Dies the Fire, by SM Stirling
Dies the Fire was published in 2004 but feels like novels written 20 or even 30 years earlier. Set in the late 1990s, it feels more like the late 1970s. The stereotyping is heavy, the interaction between men and women is sometimes...campy, and a significant portion of the story takes place with a group of Wiccans, which felt like a faux-modern twist on the bell bottom wearing hippies of the 1970s.
The first half of the novel was a page-turner. The world comes crashing to an end and almost immediately morphs into the medieval era, with Oregonians taking to horseback, swinging swords, and DIYing their armor. (But this is the Portland area so there are still plenty of bikes to be had.) People who remain in the cities die horrible deaths and those smart enough to snag farmland fare much better.
There is an awful lot of good luck going on (except for the world ending). The Wiccans are a bona fide utopia, with crops and livestock and horses and a palisade and even a steam bathing area all happening without a hitch within the first six months. Everyone gets along swimmingly, working side by side and sharing with a smile. Somehow all the right people with all the right knowledge just sort of showed up in this one place and they promptly began fashioning themselves as a Scottish clan of yore, with some witchy celebrations thrown in. All of this in the first six months!
In contrast to the instantly homesteading Wiccans, the other primary group is a burgeoning band of mercenaries with a moral compass. They manage to recruit fighters, history buffs, and horse experts here, rapidly growing their band from a mere handful into a military force for hire. If you need the local cannibals dealt with, you can trade supplies for swordfighters. This crowd trains a veritable cavalry attack force and can literally hang glide into the enemy's grounds to take over.
It's all rather heavy-handed. I'm always ready to suspend belief. Giant killer octopi cause a collapse of the world's power grid? Sure! Aliens spring from the melting permafrost to capture and kill most of humankind? Yup, sounds credible.
The apocalypse-inducing event in this book is only of secondary importance and is perfectly believable; where the believability breaks down is in what happens after that. Of course we don't know what would happen in a real apocalypse, so I can't argue, factually, that what happens in Dies the Fire is ridiculous. But it did sometimes remind me of something you'd see on SNL.
On the other hand, I still largely enjoyed reading this. The first half was compelling. The second half dragged a bit but was still engrossing enough that I wanted to see how it ended. There are companions/sequels and I haven't ruled out reading more. I guess this was just more of a fantasy-inspired apocalypse than a reality-inspired one.
Recommend, if you like that 70s style of story-telling
Part of a series (The Novels of The Change)
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