Friday, April 4, 2014

D is for Dies the Fire

Dystopian and post apocalyptic literature are all the rage these days.  Every teenager I know has a series of choice: Divergent, Hunger Games, City of Ember, and so forth. Today I want to tell you something about my favorite series of this kind. 

I was first introduced to S. M.  Stirling's Dies the Fire  by an old friend who like us was a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. He told me I would enjoy them very much, as the Society plays a major role in the story.  

The basic premise is this: somehow, and for an unknown reason, technology ceases to work all over the world.  The initial book set in the Pacific Northwest, follows 3 major groups of people: Mike who is flying a rich man and his family to a vacation retreat; Juniper Mackensie, the High Priestess of a Wiccan coven, whose members join her at her mountain homestead, and Norman Armitage, a history professor who sees the Change (as it comes to be known) as the perfect opportunity for a man who understands how power worked in the Middle Ages.  

Naturally people who have some experience doing things that don't involve the use of technology manage well in this upside down world. In addition to Scadians, farmers, crafters, outdoorsmen, and soldiers do well. (So by the way do Eagle Scouts).  People with specialized skills that have been almost forgotten because extremely valuable: blacksmiths, archers, fletchers, tanners and the like. People must discover methods of food preservation.  Since not even gunpowder works (in fact in later years a ceremony develops around a yearly testing of gunpowder to confirm the Change is still in existence) medieval fighting methods soon revived. Sailing ships make a comeback.  Items such as manual typewriters and victrola record players are hot commodities again, because they do not require electric power.

To date, there have been 9 sequels to this book, and Mr Stirling is still writing.  The narrative is now more than 25 years post change, and a younger generation, born after the initial event are coming to the forefront. They know nothing of television or airplanes or cell phones, and regard all these things the way we would regard a Greek Myth. 

One of the things I find most fascinating about the stories, is watching the way the various societies evolve, each taking something from their leaders' personal styles. One group becomes quite totalitarian, another more of a warrior culture, while another consciously bases itself on medieval Irish/Scottish clans.  Certain characters seem destined to fill classic mythic roles as events run their course.  

One other detail seems to set these books apart.  Many post apocalyptic books build themselves around a disastrous fall from earlier times.  Dies the Fire suggests that the time before the Change, our time, is the dystopia; and whatever the reasons for the fall of technology, those who survive are actually better in this harder but more honorable non mechanized world. 

This post is part of the A-Z challenge. I am blogging about a book a day for each letter of the alphabet.  To see what other bloggers are doing for the challenge please click on the link below.

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