Book Review – Dies the Fire
S. M. Stirling, 2004
First book of a series.
I have a very dear friend I’ll call “Eva” because … well … that’s her name. We’ve known each other since before the snakes left Ireland. In the last year or so, she and her husband have been suggesting that I read a book called Dies the Fire.
It’s a sort of an inverse of the time travel idea, where instead of taking the traveler to the Middle Ages, the Middle Ages are brought to the traveler. This Mohammedian task is accomplished by (select one: A; some deity or B; some space alien [depending on your religion, that’s roughly the same thing, and the book never specifies]) getting so pissed off at the human race, that they (select one: A: cast a spell or B: set off a weapon) that causes every piece of technology invented since the beginning of the Renaissance to stop working. This is accomplished by causing all electrical potential to ground out permanently, and all gun powder and gasoline to burn too slowly to support any kind of explosion. Don’t ask about steam power. It seems a minor flaw in the spell and the story.
I remember seeing the celluloid atrocity, Escape from Los Angeles, the sequel to Escape from New York. In the final scene, Kurt Russell’s character, Snake, sets off a bomb that permanently plunges the entire world into the situation described in the previous paragraph. Snake’s comment at that point was, “Welcome to the Human Race.”
My comment at that point was, “Great! In the guise of saving us from evil technology, you just murdered millions of people instantly, and condemned most of the rest of humanity to a long suffering death by starvation, disease and mayhem.” This is exactly where the book Dies the Fire starts. People are going about their late 20th Century lives, and somebody sets off the Sword of Damocles bomb. From there, the book follows two groups of characters who handle the situation somewhat differently, but come to the same solutions. To wit, it’s time to relearn the sword and bow, folks.
The author doesn’t try to hide his own prejudices, but rather embraces them. Modern humans aren’t really humans because they spend too much time watching television and doing meaningless tasks. But after the Change, the real people emerge.
I can’t help but wonder if I would survive those initial hours and days. The first task is to sus out what’s happened and realizing that it’s global and permanent. If you live in a large city near a major airport, it’s a big clue when the entire world goes dark and silent and airplanes fall out of the sky. But if you’re driving along some rural backroad, what clues would you have? Assuming you could put the clues together, what would you do about it?
Dies the Fire is written almost like a How-To book for just such an scenario. Stirling goes into great detail, and I often get the feeling that he’s showing off his encyclopedic knowledge, and this tends to slow the story down somewhat. For just this reason, I highly recommend this book for anybody who expects to be in this situation.