Book Review: S.M. Stirling’s The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth

Posted June 30, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: S.M. Stirling’s The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth

The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth


S.M. Stirling

It is part of the Emberverse series and is a apocalyptic, science fiction that was published by ROC on June 2, 2015 and has 640 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include A Taint in the Blood, Council of Shadows, Shadows of Falling Night, Dangerous Women, Dies the Fire, The Protector's War, A Meeting at Corvallis, The Sunrise Lands, The Scourge of God, The Sword of the Lady, The High King of Montival

An anthology of sixteen short stories in the Emberverse apocalyptic science fiction series and revolving around a world that fell apart technologically. If you’re interested, there is a chronological listing of the Emberverse books on my website.

Do read the Introduction if the concept of world building appeals to you. Stirling has written about what inspired him to create his Emberverse and how to make it real. I love that bit he writes of making that world feel “big”. There’s also a thought-provoking revelation about Nantucket, and it suggests what happened that day in March 1998 when the world died. It seems that Stirling’s Island in the Sea of Time is a parallel series and explores that EMP pulse from Nantucket Island. I can’t decide if I should dive into that one immediately or if I’ll get confused between the two.

The stories in The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth are all over the place. Literally. They take place all over the world with many different tribes, communities, and customs, and in a range of times from Change Year 0 to forty some years later. And yet, they’re all the same in that they are groups of people struggling to survive whether it’s under tyrants or quarreling councils.

The Stories

S.M. Stirling‘s “Hot Night at the Hopping Toad” takes place way in Change Year 41 (our year 2043). You might want to wait and read The Change after The Given Sacrifice, 10, or The Golden Princess, 11. On the plus side, “Hot Night at the Hopping Toad” is one of two that directly impacts on the Emberverse universe and its characters (“Rate of Exchange” involves the third Baron Liu), so you need to decide if you want to know something about the Emberverse future (depending on where you are in the series) as the rest of the stories only mention rumors that these other communities may have heard.

It’s the Princess Órlaith Arminger Mackenzie, the heir to the throne of Montival, attending school in Corvallis. It’s part of the education her parents want for her, to spend time in as many communities as possible to better understand the different cultures. Only the accusation of Shelly/Sherry the barmaid incites a confrontation that could turn bloody. And provides an opportunity for Órlaith to show her detecting chops.

A.M. Dellamonica‘s “Rate of Exchange” finds Lord Huon Liu leading a delegation north to treaty with a tribe headquartered at the Fortress of Solitude. They’re seeking a man accused of being a traitor.

It explores the Cree Alliance and introduces us to Scout from the Morrowland Pack that allied with Artos late in the CUT war. I found it an odd combination of Superman and his Fortress of Solitude, mystical happenings, and angry muttering even as the Cree entertain their visitors. It’s confusing and Dellamonica doesn’t provide quite enough information in this. Still, it’s an interesting, if unsatisfying, read.

Kier Salmon‘s “Tight Spot” has Colin and Robin having to make tough decisions to save their people and each other. There are a few stories in this anthology which deal in betrayal, and this one has an added whiff of “The Boy Who Called Wolf”. Salmon pulls in some complications as well. Nice.

Lauren C. Teffeau‘s “Against the Wind” takes place in the Gulf of Alaska and involves a father, son, and daughter struggling to make it as scavengers. And the human need for companionship.

M.T. Reiten‘s “The Demons of Witmer Hall” are not so much demons as students who took refuge in the building that day in March 1998. They holed up, fortified, and scavenged for foods and materials. It’s Kirk’s experiments that stretch the story on forever, and Jason’s activities that make it interesting. It’s a creepy and very sudden ending to this one.

John Jos. Miller‘s “Bernie, Lord of the Apes” was so cute! I found myself hoping that blurb at the end isn’t just a tease, that there really will be a “Bernie and the Jewels of Okechobee”. Yes, the title is a big hint. Bernie is a Tarzan though he’d never see it. He’s even got his own Cheetah and elephants who obey him.

