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Dies the Fire

August 5, 2004

One day, out of nowhere, you are overwhelmed by this blinding white flash. It sears into your retinas, and seems to burn into your very bones. And then suddenly its over. The flash is gone. The pain is gone. Blinking in confusion, you look around.

You could be in a bar, or at work, out walking your dog or driving your car. It make take an instant to hit you, or an hour. Nothing is working. Cars are dead, so are phones, flashlights, TVs, you name it. Anything that is powered. Thousands of feet up, planes begin to fall out of the sky. They slam into cities, carving up swaths of destruction. The fires spread, and firefighters are powerless. Their engines don’t work.

EMP? Perhaps, but would EMP change the chemical properties of gunpowder and render it useless?

For a time, people remain calm, if confused. A terrible power failure, certainly, someone will come rescure them. No one does. The whole world – the U.S. at least – has just been cast into the dark ages. Those realizing quickly enough escape the cities, to begin anew and fight for their survival in the countryside. The food runs out. Hundreds of millions begin dying, their bodies littering the country’s cities and highways.

For those that survive, the world becomes a much larger place, lit only by fire. Survival is a daily battle, against hunger, diseases like the black plague, rampaging animals, and fellow survivors. Bands of humans draw together. turning what skills they have into nebulous societies. They must face not only the specter of hunger and the toil of the harvest, but diseases, roving bands of cannibals, and those bent upon conquest. Together they struggle to made workable weapons and armor, including swords made from the leaf springs of now-useless automobiles.

Now, I love historical fiction, but I have a weak spot in my heart for apocalyptic epics as well. There’s the one where the microbe eats every petroleum-based thing on the planet. Or the one where the comet hits the earth. S.M. Stirlings Dies the Fire, however, has just become my hands down favorite of the genre. Its premise may not be logical as say, a comet slamming into us, and in fact is so bizarre that he doesn’t even explain it. His characters remain baffled at why exactly all their technology, from internal combustion engines to electricity to gunpowder stopped working. They chalk it up to aliens, or perhaps some deity smacking humanity down a notch to keep them from destroying Earth.

That said, it deals with the aftereffects better than any of the other novels I’ve read. Stirling does an admirable job of shifting the reader into the new world as his characters adjust to it. The confusion that turns into panic as everyone realizes their power is not coming back, and no one is coming for them. The horror of the die off. The struggle to merely survive, and then to reach safety and plant crops. To fashion weapons and then to learn how to use them. It is the first in this genre of books that deals with the inevitable decline in literacy that would occur after a generation or two. And it deals with the birth of legends and myths.

I really, really cannot recommend this book enough. Its haunting, but at the same time a great story and a wonderful epic. If you get the chance, pick it up.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 8, 2004 1:31 pm

    That is AWESOME!! I love those kind of stories and have not found anything that can compare to Lucifer’s Hammer (however dated it may be). I will go pick up a copy and let you know what i think. Do you know of any more good books of this same genre?

    I have been reading some Harry Turtledocve lateley, some of that alternate history is pretty interesting.

  2. Matt permalink
    August 8, 2004 3:54 pm

    Aside from Lucifer’s Hammer, there’s a highly decent one I read years ago – can’t remember the title or the author – but’s its the one about the petroleum-eating microbe. This one blows it away, though.

    I’m reading Turtledove’s lastest right now. World War II between the U.S. and the Confederacy is a crazy thing to think about.

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