Wednesday, October 22, 2008

From the bookshelf

I just finished reading S. M. Stirling's The Scourge of God, the latest in the series that started with Dies the Fire. I liked this better than The Sunrise Lands, it's predecessor in this second trilogy. The characters were being fleshed out, the children of the Change, the first generation to grow up after the Event that wiped out modern technology, sending mankind into a new Dark Age. Even tho many of these characters were the same as were in the first trilogy, we last saw them as children, now they're all grown up. The Scourge of God picks up where The Sunrise Lands left off, with our band on a cross-country quest to seek out what happened to Nantucket. (Apparently they didn't read Island in the Sea of Time; that's ok, neither did I!) Along the way, there's trials aplenty, new allies and enemies, but my favorite is the laugh out loud scenes.

First is in chapter nine, when the Dunedain Rangers have infiltrated the Boise Bossman's palace, bursting onto the scene to take as many hostages as possible, the bossman blurts out "God, what are you bastards doing here?" to which John Hordle replies "Nobody expects the Elvish Inquisition!" (A little backstory here: the Dunedain Rangers are an offshoot of the Bearkillers and the MacKenzies, two groups that survived the Change and allied to each other in the Oregon/Washington area. One of the founders of the Dunedain Rangers was heavily influenced by Tolkien's Lord of the Rings stories, to the point that it became part of their mythologies of the old world, especially the parts about the Elves and the humans fighting against evil armies. It was enough of an influence that the Rangers adopted Elvish as their secret language; hence, everyone associates Elves with the Dunedain Rangers.) (Oh yeah, it's also a reference to Monty Python's "Spanish Inquisition" skit.)

The second scene was later in the same chapter, when a young female Ranger, Ritva, was hunting to feed her group (the ones on the Quest, not the ones I just mentioned attacking the Boise Bossman's house), when she was ambushed by a Scout in the hire of the Church Universal and Triumphant (also known as CUT; a large group of religious fanatics who reside in Montana, and shun most of what's left of technology, blaming mankind's dependence on it as why God visited the Change on the world, but I digress), who had tracked her group for many miles. They're in a one-on-one battle, her broadsword and buckler against his tomahawk and long-knife, and it ends with her winning, but letting him live. What I loved about the fight was the description of the Scout-- he was a Boy Scout, in this future world without technology. I love how Stirling imagined the Scouts (at least, the ones who survived the Change in this area, the northern Rockies), reverting some to the American Indian military-style scouts, with their own Cub Scout mythology woven in (during the fight, he shouts out his battle cry "Akela!, which is a character from the Jungle Book by Kipling, who in turn influenced Scouting's founder Sir Baden-Powell with the story and others from British Colonial India). Keeping much of the Indian scout uniform, "long woolen shirt" decorated with "badges of merit," fringed buckskin leggings and moccasins, it's like seeing where Scouting would have gone if introduced during the Renaissance, in the new English colonies in North America.

I wish I could've been there when Stirling thought up the idea of having the Scouts added to the story in this way, and how he got them to the point where they are now (23 years after the Change, or 2021 AD!) I'm trying to figure, if D-Day for Dies the Fire was March 17, 1998, there could have been some Scouts on a Spring Break trip to Philmont, NM or anywhere else in the Rocky Mountains, perhaps near an Indian Reservation, where they were taken in, honing their much needed survival skills. Apparently, the Indians were able to survive the sudden death of everything technological much better than the rest of the US; as one of the Lakotas remarked in Scourge of God, it wasn't as far for the Indians to fall when the bottom dropped out, so many "on the Rez" were nearly there anyway!

Anyway, reading that battle scene finally compelled me to order a manual on Tomahawk and Long Knife fighting, since it's been on one of my wish lists for a while, related as it is to Mountain Man and Texas Revolutionary period and non-firearm fighting skills. That's pertinent to the whole Change series, since firearms no longer work, that no-more-tech thing that changed the laws of physics (Take that, Scotty!) such that high pressure and internal combustion and advanced chemistry don't work anymore. (No cars, no guns, no batteries in your flashlight, no electricity anywhere, nothing!) The first trilogy spoke more of the characters trying to figure out "why" and "who did this" (its a toss-up between God and "Alien Space Bats" for the latter), it hasn't been touched on much in this second trilogy. And it's a little better, without that distraction from the storyline.

Now I just have to wait another year for the third book in this trilogy, hopefully Rudi and his band of friends will make it to Nantucket and return home, because these cliff-hangers are the worst when it comes to the waiting! I know, I can go to his site and read the sample chapters of the next book, but I did that with The Protector's War, and it was like having an appetizer without the main course for another several months! (Oh, bother! I just looked at his site, and discovered that he plans four books for this current series, which he calls the Emberverse II, with the first series being the Emberverse I. That means two more books!!) Stirling seems to like setting things in worlds without modern conveniences, as he did with The Peshawar Lancers and "Shikari in Galveston". (not Shakira!) Unfortunately, my understanding of Hindi and Sanskrit is nil, nada, zip, nothing! About as good as my understanding of Elvish!


Blogger james said...

I have learnt that the Scourge of God (2008) is an post-apocalyptic 2008 novel by alternate history author S. M. Stirling. It deals with events immediately following The Sunrise Lands and is a part of the Emberverse i found some interesting info about Indian stories on

7:29 AM, October 23, 2008  
Blogger Mattexian said...

It's not often I have visitors from India, thanks for stopping by!

3:32 PM, October 23, 2008  

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