Victor Mílan‘s “The Seeker: A Poison in the Blood” was grim as Zamora encounters possessed Seekers in Utah?? as he hunts the killers of his best friend. I gotta wonder if Zamora is supposed to be a two-eyed Odin as he goes around with two crows: Recuerdo (Memory) and Pensamiento (Thought). The story is a set-up for future possibilities that, yes, I would like to read, but I hope he’s not as confusing as he was in here. That bit about the trader / god / Nocheviento / Tezcatlipoca had me re-reading again and again. It did remind me of a scene from Laurell K. Hamilton’s Obsidian Butterfly, 9.

Terry D. England‘s “Grandpa’s Gift” is an in-depth look at the adventures of a trading family heading home after a successful trip in buying books. Along the way, we learn their philosophy about books and the new library being built to emulate the library at Alexandria.

John Birmingham‘s “Fortune and Glory” is full of action with Cap’n Pete Holder and his crew, Fifi Lamont and Lady Julianne Balwyn. It’s a dangerous journey into Sydney on a mission for the king, and they’ll have to evade, battle, and escape several perils. It’s a hypocritical philosophy, thinking that having a Royal Warrant makes their scavenging more legit than those without. Still, it’s a fun adventure as Cap’n Pete and his crew steal into Sydney, and it does give me a sense of an entire world in this short story — I’ve already noted the first story in the Disappearance series, Without Warning, to read once I finish Stirling’s Emberverse. I suspect I could get confused between the two!

Walter John Williams‘ “The Venetian Dialectic” was…I want to say bittersweet, as I was fascinated by life in Venice after The Change and the politics and strategies between Rhodes and Venice against the horror of what Foscari is planning. Williams has put together a complete story with a tease at the end. So much of “The Venetian Dialectic” made me think of Dorothy Dunning’s The House of Niccolò series, and Williams has recreated that same sense of sharklike behavior.

John Barnes‘ “The Soul Remembers Uncouth Noises” goes back and forth in time as Miz Claire remembers the day of the Change. It is an intriguing idea, but Barnes’ idea is more in the intro at the start and then Claire’s summing it up at the end. There’s not much in the way of showing us how this works. Yes, there’s a tiny bit with Claire but I sure don’t see evidence of these odd ducks in any of the other members of the community. That said, I did enjoy Miz Claire’s memories and her worries about the captured Matt. Just goes to show that everyone has a place in the world. I did feel bad the gun didn’t fire when that bitch neighbor took the powdered milk. WTF? Nor did it make sense that people got that nasty that fast.

Harry Turtledove‘s “Topanga and the Chatsworth Lancers” brings hope that California isn’t completely dead! People still exist in the L.A. area although that sense of different countries and the greed and selfishness of one power-hungry “lord” is still there. Turtledove does a great job of bringing the tension and forcing me to race through the pages to find out what will happen next. It does remind me of John Varley’s Slow Apocalypse. Whew…

Jane Lindskold‘s “The Hermit and the Jackalopes” is a sweet and sad tale of a young man’s losses. The memories he has of a blood brother and the refuge he has created for himself. There’s very much a sense of Brett being on an “island” with Grandfather Nathan Tso as his anchor.

Jody Lynn Nye‘s “The New Normal” takes place in the New Forest in Hampshire in Britain of a witch and her coven who find shelter with a forest ranger. It’s a short, sweet story of how Dr. Saltford comes to recognize “The New Normal” with a batch of grain alcohol.

Emily Mah‘s “A Missed Connection” is a bit creepy and a bit karmic as the nerdy Marc is cheated of his dream. He’s kind of a jerk, and part of me hopes that Chrissie holds him to his decision.

Diana Paxson‘s “Deor” has a strong flavor of Montival about it right up to the mini-Norman Arminger. Thora was an interesting character. Not as strong in her thinking as I would have thought a Bearkiller would be, and yet she is strong in her unconscious belief that she’s as safe as houses. Paxson throws in an unexpected surprise ending and there’s a good bit of melodrama. I’d’ve liked to see more polishing on this. I’ll be curious to learn if Deor takes Thora up on her offer.

The Cover and Title

The cover is in keeping with the past titles of books I’ve read with its harmonious, yet subdued background of pale gray, soft gold, and cream sky that meets with a grassy plain at the horizon. Coming forward is what appears to be a television news truck, wrecked and abandoned, as an Indian in full regalia rides by on his white horse as a knight sitting a nervous horse watches.

The title tells us what is within, The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth, as a collection of stories of what happened after the EMP destroyed the world as we know it.