Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Meeting At Corvallis - S. M. Stirling

A Meeting at Corvallis
S.M. Stirling

Alternative History

Note: This novel is the third volume in a trilogy that begins with DIES THE FIRE and continues in THE PROTECTOR’S WAR.

Ten years ago, an event now known as The Change obliterated all modern technology. In a second, anything that relied on electricity or batteries ceased to function. Explosives and weapons underwent a fundamental change, rendering them useless. Soon after, widespread famine and disease killed off a huge percentage of the population. But many pockets of humanity managed to thrive.

In Oregon, the city-state of Corvallis provides a safe haven. The university still operates, trade and transportation are accomplished by using riverboats, and farming using medieval methods has provided enough food. The Bearkillers, led by ex-military pilot Mike Harvel, keep the peace and defend the area around Salem; and a short distance away, Clan Mackenzie lives in peace and pagan ways under high priestess Juniper Mackenzie. Lord Protector Norman Arminger, a self-styled warlord who keeps his people in line through brutality, war, and inquisition controls the area around Portland. And like any warlord, is never satisfied with the size of his holding. Other groups include a monastery at Mount Angel, one of the only places that provides asylum to those who have escaped the Lord Protector; and those who model their society after Tolkein’s Middle Earth.

This huge cast of characters requires extensive set-up, which is provided in the first two installments. With so many factions, there’s plenty of political maneuvering and jockeying for power. What’s clear is that conflict between the peaceful settlements and the Lord Protector is inevitable. For readers who enjoy the details of military actions, there’s plenty to enjoy here. And, for those who are more interested in the characters, some very interesting subplots come into play in this third installment, making it perhaps the most satisfying of the three.

In many post-apocalypse books, the cast spends a great deal of time pouting and bemoaning what has been lost. In this series, the characters are amazingly adept at putting the past behind them, dealing with the present circumstances, and moving forward. That makes for a much more enjoyable read. With the characters fully invested in their present, it makes it much easier for the reader to invest, as well. It also means that the characters are far less interested in why The Change happened than in how to cope with current life. While some readers might not be happy with the ending, I found it to be very fitting.

Rating: 8 ½
October 2006
ISBN# 0-451-46111-8 (hardcover)


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