Dies the Fire

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Dies the Fire
Dies the fire.jpg
AuthorS. M. Stirling
Cover artistJonathan Barkat
CountryUnited States
SeriesThe Emberverse series
GenreAlternate history, Science fiction, post-apocalyptic
PublisherRoc Books
Publication date
July 1, 2004
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
813/.54 22
LC ClassPS3569.T543 D54 2004
Followed byThe Protector's War 

Dies the Fire is a 2004 alternate history and post-apocalyptic novel written by S. M. Stirling. It is the first installment of the Emberverse series and is a spin-off from S. M. Stirling's Nantucket series, where the Massachusetts island of Nantucket is thrown back in time from March 17, 1998 to the Bronze Age.

In Dies the Fire, S. M. Stirling chronicles the struggle of two groups who try to survive "The Change", a mysterious worldwide event that suddenly alters physical laws so that electricity, gunpowder, and most other forms of high-energy-density technology no longer work. As a result of this, modern civilization comes crashing down.


Dies the Fire takes place in post-apocalyptic Oregon, in a time when an unknown phenomenon permanently disables most forms of modern technology such as electricity, high pressure steam power, and combustion, including computers, electronics, guns, car and jet engines, and batteries. People are forced to adapt to a world without technology, and rely on swords and bows for protection. Many people starve, while others rob, rape, and pillage. Many even turn to cannibalism. Due to the collapse of public order, some band together, forming small farming communities on the outskirts of cities, while urban areas fall to sword-wielding warlords. The book follows the Bearkiller Outfit and the Clan Mackenzie, as they struggle to survive, and attempt to understand the mystery of what exactly made the lights go out in this post-apocalyptic world.

Plot summary[edit]

The Bearkillers[edit]

Mike Havel is a former United States Marine and veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf War who works as a bush pilot. On March 17, 1998 at 6:15 pm PST, Havel is flying over the Bitterroot Mountain Range in Idaho when a mysterious event known as "The Change" occurs. His passengers are wealthy industrialist Kenneth Larsson, Larsson's wife Mary, and their three teenage children, twins Eric and Signe, and Astrid. When the plane's engine and electronics are disabled and rendered inoperable, Mike makes an emergency crash landing. Everyone survives, though Mary is seriously injured.

The party makes its way through rough terrain to a ranger cabin in the woods. Mike and Eric hike out onto the highway, and encounter a trio of racist survivalists on horseback who have taken prisoner a black man named Will Hutton and his family. Mike and Eric rescue the family, but the survivalists escape. Mike and Eric pursue them to the cabin where the rest of the Larssons are waiting. By the time Mike and Eric catch up, they have murdered Mary, and are attempting to rape Signe and Astrid. All three survivalists are killed.

The Huttons, who breed and train horses, join Mike's band. The group elects Mike as their leader and decide to head for Larsdalen, the Larsson family estate in the western Willamette Valley in Oregon. Along the way, Astrid shoots a black bear with her bow, which only provokes it into attacking. It seriously wounds Mike before they manage to kill it. The event gives the group its name: the Bearkillers.

On the journey, the Bearkillers begin recruiting other survivors. The Bearkillers are hired by a group near a Nez Perce Indian Reservation to find and wipe out a nest of cannibals; in accomplishing their mission, they rescue a number of captives. Mike and Signe become attracted to each other, though she keeps him at arm's length, still horrified by the memory of her near-rape.

Later, when the group has grown larger, Mike takes two companions to scout the way ahead. In Portland, Mike meets Norman Arminger, leader of the Portland Protective Association. Arminger, a former professor of medieval history and member of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), is reinstating feudalism by recruiting gang members and former SCA members, and driving those he does not want or need out of the city. Arminger offers the Bearkillers positions as Protectorate nobles, but Mike declines.

On the way back, Mike and his men save Juniper Mackenzie and her friends, who are on their own reconnaissance mission. Mike and Juniper are attracted to each other and have sex before the two groups go their separate ways. The encounter leaves Juniper pregnant.

The Bearkillers hire themselves out to a local sheriff to fight "Duke Iron Rod", who is raiding the Camas Prairie region. The Bearkillers trap and wipe out a raiding party, but while they are away, a traitor helps a second group enter and attack the Bearkillers' camp. In the fighting, Ken Larsson loses his left hand and eye, but Mike and his men return in time to rout the attackers and capture Iron Rod for later hanging. The Bearkillers also take part in a raid on a Protectorate castle, which Arminger had constructed to control an important route (Highway 20) over the Cascades.

