Monday, June 09, 2008

[Lisa’s Take] Dies The Fire – S. M. Stirling

Here’s a nice easy review: cool premise, bad execution. Plain and simple.

The Cool: In 1998 something happens. There are big scary flashes of light, and suddenly everything electrical stops working. Planes fall out of the sky, city systems come crashing to a halt. To add insult to injury incendiaries stop working as well, so guns are also kaput. Dies the Fire follows two groups of characters through the resulting mayhem, as people come to terms with the situation and start to find new ways to survive. Turns out that Rennies and SCA people have the advantage (I kid you not). Stirling comes up with some really cool ideas and takes a very critical look at the implications of such a large scale disaster. He’s not afraid to examine some of the more gruesome aspects, and he manages to fabricate some intriguing circumstances. Another cool thing: Stirling also delves pretty deeply into the Wiccan religion for one of his character groups, which makes for some interesting reading.

The Bad: You know how people often complain that they don’t like sci-fi because the characters aren’t as good as in fantasy? Yeah. What they said. There are a couple of character issues here. First off, there are too many characters, and Stirling doesn’t do a good job keeping all his secondaries well described and differentiated. He either needed to cut down the core cast a bit, or make all of the core characters more memorable. This ties in a bit with the second gripe – even the two main characters aren’t all that interesting. At least they were original, but I never really connected with either... I was just largely “meh” about them. So sad. On top of the character issues are some problems with narrative flow... it was fine through the first half of the book, but towards the end things start jumping around, and it was just a little uncomfortable to read. The story also dragged on a lot longer than it should have – it’s obvious Stirling had a laundry list of “ZOMG Cool Ideas!1!” that he wanted to get to before the book could end.

So, the review was easy, but the bottom line isn’t. Given all the good and all the bad, I really don’t at all know whether to give this book a thumbs up or thumbs down. I guess we’ll go with a caveat: if you don’t mind lack of good characters or characterization and the lack of it won’t ruin the book for you, give it a read. If the cool premise isn’t enough to do it for you on its own – skip it.

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