Fantasy Literature: Fun with Stirling’s Emberverse Series

Fantasy Literature: Fun with Stirling’s Emberverse Series

S. M. Stirling Dies The Fire-smallSince the beginning of Fantasy Literature: The Blog, each week witnessed another look at one, or half, or even two books of Stirling’s Emberverse series, the novels that tell the manifestly alternate history occurring after The Change, a world-wide calamity which killed billions via changing the Rules of Physics in some subtle way — gunpowder fizzles, electricity unzaps, even steam barely makes engines turn.

We humans, perched atop a technological marvel of mechanized farms and food distribution, become the masters of muscle-powered civilization in an instant. Well, the survivors become masters, though as with many things, some masters are more equal than others.

Antics ensue. Then a generation after the change, more antics follow, and a generation after that the antics have begun again, for the series is still spitting out sequels every fall, like clockwork.

Stirling has authored several short stories and has edited a collection of stories set in the Emberverse (Volume II? Call me, man!), so the fun continues apace. In this critic’s humble estimation, this sequence of books would make an excellent animated series: it would cost too much to do live-action, except as a blockbuster film, and a blockbuster film wouldn’t be, couldn’t be? true to the spirit of the thing.

But what do I know?

I know it is time to have some fun with the Emberverse. So without further ado, here are some amusements.

Play Guess the Joke

Play “guess the joke” by visiting here and looking at fan-created images of the heraldry of the Emberverse — some imaginings supported by Stirling himself via comments. But don’t tell the Dunedain. They are Very Serious People, and are the first to tell you that Tolkien was a historian. A HISTORIAN.

Play Emberverse Bingo

Read any Emberverse novel. Cover the box when you encounter the detail; buy yourself a beer when you complete a row or column. Or a root beer. Or a gummy bear. Whatever.

A Character… Food… Weather… Assassins! Cats
Conceals glint of light off binoculars Is glazed Rain down neck Appear with knives Person moves like tiger
Pats armored friend futilely Is a banquet Dust coats stuff Appear with swords Person moves like Lion
Regrets past Is chewy trail rations Wind rustles grass Appear with garrotes Persian cat helps villain plan
Checks gear Is joked about w/ “sun rises” Appear w/out tongues A cat is called a Moggy
Trains hard Runs short Cold makes armor chilly Is or Are “sleeper/s” Have been turned into a rug

Play the Emberverse Game

The Protector's WarThe Emberverse game is easy. Start on Monday morning or afternoon — or evening, you slacker — when you awaken. Keep score according to the following chart:

+1 Each time you wonder how long it would take to walk home if The Change were to strand you somewhere
+1 Each time you eat a meal and wonder how far it traveled to your plate
+1 Each time you wonder in which Montival faction you’d do best

+2 Each time you’re in a meeting and think to yourself “that person has…baraka”
+2 Each time you measure a distance not in football fields but in bowshots
+2 Each time you estimate your chances of survival if The Change were to happen while in a car, plane, or other mode of speedy transport

+3 Each time you spot a really good place for a castle/walled dun/A list steading
+3 Each time you worry about toxic substances that might be released were The Change to occur
+3 Each time you guesstimate how long it would take you (and how you’d do it) to get to a place where survival would be more likely after The Change

At the end of the week, add up your score:

0-5 You’re sure you’ve read the Emberverse?
6-10 You could read more Emberverse
11-15 Have you re-read the Emberverse lately?
16-20 Quit storing food. The Change is fictional.
21-25 Probably a member of the SFWA.
26-30 Quit pretending you’re S. M. Stirling
31-25 Now you’re just showing off

Todd McLaren
Todd McLaren

In all seriousness, the depth and extent of Stirling’s alternate history is such that serious readers — and re-readers — will no doubt find mundane reality shadowed by the Emberverse. Assuming one lives in a developed, industrial area, ordinary daily scenes echo of the disaster described in the early novels.

Moving cars become stationary, some wrecked. Crowds pursuing regular life become, in potential, starving mobs. Images of submarines or the International Space Station darkly reflect the horror fictionally suffered, after The Change, by those stranded in hostile environments without the comfort of technology. Yet again, the hybrid of romantic fantasy and gritty realism engages a vigorous response in readers.

Finally, a last word about audiobooks. This blog would not have been possible without the voice of Todd McLaren, the narrator for all of Stirling’s Emberverse (and the related Nantucket) novels. That’s McLaren at left; see his Tantor Media site here.

Regular consumers of audiobooks know the pleasures of the medium. For others, I recommend trying them out. I personally find re-listening the better bet (your mileage may vary). I prefer my first reading be just that, a reading. But in subsequent re-“readings” there is a sublime pleasure in being read to — indeed, to witness a performance of, Stirling’s Emberverse.

There is much good in McLaren’s voice work and little that annoys or grows old. For example, he does a creditable (to my American ears) job of managing the real and the faux Celtic accents, and others, that have a strong presence in the novels.

One can be entertained while one drives, while one walks, in the gym, in quiet moments in a hammock. And one notices new things from the performance, which perforce becomes just that, a collaborative effort. When Mathilda seems to whine overmuch, one wonders: how did I miss that in the text? Or is the voice artist hitting that note in a way that brings that reaction to the fore?

In sum total, the audiobooks provide more than 200 hours of listening — that’s quite an eye-opening number — and in the process of developing this blog series I took (mostly) pleasure in re-listening to the lot.

Stirling The Sunrise Lands-smallSo far we’ve covered the following S. M. Stirling Emberverse novels:

Island in the Sea of TimeAgainst the Tide of Years, and On the Oceans of Eternity
Dies the Fire
The Protector’s War
A Meeting at Corvallis, Part 1
A Meeting at Corvallis, Part 2
The Peshawar Lancers and Conquistador
The Sunrise Lands 
The Scourge of God
The Sword of the Lady, Part 1
The Sword of the Lady, Part 2
The High King of Montival
The Tears of the Sun
Lord of Mountains
The Given Sacrifice and The Golden Princess

Next week? Check back. Thanks to all who made their way through this series of blog entries on Stirling’s Emberverse.

Edward Carmien is a writer and scholar firmly in the orbit of the fantastic. He’s spent some of his recreational time learning skills useful in the fantasy milieu: he can ride a horse (poorly), shoot a bow (badly), hike long distances in the wilderness (pretty well), do others injury with the art of the empty hand (nowadays, who knows, he’s got five decades now…), operate small watercraft, and so on. Tabletop wargaming, gaming, computer gaming, CCG gaming, and cooking are some of his other pursuits.

A member of the SFWA and the SFRA, he writes (not enough), teaches (full time), parents, and husbands in and about Princeton, NJ. Check out his many crimes and misdemeanors in the fantasy field at

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