The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

A Princess, A Dragon, And A Qwerkywriter

Posted on | September 20, 2014 | 40 Comments

— by Wombat-socho

Finally scraped enough Amazon gift certificates together to order S.M. Stirling’s The Golden Princess, which is the latest in the series of “Change” novels that began with Dies the Fire. It’s the sequel to The Given Sacrifice, in which Mike Havel’s bastard son Rudi Mackenzie (a/k/a the High King of Montival) dies at the hands of Koreans who have come all the way across the Pacific in pursuit of the Emperor of Japan. Now Rudi’s daughter, Crown Princess Orlaith, and the new Empress, Reiko, must overcome their fathers’ deaths and plunge into the heart of the Death Lands formerly known as Los Angeles in pursuit of one of Japan’s Sacred Treasures – with not only savage cannibal Eaters but, apparently, the evil that once manifested itself in Montival’s deadly enemies the Cutters. Some reviewers at Amazon complained that this book basically just sets the table for the next arc in the Change series, in which we’re acquainted with the sons and daughters of the heroes and heroines of the war against the Prophet as they set off with Orlaith, Reiko and her household guards on an adventure that sounds only slightly less deadly than Rudi’s own cross-continent quest for the Sword of the Lady.
I for one am just as happy to have a book like this now instead of a fat volume thick enough to stun an ox two years from now. Unlike certain other authors I won’t name, but whose initials are Harry Turtledove, I can rely on Stirling not to lose track of his characters or endlessly repeat the same facts over and over again until you want to throw the book out the window. That having been said, while The Golden Princess stands on its own just fine, you really ought to at least read The Given Sacrifice if you don’t have time to read the other nine books in the series.

Also, while I normally don’t review stuff you can’t find on Amazon (because, like Stacy, I am all about the Shameless Capitalism) I am making an exception for Rory Modena’s Sparrowind (available through Lulu, and hopefully soon on Amazon) which is a cute little tale about a nearsighted dragon, the runt of his clutch, who decides to become a knight and hoard books, since he’s clearly not cut out to be a normal dragon. Hilarity and triumph ensue; I would unreservedly recommend this if you’re looking for something to read the kids as a bedtime book, or if you want something light and fluffy with a dash of humor. I’ll be reposting a link for this when it appears on Amazon – but why wait? You can always convert it from EPub format to Kindle or Nook using Calibre – which is freeware.

I was sent a review copy of Auntie Jodi’s Helpful Hints, which reminds me somewhat of P.J. O’Rourke’s infamous The Bachelor Home Companion except that Jodi Adler’s advice is more about high society (interpret that as you will) in LA and New York, and how one deals with the innumerable tedious people encountered there. Some of the advice is serious, but half the fun is guessing which of the many nuggets in this slim volume those might be. In the meantime, it’s a light and amusing read, especially recommended to those fond of snark and sarcasm.

Finally, we come to the Qwerkywriter. Spotted on Facebook in the feed of some steampunk-obsessed friend of mine, I at first mistook this for the USB Typewriter (“A groundbreaking advancement in the field of obsolescence!”) which I had half-seriously recommended to Stacy some years ago while he was struggling with TweetDeck and other annoyances of the 21st century*. Qwerkywriter is just a keyboard, though, without the annoying requirement to actually own an iPad or some other tablet. We can preorder one for just $309 before they hit the market next summer – just in time for the 2016 Presidential campaign, when a durable keyboard like this will be an indispensable asset to the Shoe Leather Campaign Fund! Who’s with me?

* I thought it was this post, but actually it was this post. Welp.

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40 Responses to “A Princess, A Dragon, And A Qwerkywriter”

  1. JeffWeimer
    September 20th, 2014 @ 1:31 pm

    Tweetdeck FTW!

  2. HHencts2612
    September 20th, 2014 @ 1:38 pm


  3. RS
    September 20th, 2014 @ 5:32 pm

    I read Dies The Fire years ago but just couldn’t get past the problem of the nature of the Change. I get an EMP-like, nothing electric works, but how/why some simple chemical reactions work, i.e. old-fashioned wood burning, but others don’t. A better solution was Eric Flint’s in the 1632 series, i.e. aliens screwing with space time. Maybe Stirling explains things in subsequent installments, but I didn’t stick around long enough for that.

  4. M. Thompson
    September 20th, 2014 @ 6:09 pm

    I read Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” this week. That’s something that gave me two feelings: he was disturbed, and it’s a fine way to frighten yourself.

  5. Steve White
    September 20th, 2014 @ 8:09 pm

    Agree completely on the comments on both Stirling and Turtledove. The latter would do well to slow his production, take his time, and work on his editing.

