. Emotions and such don’t translate well over the net, more’s the pity. Mennonites are a brand of Christianity that believes in living simply and pretty much sustainably. They are kind of like the Amish, but have differences in doctrine.

  39. Sharonon 11 Sep 2008 at 8:45 am

    Have you considered joining the Coast Guard, Rebecca ?

    She is pretty hot. If I met her first, I might consider dumping Eric ;-). On the other hand, I’m no blonde hardbody, so I should probably stick with what I’ve got.

    Sharon

  40. Rebeccaon 11 Sep 2008 at 10:16 am

    Me and the coast guard? Lol, I’m too anti-authority to last more than ten seconds in the military. OTOH, if there were a lot of women like here there, I might just consider it!

  41. S.M. Stirlingon 11 Sep 2008 at 10:46 am

    One thing that did strike me forceably while doing my gig at the Coast Guard academy was that there weren’t any overweight people. It was like a step through a dimensional door to “Planet of the Extremely Fit.”

  42. MEAon 11 Sep 2008 at 11:05 am

    To get all technical here — what really separates the Amish, etc. from other Christians, puts them firmly in the same camp as the Baptists — they are anabaptists. They don’t reconize infant Baptism (which, I believe most Baptists do) and they only baptize adults.

    The “old time living” is an off shoots of the beliefs of certain groups that 1) the vanities of the world should be rejects and 2) anything that detracts from certain aspects of Christian life (as they define it) such as close family ties, should be rejects. Thus a Memmonite might own a black car with the chrome fender painted black, while an Amish person wouldn’t own one at all, becuase being able to just jump into a car and go somewhere (rather than having to plan a bus trip, hire a driver, etc.) makes it to easy for family members to dispurse in all directions.

    As far as other Christians (mainstream Christians) are concerned, it’s the theological issues surrounding baptism that are centeral to the differences, not the lifestyle.

  43. Anonymouson 11 Sep 2008 at 11:47 am

    The Mennonites in my area don’t own cars. I didn’t realize there were some who did. They also do have some sort of theological disupute with the Amish, or so they said but I’m fuzzy on the details.

    S.M., I expect that in very short order there will be very few overweight people in the U.S. in general.
    “Planet of the Extremely Fit”. I like that!

  44. Rebeccaon 11 Sep 2008 at 11:48 am

    Whoops, that last one was from me. The PC at work dumps cookies periodically.

  45. Anion 11 Sep 2008 at 11:59 am

    Well I have to admit that I love the “Dies the Fire” series- have read them all- and am waiting for the latest to be finished by a friend whom I turned on to it so I get a turn at it! I also enjoyed all the “Island in the Sea of Time” ones, “Conquistadors”, “Peshawar Lancers”- the works! The only stuff of Stirling’s I’m not into are the “Martian stuff”- I love the alternate history here on planet earth kind.

    I’m an SCA member myself, but don’t see the plotline as involving a society run by SCA types but rather one where some of those who survive are SCA types who have certain skills. I myself have met a number of potential Sandra’s in the SCA ;), and I’m sure there are potential Arminger’s out there as well. I would say that while there are plenty of geeks in my SCA shire, there are loads of nurses, teachers,artists, etc- but only 1 farmer(me).

    What do I really like about “Dies the Fire”- and the others in the series? I really enjoy the archery stuff, as well as the detailed descriptions of how the groups have gone back to the basics; the farming, food, cloth making, bow construction, etc. I also really enjoy his portrayal of women- they are all strong, brave and beautiful, crack shots with a bow, etc- a bit over the top maybe but a refreshing contrast to say Kunstler’s latest novel with the women relegated to the kitchen and the bedroom.

    The whole notion of how a society adjusts is also interesting- here most of those who were older didn’t survive, or else failed to adjust- but the younger generation adapted really quickly or else never knew anything else. This is actually a very important idea I think- looking at our society in terms of cheap oil and all that it has meant- the adjustment for many who have known nothing else will be difficult I’d guess.

    The idea of how people band together is also important-and I found it fascinating how cultures and belief systems arose, along with language be it Juniper’s papgan group, the Protector’s Christian based one , the elvish Rangers, etc.
    I think it’s an important point though, as it demonstrates both the need for community and a culture/belief system, whatever it may be.

    Some of it may be unrealistic- the notion that the groups would have accomplished what they do so quickly for instance; I drool over the food in the later books! I do skip over some of the blood and gore(yuck)- but otherwise find it a really good read. Now that the Harry Potter books are finished I have to content myself with waiting for these to come along. Am also wondering how the “event” in Dies the Fire will be conected to the Nantucket event in the Island in the Sea ofTime series……..

    Am third in line for the book at the library now- so just gotta wait. I did read the first 3 chapters on-line but stopped there- waiting for the whole book….

  46. Susan in NJon 11 Sep 2008 at 2:09 pm

    Ani, by the end of the book, I was noticing the repeated comments that most of the older people didn’t survive and that our fearless engineer was one of the oldest around. I found this a little frustrating, perhaps because I am probably in this demographic (as seems implicitly defined by the book, say over 45 or perhaps less). I wanted to know why — because they got sick easier, clung to the wellworn path to/from the shopping mall, weren’t fit enough, didn’t ride the right kind of bikes, all needed insulin — it frustrated me that these observations got made without any real info to back them up.

  47. MEAon 11 Sep 2008 at 3:02 pm

    I rather think we couldn’t run fast enough when the people-eaters came. .

    http://www.smstirling.com/

    There are links to essay by SMS that explain why some things happened as they did.

  48. DEEon 11 Sep 2008 at 4:57 pm

    Was gonna say I can’t run fast at 60 but I can shoot good….then remembered guns don’t work! Bet I could improve my running speed if the Eaters were after me though……Guess my brother better get working on the bow he promised me; he is a competitive shooter. DEE

  49. Anion 11 Sep 2008 at 7:10 pm

    Susan in NJ- It seemed to me, over the course of reading 4 books of the series(Dies the Fire plus three after it), that there were likely a multitude of reasons for older folks not surviving, especially including the rigors of needing to physically produce ones food, defend oneself(no 911 system), be mobile, etc as well as the impact of the radical change. Implied I would assume would be medical issues faced by those who were older, lack of meds, etc. I ‘m not sure which essay you were referring to on Stirling’s site- but as he has joined in here(howdy), maybe he would provide some insights as to why he figured the elder population(those over 40?) wouldn’t make it for the most part,if they differ from what I presumed here?? It did make sense to me though, given the realities of the situation.

  50. […] Originally posted here: Comment on Post-Apocalyptic Novel - Dies the Fire by more than … […]

  51. Adamon 11 Sep 2008 at 11:03 pm

    I’ve read Dies the Fire along with half of the second book in the trilogy and have to say I really enjoyed them. I live in Western Washington and have family that grew up in Western Oregon, so I found it quite compelling to read about a societal collapse occurring in areas I recognized. The story was also very interesting and often couldn’t peel myself away from reading them. A few things may seem a bit unrealistic to us, but considering how we’ve never had electricity quit working on us or have had a mass collapse, can we really say for sure what would happen?

    -Adam

  52. Susan in NJon 12 Sep 2008 at 10:05 am

    Adam, I’ve been reading The Dead and The Gone, the Susan Beth Pfeffer sequel, and I was struck by how much personally knowing the terrain of the story made a difference in my reading.

  53. Anonymouson 12 Sep 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Here’s a book with good female characters and no cardboard bad-guy.

    Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence. She also writer real children, IMO.

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