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Dies the Fire: A Novel of the Change Hardcover – August 3, 2004

3.6 out of 5 stars 477 customer reviews
Book 1 of 11 in the Emberverse Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

What is the foundation of our civilization? asks Stirling (Conquistador) in this rousing tale of the aftermath of an uncanny event, "the Change," that renders electronics and explosives (including firearms) inoperative. As American society disintegrates, without either a government able to maintain order or an economy capable of sustaining a large population, most of the world dies off from a combination of famine, plague, brigandage and just plain bad luck. The survivors are those who adapt most quickly, either by making it to the country and growing their own crops—or by taking those crops from others by force. Chief among the latter is a former professor of medieval history with visions of empire, who sends bicycling hordes of street thugs into the countryside. Those opposing him include an ex-Marine bush pilot, who teams up with a Texas horse wrangler and a teenage Tolkien fanatic to create something very much like the Riders of Rohan. Ultimately, Stirling shows that while our technology influences the means by which we live, it is the myths we believe in that determine how we live. The novel's dual themes—myth and technology—should appeal to both fantasy and hard SF readers as well as to techno-thriller fans.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

For survivors of a mysterious event that caused electricity, internal combustion engines, and gunpowder to fail, the Pacific Northwest furnishes enough land to support subsistence existence in a future that belongs not to today's rifle-toting survivalists but to people who know older ways. Musician Juniper takes refuge on her family's land with a growing group of friends that becomes "Clan MacKenzie." Reenactors know useful things (see Jenny Thompson's War Games [BKL Je 1&15 04]), such as how to build log houses and craft bows for hunting. Meanwhile, Mike Havel, a pilot who was flying when the Change happened, and his passengers, having survived crashing in a frigid lake, gather followers, too. Thanks to a former Society for Creative Anachronism (a real organization of eclectic reenactors) fencer, and after hard work and the accident that gives their group the name "Bearkillers," they have the knowledge to sell their protective services. There are villains, too, such as a medieval history professor who starts a feudal revival, in Stirling's intriguing what-if about modern humans denied their treasured conveniences. Regina Schroeder
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Roc Hardcover; First Edition edition (August 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451459792
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451459794
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (477 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #680,317 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
There is an excellent half a story in this book somewhere. The problem is wading through the other half to get there. Our two main protagonist's Mike Havel and Juniper Mackenzie are quite interesting characters. But in some ways that is a bad thing. Why you say, "aren't interesting characters the reason you read a story?" Very true, but with any novel based on fiction there is a suspension of disbelief that an author must ask of his readers. Sometimes credibility is stretched and sometimes it is shattered - much like stepping on a tourist's snow globe of Kooskia, ID.

As a Marine and resident of western Montana I was predisposed to identify with Mike Havel the character, but then I found out that Mike was former Force Recon (Sniper qualified too!), Gulf War veteran, master of the Finnish fighting knife and raised as an Indian tracker/hunter. I am not quite sure if such a person exists in reality but I am willing to go with it if the author doesn't beat me over the head with it multiple times throughout his book.

This compounds with the problem that our protagonist's very survival isn't just a matter of elite breeding and an unlikely intersection of family trees but also they happen upon expert bowyer/fletchers, horse hand/blacksmiths, and SCA guru's not to mention library's containing everything you ever wanted to know about ancient warrior societies, growing crops and mounted combat. Maybe this is necessary for an interesting story, but couldn't they just get lucky killing people instead of getting lucky knowing how to kill people?

There is also the problem with explosives, electricity, and pressurized gases. Every author does some hand waving to sell a story, Stirling backs himself into a corner with his Change and barely goes through the motions to explain it.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm a big fan of novels that take humanity and mix things up by altering the familiar scenario. Say by sending a community back in time with all their technology in tact, but with no access to the resources necessary to sustain that technology.

Well, Stirling has taken that premise and twisted it here. What if our modern day society was suddenly bereft of its technology? Anything powered by electricity, batteries, or gasoline suddenly useless? Gunpowder chemically altered to loose its highly explosive tendencies?

What would society do, without irrigation and machinery to run the massive farms, without refineries, and trucks, and refrigeration?

With six billion people on the planet, the resulting chaos is not at all cheerful. We never actually see the savage toll in a city larger than Portland (and even there not directly), but allusions to what it must be like in New York or Tokyo, and to what happened in St. Louis say plenty.

The story unfolds brilliantly, as people slowly begin to band together, and struggle to survive in this new world. They must learn how to farm, ride horses, make weapons, and then use them. And Stirling does an excellent job portraying the difficulty of each, with a particularly inspired source of metal for swords.

This book is one part nightmare, one part medievalist's fantasy, which makes its villain all the more fitting.

If you're wavering, pick up a copy, it's well worth the read.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
You have probably read the character synopsis and storyline already, so I will save you that, my little rant focuses on the "Pfffftt" moments in the story which, sadly, are myriad.

This was easily one of the worst post-apocalypse books I have ever read in that the necessities for survival were
made conveniently available, so much so that you have to wonder how the author managed to keep the good guys from discovering alien technology that could render them invisible or something.

Where do I start?

Heroine Juniper and her merry band make it to her mountain hideaway where they discover that their closest neighbors are not only conveniently dead (no difficult problems about sharing their stuff) but left behind a house jammed to the rafters with everything from medicine to food to blankets. The barn is stocked with seed potatoes and hay (because surprise, the seed tater delivery guy was there the day of The Change), there are chickens and cows for meat and milk, and the deceased former owners even managed to make sure the pasture gates were closed so the critters couldn't wander away. Hooray! Bonus: Juniper's own nearby cabin can't be seen from the road and is conveniently located near a clear stream and wonderfully poetic meadows.

As for everything else needed to make make it in this exciting new world, have no fear, wonderful coincidence and a generous author will provide.

The party will need trained horses for transport and armored cavalry: Up walks Bob, the expert horse wrangler. I know I know, this isn't horse country so what am I doing here.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm a big fan of alternative history-Harry Turtledove's Guns of the South got me interested in the genre. I'd read S.M. Stirling before (Conquistador, The Peshawar Lancers) and really enjoyed him. So when I started his Nantucket series, I was expecting a good read. Which they are, and aren't. The premise of the Nantucket series is that the island of Nantucket is inexplicably hurtled back in time to the Bronze Age. The Islanders must figure out how to survive and interact with this strange new world.

Dies the Fire is a companion novel to the Nantucket series. You needn't have read the trilogy to understand what's going on-it just lets you in on a few characters mentioned in the other books. Dies starts the night of The Event, when Nantucket disappears (tho' these characters don't know that) and suddenly anything remotely electrical stops working. Batteries die, cars won't run, even gunpowder won't explode any more.

The hero, Mike Havel, is a bush pilot flying a rich family to their place in Idaho when their plane just quits mid-air. He manages to bring the plane down in one piece, but the mother is injured pretty badly. After discovering that nothing works, the party sets off in search of help/civilization. They've got two things going for them-Mike is a combat veteran and knows how to survive in the woods, and the youngest daughter, Astrid, is a fantasy-loving Tolkien freak who has her own extremely well-made bow and arrows, and knows how to use them.

Meanwhile, in Corvallis, Oregon, Juniper MacKenzie, a folk-singer/Wiccan priestess is performing in a tavern when there is a blinding light, and then all is dark. Except for the fires flaming out of control from a 747 that crashed in the middle of town.
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