    I’ve read all the books in the ‘Emberverse’ series that Stirling has written. To RS below, yes you do get a better explanation for how the physical laws of the universe have changed as you read on. However, whether it’s alien space-bats, aliens screwing with space time, transporting through a mysterious green squall (Taylor Anderson’s Destroyermen series), or whatever, all it is in the end is a plot device that sets up the story and the characters. I don’t worry much about the device, I care about the story.

    That’s where Stirling has delivered nicely over the years. I like the characters and I like the internal consistency of the universe he’s built. Though I decidedly would not be a peasant in the Portland Protective Association (I’d like to see Stacy’s reaction).

  6. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    September 20th, 2014 @ 8:18 pm

    You are far more forgiving to old S.M. Stirling than I am. I can forgive the “alien space bats” causing the collapse of modern technology to allow the thought experiment of what society would do if it had to go back to high middle ages technology–but it is apparently clear these installments will never end and he cannot “land the plane” so to speak.

  7. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    September 20th, 2014 @ 8:20 pm

    Of course, then we have the problem George R.R. “he’s not your bitch” Martin who is having a hard time finishing his series. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

  8. RS
    September 20th, 2014 @ 9:39 pm

    I understand plot devices, but at least they should be internally consistent. As I said, why some chemistry and physics is OK if it comports with medieval life while that which does not is jettisoned, is never adequately explained. Did humans suddenly forget about steam engines, for example? Do magnets no longer exist? Why do high density hydrocarbon sources no longer provide energy when low density sources do? It’s the same chemical reaction.

    I understand what Stirling was/is trying to do: Medieval Epic populated with Modern Humans. But you can’t do that without having the sum of knowledge learned since Charlemagne out of the story. That’s why I contrasted Flint’s 1632. For me Stirling’s work would have been more satisfying if the story occurred some centuries after an unspecified apocalypse in a new Dark Age. where Knowledge has been forgotten and perhaps taboo. See, e.g. Canticle For Liebowitz.

    Anyway, YMMV.

  9. Gahrie
    September 20th, 2014 @ 10:03 pm

    The explanation is quite literally magic.

  10. Gahrie
    September 20th, 2014 @ 10:06 pm

    As I said before, the answer is quite literally magic. The DtF series is really more fantasy than Sci Fi. It’s prequel, The Island trilology, is more traditional Alternate History.

  11. Gahrie
    September 20th, 2014 @ 10:07 pm

    John Ringo has this problem also. He gets a great series going, then apparently gets bored with it, and wanders off to write about something else.

  12. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    September 20th, 2014 @ 10:21 pm

    Is it? It is interpreted as magic, but isn’t it supposed to be something else?

    Of course, there is magic as the explanation in GoT, but I give Martin credit for limiting it in the story line.

  13. darleenclick
    September 20th, 2014 @ 10:31 pm

    I haven’t read any Stirling, so I perused the Amazon reviews and – well – I don’t mind suspending some disbelief but the idea that knocking out electricity can also knock out steam power but not the “tech” of hot air balloons?

    Sorry, I’ll pass.

    By the way, best short sci-fi story I’ve read with the “what happens if electricity disappears” was The Waveries

  14. Kimmy84
    September 20th, 2014 @ 11:31 pm

    I picked the book up (well, digitally) a few times but could never get through a few chapters. I read plenty of sci fi so I am experienced in suspension of disbelief, but the lack of consistency (discussed elsewhere in the thread) along with the piling on of coincidences was just too much for me.

    This review sums things up perfectly.

    (and I don’t care if the author finally gets around to “explaining” things later in the series, as readers we are owed some sort of description of the basic plotlines of the series in the FIRST book.)

  15. Gahrie
    September 20th, 2014 @ 11:55 pm

    It is magic. Many of the protangonists are members of Wicca, and there are magical items retrieved by quests.

  16. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    September 21st, 2014 @ 12:49 am

    Meh. As Arthur C. Clarke said: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

  17. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    September 21st, 2014 @ 12:57 am

    The Wicca thing is to show that if there is a sufficient disruption of events, culture can change rapidly. Plus Stirling is friends with George RR Martin’s wife who is Wiccan. So there you go.

  18. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    September 21st, 2014 @ 1:02 am

    Stirling on atheism: “It all depends on what type of atheist you are. I’m not the type who’s angry with God, or any other deity, or religion as a phenomenon. Dawkins et. al. sort of make me embarrassed; they come across as grossly rude. “

  19. Gahrie
    September 21st, 2014 @ 1:09 am

    That is interesting, given that the premise of the DtF series is that ALL religions are true. (or perhaps there is truth in all religions?)

  20. Gahrie
    September 21st, 2014 @ 1:11 am

    To be pedantic, the first book in this series was a sequel to an earlier trilogy.

