As a new year’s resolution, I’m hoping to do more quick, literary themed writing, i.e.: book reviews and the like. I’ve been reading a lot of books lately (e.g.: the entire Vlad Taltos series, again) and would like to review them. (Actually, I’m in the early process of writing a scholarly paper on Steven Brust’s Dragaeran books and their use of Marxist theory.)
Anyway, here’s my first review of the year, and it’s a bit of a cheat…I didn’t finish it. I couldn’t finish it. It’s S. M. Stirling’s Dies the Fire: A Novel of the Change. It’s the first in a trilogy, which is itself the first of two trilogies (so far). The conceit is really fascinating: for some unknown reason all modern (circa last 1000 years) technology stops working: electronics, gunpowder, internal combustion. The book follows two separate groups as they deal with what’s happened, find and join with other people, and try to find a place to set up and survive. One group led by a competent ex-Marine and pilot, the other by a stereotypical red-haired Celtic music playing Wiccan and her merry band of Wiccans.
The setting is compelling and intriguing and has so much potential! But it’s utterly squandered by Stirling. This is the first book, I think, that I’ve ever intentionally put down half-way through (as opposed to just kinda forgetting about and losing interest in). To review why requires spoilers:
The ex-Marine half was up to the point I stopped reading not too bad, except for the fact that the 14-year-old of the family he was leading was a Tolkien fanatic and knew more about bows, compound and recurve, than probably your better-than-average expert bowyer or book on expert bow making. I’ve known a lot of Tolkien fanatics, and more than a few Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) archers, and I can assure you that none of them know more than the fact that a bow is made of at least wood. She knew facts about any and all kinds and forms of bows that stretched and destroyed credibility.
Oh, and then they run into another bow expert. Surprise!
And the Wiccan group? Good thing that they run into a bow expert SAS officer. Lucky, that.
The Wiccan group itself was simply the most annoying, unbelievable, group of in-your-face cartoon characters I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing. Not a single page went by without a “Blessed be” this, a “Goddess” that, and a sign of the pentacle here and there. I’ve known fundamental Christians who could go several days without talking about God, but not these group of Wiccans. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Wicca, and in fact, I love the idea of Wicca in some way being involved in a group of post-Change survivalists! But Stirling turns the dial right past 11 into “If I read one more ‘Lord and Lady’ I’m freakin opening a vein!”-land.
But one of the greatest and egregious errors of misrepresentation and squandering of a great opportunity is how he depicts the rise of the villain and the fall of the police post-Change. First, I hold no love for police, but I can assure you that should technology fail, they will not just roll over and get taken over by a history professor and some medieval-armed thugs. Have you seen YouTube videos of the police using riot control tactics? Ballistic helmets, shields, body armor, batons and shock batons, and incredible hand-to-hand training. The police, probably national guard, with the fall of political organization, would become de facto rulers of the land that no professor/historical tactician with a tiny army of tin-can wearing, sword swingers could deal with. Especially in the way Stirling develops it!
In a week, yes, just one week after the change, this historian has somehow armored a tiny army, I guess trained them in the use of armor and swords, and rid the Oregon city of all the police and has taken over. One week. I don’t know, but I think it would take a couple days at least before even a bright person with absolutely no communication beyond city limits would figure out that the whole world has shut down and isn’t coming back. And then a couple of days to find the necessary armor and weapons to arm an army (if that’s even possible in the first place without spending weeks making new), and then at least a couple of weeks training them to the point where they could even be a threat to anyone aside from themselves.
Somehow, all this was done in a week, and the police and Guard were taken down.
I absolutely agree with other Amazon reviews that this book is basically a Wiccan SCA member, D&D playing nerd’s wet dream. And I myself am a proud D&D playing nerd, and found this book to be more annoying than could be bared.