Genre Science Fiction Publisher Roc Year Published 2005 Review Posted on 1/2/2008 Reviewer Rating
9 out of 10
Dies the Fire, by S. M. Stirling
Reviewed by Paul Weiss
If you've read this book, why not
At first, people thought it was the aftermath of a nuclear blast and the EMP that would temporarily shut down unshielded electrical machinery. But, when it became clear that something much more fundamental was happening (they called it "The Change"), people soon understood they would have to adapt to a very different world - no electricity; gunpowder had lost its explosive effect; internal combustion and steam engines failed to produce any meaningful horsepower; technology of all but the most rudimentary mechanical sort simply didn't work according to what we all formerly understood as the physical laws of the universe.
Choosing to leave both his characters and his readers ignorant of the cause of the phenomenon (one might puzzle over thoughts ranging from futuristic extra-terrestrial weaponry to the miraculous intervention of a wrathful God), Stirling has obviously used his befuddled post-apocalyptic universe as a springboard to examine just how thin the veneer we call "civilization" actually is.
Michael Havel, a pilot in the pre-Change world, and his "Bear-Killer" family; Juniper Mackenzie, a Celtic musician and a Wiccan high priestess; the leader of an outlaw biker gang; Norman Arminger, a history professor, who fancies himself a dictatorial feudal overlord; a horse wrangler; and a teenage fan of "Lord of the Rings", are only a few of the colourful characters in a hugely populated novel. But all share a common dilemma - they must adapt or die! Famine and plague are the rule. Stirling provides us with thought provoking philosophical discussions on the devolution of human culture in such a setting and the changes that may take place - marriage, sex, education, child-rearing, justice, government, military strategy and defense, weaponry, sharing, agriculture, religion and more.
An ambitious task for an author to be sure and one that cannot possibly be short in the telling! So, it comes as no surprise that the unfolding of this universe and the ultimate revelation as to the cause of the Change spans several novels. But, with all of this meat to chew on (and even though some of the discussions are heartfelt, moving and deeply provocative), the novel as a whole tends to be repetitious and fails to come off the page as truly compelling!
Two stars for the repetition and rather weak story-telling plus four stars for the plot-line and astonishing depth of the ideas leave this reviewer recommending Dies the Fire as an ambivalent three star read. Some will revel in it and others will think it utterly boring! Personally, I'll give it one more chance by moving on to the next novel in the series, "The Protector's War".