  21. Wombat_socho
    September 21st, 2014 @ 2:53 am

    Yes. 🙂

  22. Wombat_socho
    September 21st, 2014 @ 2:53 am

    That one’s fairly mild, actually.

  23. Wombat_socho
    September 21st, 2014 @ 2:54 am

    There are hot air balloons.

  24. Wombat_socho
    September 21st, 2014 @ 2:55 am

    Stacy doesn’t read SF. Smitty, on the other hand…

  25. Kyle Kiernan
    September 21st, 2014 @ 4:57 am

    Never could get involved in the DtF novels, maybe because of what others have written here that you have to keep on accepting the Change premise every minute of the story. In the Island books at least you only had to bit the apple once and not worry about it ever again.
    I’s like to see him get back to his Peshawar Lancers universe. That one was a multi-read just like his Draka novels were.

  26. Eric Ashley
    September 21st, 2014 @ 7:49 am

    I’ve read the first three of DtF, and enjoyed them, but stopped there.

    I Tthem as pandering to his atheist and pagan audience. Although somewhat cleverly.

    Now maybe later books deal with this….but in the RW alt future….the Mormons run over the top of any group and restart civ. And no, I’m not a Mormon.

  27. Kimmy84
    September 21st, 2014 @ 8:06 am

    What were the names of those books? I don’t see them on Amazon. “Dies” was written in 2004, I don’t see any by the author prior.

  28. Gahrie
    September 21st, 2014 @ 8:19 am

    They were the Island in the Sea of Time books..
    Island in the Sea of Time
    Against the Tide of Years
    On the Oceans of Eternity
    Some of us have been waiting an awful long time for him to write a couple of more books in this series.

  29. Gahrie
    September 21st, 2014 @ 8:22 am

    Stirling is very repectful to Christians in general, and Mormons in particular, in this series. He explicitly acknowledges their habit of preparing for emergencies.

  30. Gahrie
    September 21st, 2014 @ 8:27 am

    Oh and Stirling has written many books before these books….at least as early as the 1990’s. He began by writing in McCaffrey’s and Pournelle’s universes.

  31. NeoWayland
    September 21st, 2014 @ 8:42 am

    I agree.

  32. NeoWayland
    September 21st, 2014 @ 8:46 am

    There is a technopagan addendum to that.

    “Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.”

    Personally I don’t think the two are as far removed as it would seem.

  33. NeoWayland
    September 21st, 2014 @ 8:51 am

    I never got to The Given Sacrifice. I think I just tired of it after a while. I’m also not terribly fond of Destiny with a capital D in my fantasy.

    Maybe I’ll try the series again.

    The series is big in pagan circles for obvious reasons.

  34. Kimmy84
    September 21st, 2014 @ 9:03 am

    From the Amazon page:

    “Dies the Fire: A Novel of the Change (Change Series Book 1)”

    That makes it the first book in the series. The “Islands” books are best described as companion books. If the author had answers to the questions raised in those books, it should be mentioned as part of a series.

  35. Kimmy84
    September 21st, 2014 @ 10:00 am

    Give him credit, he’s identified a slavish fan base and is delivering as much as they are willing to lap up.

  36. S.M. Stirling
    September 21st, 2014 @ 4:30 pm

    It’s sorta-kinda explained later; it’s “Clarke’s Law” magic — the entities responsible are incomprehensible to human beings of our sort. They’re willing to explain (and try) but it’s like trying to explain algebra to a dog, or expecting the dog to understand the differences between liberal capitalism, Social Democracy and Stalinism.

  37. S.M. Stirling
    September 21st, 2014 @ 4:34 pm

    Actually, it’s sort of late-19th century technology in many respects, with some 20th-century elements. What’s removed is electronics and high-energy-density power sources for the most part. You can still have combines (or more commonly reaper-binders) if they’re pulled by horses. Or water-powered machine tools and hydraulic presses.

  38. Daniel Freeman
    September 21st, 2014 @ 6:41 pm

    Just so you know, reading this on my phone, I can’t find a link to the front page. (You would think the banner at the top, but no.) Not a big deal, since it’s become one of the default options when I open a new tab, but still.

    Chrome on Android on Motorola.

  39. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    September 22nd, 2014 @ 9:53 am

    There are elements of truth in most faiths. And there are some cults that are evil (such as the Cutters or ISIS).

  40. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    September 22nd, 2014 @ 9:57 am

    The technology in the Nantucket Series had an airship, but there was no steam power available (so no steam ships or trains) in the Nantucket or Emberverse series.

    That is a useful literary device: “you wouldn’t understand.” Then again, look how well it has worked for the Democrat Party!