My way of escaping the world has always been through books. I’ll read just about anything, except instructions. For some reason, how-to instructions always look like Greek to me. It makes putting together IKEA furniture an adventure, I can tell you that! About 12 years ago I ran across a series of books, the Emberverse by S.M. Stirling, that absolutely captivated me. I am the only person that I know that’s read these books and I just can’t understand why. They’re wonderful!
There’s no denying that the world is a scary place right now. War looms, politicians push racism and hate, earthquakes shatter the land and global warming makes the heat fall over us like a heavy blanket in summer. Perhaps the worst thing of all is feeling that there’s nothing in the world that you can do about these things and spending more time than not feeling helpless. Oh, you do your part. You help your neighbors, you vote, you recycle, but there’s no magic wand to wave over the world to make it all better. What you need is a distraction, an escape, if only for a few minutes here and there.
The first book, Dies the Fire, begins in 1998, when, out of the blue everything stops working. Lights go off, cars crash, planes fall from the sky and guns won’t fire. With no explanation and no reason the world is suddenly changed. People must now work together to survive. Since humanity has suddenly lost 600 years of mechanics and technology, old ways have to be re-learned. Farming by hand, fighting done with weapons such as swords and a bow and arrow. Communities are built around strong leaders and different fractions fight to control the most fruitful lands. (If any of this sounds familiar, there was a short lived tv series called Revolution that was reportedly based on the books. I tried to watch the show, I really did, but the lead character was a twit.)
Now imagine with me, if you will, waking up to find that your electricity is off, your phone doesn’t work and you’re stuck eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because the stores are all closed because of the power. This is of course annoying, but surely the power will be back on soon. Only the power doesn’t come back on, and days later you’re starting to run out of food. The things in the fridge and freezer have long since been eaten or gone off. You’ve had to use your charcoal grill in the yard because the stove and microwave no longer work, but at this point it doesn’t matter because there’s nothing left to cook. You’ve even eaten that fruit cake that’s been in the back of the fridge for five years.
The first few days you spoke with your neighbors, exchanging rumors about what’s happened, sharing coffee and food. But as the food started to run out, your neighbors started to keep to themselves and you haven’t seen them in a while. They may have even left, but to where, you don’t know. You argue with yourself about whether to go and see if any stores are open. It would be safer to stay home, but you can’t stay home because there’s no food and you only have two bottles of water left. It’s not like there are zombies out there, it’s just a big power outage. So you decide to go out.
Your car doesn’t work – which is odd, because you just had it serviced and it was running just fine. Oh well, it’s probably been sitting too long and needs a jump start. You contemplate going to find someone and asking for a jump but decide to walk instead, the store isn’t that far and you could use the exercise after so many days at home. The walk seems to take forever because once you’re off your street there are cars everywhere. Some just stopped in the middle of the road, some are crashed into each other and some have smashed into trees or buildings or light poles, and some of the cars have clearly burned. You can see people in some of the cars. People that aren’t moving.
By the time you reach the main shopping area of town you’re in a haze of shock. You’re certain that you’ve seen dead bodies but were to scared to check. You’ve seen several buildings burned to the ground. You can recall smelling smoke over that last few days but assumed that it was someone using their bbq. You hadn’t heard any sirens after all. This thought makes you stop dead in the middle of the street. You hadn’t heard any sirens at all. You would’ve heard sirens coming to all those car wrecks outside of your neighborhood, but you didn’t. Where are all the police and firemen? Where is everyone? Now you’re starting to notice that you’re the only one out on the street. The stores are all empty, not just of people but of everything. Well everything edible anyway.
A sudden noise makes you jump and turn and you feel more relief than you’ve ever felt in your whole life. A police officer is standing there. You rush to him and begin babbling and maybe crying a little too. The officer looks tired and battered but listens to you rant for a moment. When you pause to take a breath he begins to give you instructions. Go home, pack a bag, as much food as you can carry, get out of town. Go north, do not, repeat, do NOT go south. There’s a fire that way, it’s moving fast now and the fire department can’t get it’s water pumps to work. This whole part of town will be gone within the day. And then he just walks away, leaving you scared and confused.
You take his advice and get the hell out of Dodge. You hole up in a trailer well outside of town. The only protection you have is a shovel that you’ve ground down to have a sharp edge. You scavenged food as you went and have enough to last for a few weeks if you’re careful. But then what? You’ve figured out on your own that cars don’t work, electricity doesn’t work, nothing battery operated works, no radio works, nothing works. You’d been hiding in a bush when you found out that guns don’t work. A group of thugs were robbing an old man pulling a small wagon by hand. The old man had pulled a rifle out of the wagon and tried to warn them off by firing into the air. The gun had only made a clicking sound. You’d rushed off while the thugs were busy beating the man to death.
What you needed to do was figure out how to grow food, but how? It wasn’t like you could Google it. You didn’t have the first clue about growing plants and even if you did people like those thugs would just come and take it from you. So really what you needed was to find protection and someone to teach you how to grow food. And how to defend yourself. And how to make new shoes because your own were falling apart. You could also do with some first aid training. You’re worried that you’ll get sick or fall and hurt yourself and you can’t exactly call 911. Let’s face it, on your own you’re never going to survive. It’s time to go find help.
But is there anyone left that’ll help you? Or is it every man for themselves?
If this kind of book sounds like your cup of tea, then check out Dies the Fire and it’s 14 following novels, written by S.M. Stirling and published by Roc Books. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!
Sidney Fraser is an American transplanted to a new life in London, where she explores fannish and geeky places, events and creations, which she relates in the continuing True and Proper Adventures of Sidney Fraser.