After the Bearkillers reach Larsdalen, Mike and Signe become engaged.

Clan Mackenzie[edit]

The parallel story of the formation of Clan Mackenzie begins with Juniper Mackenzie, a folksinger and Wiccan priestess. Juniper is performing in a restaurant in Corvallis when The Change occurs. She, along with her deaf teenage daughter Eilir, and their friend Dennis Martin, try to aid victims of an airliner crash in the city. When a bunch of looters realize that guns no longer work, they attack a policeman. Dennis and Juniper go to help him. Juniper kills one of the attackers and his companions flee, but one of them, Eddie Liu vows to avenge his dead friend. Liu later becomes one of Arminger's barons.

Juniper, Dennis and Eilir gather supplies, collect Juniper's horses and wagon from a friend's farm, and head for Juniper's cabin in central Oregon. On the way, refugees attack them for their food. Eilir is forced to shoot a woman with her bow; the woman's companions flee, but Juniper and Dennis take pity on the wounded woman and her young son, allowing them to join the group. Some of Juniper's coven members also make their way separately to Juniper's cabin, after rescuing a dozen school children abandoned on a school bus.

The nascent Clan starts to farm the land. To supplement their food reserves, Juniper and Dennis go hunting. They stumble upon and rescue Sam Aylward, a former member of the elite British Special Air Service and a superb archer and bowyer as well. He had been injured after falling into a steep ravine and had become trapped.

Later, Juniper takes a few companions to scout the surrounding area. They arrive in Corvallis, Oregon, where they discover that the faculty of Oregon State University has taken over the governing of the town. On their way home, they are ambushed by a group of cannibals, but are saved by Mike and his Bearkillers. A night or two later, she and Mike have sex, conceiving a child.

The Clan has a successful first harvest, but problems elsewhere dampen this happy occasion.

The nearby town of Sutterdown is attacked and occupied by Protectorate troops. Juniper agrees to lead the Clan against the occupiers and drives them out of the town.

Later in the year, Sam Aylward is sent to lead a group of Mackenzie archers to aid the Bearkillers' raid against a Protectorate castle. They are successful and even manage to force the surrender of a second castle.

Juniper gives birth to a son, whom she names Rudi in memory of her late handfasted man. During Rudi's wiccaning, Juniper is overcome by inspiration which causes her to give him the craft name of Artos and to pronounce a prophecy declaring him "the Sword of the Lady."

Characters in Dies the Fire[edit]

Literary significance and reception[edit]

There were many positive reviews on the novel. Fellow science fiction writer Paul Di Filippo praised the novel saying: "Post-apocalypse novels often veer either too heavily into romantic Robinsonades or nihilistic dead ends. But Stirling has struck the perfect balance between grit and glory." Filippo also complimented Stirling on his characterization and being able to "make all his retro-tech plausible, easily visualizable and interesting."[1] The review on Scifidimensions called the novel "highly entertaining" and complimented Stirling on being able to make coming up with "novel premises, memorable characters, and hard to put down storytelling."[2] Mel Odom also gave a good review of the novel and said the fact that Mike and Juniper were not perfect heroes made them even more likable as characters. He also was pleased at how Stirling worked in various themes from myths and legends into the story.[3] Kel Munger from the Sacramento News and Review called the novel the "Best. Apocalyptic. Novel. Ever."[4]

Some reviewers commented on the large amount of research that went into the novel. Thomas M. Wagner of SF Reviews.Net said Dies the Fire is "intelligent, meticulously crafted, but overlong and sometimes pokey end-of-the-world epic." He also complimented Stirling on his research and said he was the one "the government needed to send to New Orleans to singlehandedly feed and rescue hurricane survivors." Though he also found the large amount of the detail to be a bit dragging but stated that it was still a good read for those fans of "character-driven SF and fantasy epics." Wagner though did feel that the novel would have been stronger had Arminger a more prominent role in the novel.[5] Raymond Camden, though he recommended the novel, found that it had too much detail which detracted from the story.[6]

SF Reviews called it a brilliantly done post disaster novel that is more fantasy than science fiction.[7] The review on SF Crowsnest called the opening of the book exciting as the reader followed how Clan Mackenzie and the Bearkillers attempt to survive in the world after the Change, though it judged that the book dragged at the end.[8]

