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    Review of DIES THE FIRE by S. M. Stirling

    ROC, August 2004

    Without warning, nothing worked. Electricity failed, gunpowder fizzled rather than exploding, steam refused to reach high pressures, and virtually every technology of the past century or more vanished from Earth. Humanity had to find a way to cope, to go on in a world where large cities were impossible, where hunger was a very real threat, and where, without the force of arms, law broke down.

    Some people turned to canibalism, hunting the most easily caught large game available. Michael Havel, after surviving a small plane crash, relied on his Marine training and horse-riding skills to become a nomadic cavalry. Juniper Mackenzie, a musician, became leader of a Wican commune that began to spread its culture into the new dark age that overtook the northwest. And in Portland, Oregon, a college professor (the protector) decided that his special era--the Norman medievalism--had returned, with a particular Sauron of Middle Earth slant.

    The protector collected the fighters, the gangs, the thugs who survived the catastrophy and promised them that they'd be the new lords, the new dukes and barons. With his help, and the power of a great city--even if one crippled by the loss of technology--the thugs could carve out new territories, extending the protector's rule more and more broadly. Michael and Juniper, with their growing bands of followers provided alternate paths, but paths that could only be dead-ends unless the protector could be contained.

    Author S. M. Stirling (see more reviews of novels by Stirling) revisits the disaster that led to the time travel of ISLAND IN THE SEA OF TIME, focussing on those who were left behind. Whereas in that book, modern technology was introduced to the past, here, modern technology is subtracted from the present. The concept works, especially because Stirling chose to present alternate paths. Rather than strictly dealing with a militaristic or oversimplified capitalistic solution, Stirling presented an approach that built from a commune as well as approaches that seem to lead to feudalism.

    To me, 'Lord Bear's' approach is going to end up painfully close to that of the protector--something that Stirling didn't deal with in this book but may have to in sequels. That threat doesn't keep this from being an enjoyable treat.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 9/17/04

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