Science Fiction

I’m sure S.M. Stirling is nice.

Of all the things I have to be annoyed about, this one manages to be both minor and yet supremely irksome at the same time.

So, what the heck is up with S.M. Stirling? Is he too lazy to do his research or what? I’ve tried reading his SCA wank-fantasy (also known as Dies the Fire and sequels), but I’ve been driven batty by the sheer laziness evident in Stirling’s lack of research. You can tell a lot about an author from the things he gets wrong, and Stirling seems distinctly uninterested in accuracy beyond the borders of the Continental USA or with anything that can’t be learned from half a day at the Medieval Fayre. His British characters talk like refugees from Disney’s Mary Poppins, and with as much authenticity. They’re either Mockneys or 1920’s toffs, of the sort only found in E.M. Forster novels or Wodehouse comedies. He can’t even get the most basic slang right (one character is heard to exclaim “I was knackered to find out he hadn’t spent all the money” – Oh, really? Discovering this fact made you extremely tired? Gosh).

There are some freakishly unlikely events too, such as the reduction in the population of the UK. Stirling claims that after The Change (the big event that plunges Earth into a low-tech apocalypse and incidentally flips Nantucket Island right into another novel entirely), the UK’s population fell to 600,000. Considering there are nearly 60 million of us right now, that’s quite a drop. Further more, a third of these survivors are now happily living on the Isle of Wight, an area of about 147 square miles. Given that the current actual population is 140,000, with most of their food ferried in from the mainland, what does Stirling think these refugess ate?

Stirling also fails the get the name of the island right (it’s not an island called “Wight”, its name is “The Isle of Wight”), and considers it a good safe refuge for the Royal Family, despite being easily accessible from the most densely populated part of the country. It’s so easy to reach that the trip can be made in a canoe, which means that when Stirling’s convenient plague comes around, there’s almost no way the Islanders would be able to remain isolated.

The thing that made me finally stop reading before I threw the book across the room was the bloody Wiccans. I’ve got nothing against the Faith, but Stirling’s heroine has a plastic Paddy brogue that gets denser and denser the further into the book you get, despite living in America amongst Americans, and any character that starts off making exclamations like “Great Lady!” and “By the Goddess!” needs slapping with the nearest chunky piece of seafood. I get the impression that the only Wiccans Stirling knows are wistful Earth mothers with names like Ariel Moonchild and Faith O’Begorrah.

I’m sure Stirling is a nice person, but by the Cringe is it that hard to do some fact checking?


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