There were negative reviews on the book. Danny Sullivan called the novel "grating" and "too forced to be that enjoyable." He also found it implausible for the main characters to be so lucky in a disaster on the scale of the Change.[9] Dan Rahmel described the characters as being unrealistic and said the novel had too many improbabilities.[10]

References to other works[edit]

  • Often characters and symbols from The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, are mentioned throughout the novel:
    • Astrid, who is obsessed with the stories, often compares what is happening around her after the Change to events in the books.
    • Lord Protector Arminger adopts the Eye of Sauron as the symbol of the Portland Protective Association.[11]
  • The Bearkillers also borrow from Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series, among other contemporary works of fiction, for their A-Lister oath.
  • The lyrics to some of Juniper Mackenzie's songs quoted in the books are actually Heather Alexander's; Alexander is credited in the acknowledgments of The Protector's War.[12]
  • Sutterdown and the Brannigan family are references to Brannigan's Special Ale, by Heather Alexander.[13]
  • Stirling's depiction of feudalism after the Change is similar to Poul Anderson's novella No Truce with Kings.[5]
  • There is a reference in the novel to David Brin's The Postman.[5]
  • Lines and phrases from singer-songwriter Stan Rogers are worked into the text, e.g. "You never had to tell him twice or find him work to do" from White Squall.
  • "The Change" seems to be nearly identical to the phenomenon described in Steve Boyett's 1983 novel: Ariel: A Book of the Change.

Lady Juniper's offsider Aylward speaks of a fellow called Willie, who ran a pub called The Treadmill, also speaks of Willie's friend although she is not named, she is Modesty Blaise. This is an homage to Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise series of books.

References in other works[edit]

While reviewing the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, John Birmingham made reference to Dies the Fire when lambasting the ending:

Has he not read Steve Stirling's Dies the Fire series? If you want to destroy humanity you take away our batteries. We are an energy based civilization and without it we cannot survive. Within two weeks of the last minutes of that film, Connelly and her little ragamuffin adoptive son would be dead of either starvation or murder at the hands of similarly starving gangs in Manhattan. The same process would repeat itself over and over across the entire world. And what do these stupid advanced super intelligent aliens think we'd do then? Turn all hippy and tree huggy?[14]


  1. ^ Paul Di Filippo (2004-08-16). "Dies the Fire". Book Review. Sci Fi Weekly. Archived from the original on October 11, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-02.
  2. ^ Carlos Aranaga (2005). "Book Review: Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling". Scifidimensions. Archived from the original on 2008-10-30. Retrieved 2008-11-02.
  3. ^ Mel Odom (January 8, 2009). "Book Review: Dies The Fire - A Novel of the Change by S.M. Stirling". Book Review. Blogcritics. Retrieved 8 January 2009.[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ Munger, Kel (June 2, 2009). "6/2/09 Book log". Sacramento News and Review. Retrieved 12 July 2009.
  5. ^ a b c Jonathan Barkat (2005). "DIES THE FIRE". Book Review. SF Reviews.Net. Retrieved 2008-11-02.
  6. ^ Raymond Camden (7 February 2006). "Review: Dies the Fire by S. M. Stirling". coldfusionjedi. Archived from the original on November 22, 2011. Retrieved November 2, 2011.
  7. ^ "Dies The Fire". Book Review. SF Reviews. 2006-07-15. Retrieved 2008-11-02.
  8. ^ Paul Skevington (2005-01-01). "Dies The Fire by S.M. Sterling". Book Review. SF's Crowsnest. Archived from the original on 2008-05-27. Retrieved 2008-11-02.
  9. ^ Danny Sullivan (2006-01-16). "S.M. Stirling's "Dies The Fire"". Daggle. Retrieved 2008-11-02.[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ Dan Rahmel. "Dies the Fire". Book Review. Coherent Visual. Archived from the original on 2008-07-04. Retrieved 2008-11-02.
  11. ^ Bo Johansson (December 1, 2005). "S.M. Stirling's A Meeting at Corvallis: Maps, flags and links". smstirling.com. Retrieved September 23, 2008.
  12. ^ Stirling, S.M. (2005). The Protector's War. New York: Roc. p. 496. ISBN 0-451-46046-4.
  13. ^ Lyrics
  14. ^ Birmingham, John (July 4, 2009). "Damn but I hate it when I hate the end of a movie". Review. Brisbane Times. Retrieved 8 July 2009.

External links[edit]