Monday, February 24, 2014

Emberverse Fan-Fiction: Storm Surge

Here's another piece of interesting fan-fiction, courtesy of my alternate-history forum. It's called "Storm Surge" and it's set during the events of S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire, whose fictional world has come to be called the Emberverse.

On the forum there were some people who disagreed with Stirling's decision to have the local military in the Pacific Northwest basically march into Seattle and die in a futile attempt to maintain order as civilization collapsed, if that indeed was the case.

(I vaguely remember a reference to General Thurston, the leader of the "United States of Boise" at the very least getting his family out of Seattle, so some of them might've ended up there. Getting through the mountains in the middle of that kind of insanity seems like a really dicey proposition though.)

One of the people said that the survivors of Fort Lewis, if they managed to keep themselves organized and establish some kind of safe haven in the aftermath the way those who became Clan McKenzie did, would become a deadly enemy for Big Bad Norman Arminger and his nascent neo-Norman regime in Portland...which is why Stirling basically had them die.

One of my personal philosophies is that anybody can complain, but coming up with a viable alternative is more difficult. In this case, the fellow whose handle is GovernorGeneral decided to take up the challenge and wrote the tale of how a couple brigades at Ft. Lewis rescued some elements of Washington's legal government and established an enclave centered on Aberdeen that's taken control of a substantial chunk of western Washington, an enclave that as of the last update has attracted the attention of Arminger's "Grand Baron" Eddie Liu...

It's a pretty good story so far. I'd like some more description of the scenery and characters since none of them (besides Eddie) are from the books and thus none of the readers would know what they look like.


  1. Basically, not many of the American military in the Emberverse survive because I assumed that they'd take their duty and their oaths very seriously indeed.

    The downside of this is that it means trying to save large numbers of people who simply cannot be saved; they're attempting the impossible. The metropolitan centers are a problem without a solution.

    Also, of course, one of the themes of the series is that "when the going gets weird, the weird get going".

    Perhaps the most essential survival trait, beyond sheer luck, is the psychological willingness to accept that the Change is worldwide and permanent.

    This is not an easy or straightforward realization, particularly with the total absence of long-distance communications. It requires a certain detachment from consensus reality to begin with.

  2. Thanks for commenting Mr. Stirling.

    This issue has been discussed on before and your solution (or lack thereof) has come up--rather than kill thousands to save tens of thousands (Arminger in Portland, the British remnant on the Isle of Wight, the Seventy Loyal Men protecting the infant Empress-to-be) or act like selfish little warlords going barbarian at first opportunity (the stereotypical portrayal of military guys in movies), they'd try to save everybody and fail miserably.

    How did Thurston pull Boise through? It's been a long time since I've read the Sunrise Lands trilogy and I don't remember it being discussed in detail.

  3. In the case of the British they have the advantage that longstanding plans exist (originally developed as nuclear war scenarios) which anticipated that it would be impossible to prevent a mass die-off, especially in urban areas, and that only a small minority of the population could be preserved. Their military is familiar with that contingency planning and there's legislation available that can be immediately plugged in.

    This is a major psychological advantage because it makes it much more likely that radical, vigorous action will be taken at once.

    Thurston preserves Boise by taking the right decisions: he's originally sent there to scout out what's happening, sees enough on his way there that he forms an accurate appraisal of the situaiton, and goes back for his family. By the time he returns to Boise things are on the verge of total chaos, and he more or less falls into the leadership role because he knows what has to be done.

    Boise and the and surrounding area is a problem with a solution, albeit one requiring drastic, ruthless action be taken fairly quickly.

    Idaho, or more specifically southern and western central Idaho, have a low enough population density and a large enough supply of food in 1998 that provided they make the right choices they can pull through with only "modest" excess mortality.

    The post-Change world can be divided into several distinct categories:

    a) areas that are utterly without hope -- Southern California, the East Coast megalopolis, most of Europe, the main islands of Japan, the Levant and the Gulf, really big cities everywhere and their immediate surroundings.

    In these areas, the only way to survive is to run like hell right away, or to find someplace really secure to hide.

    b) Areas where survival is possible -if- and only if everything is done exactly right and done quickly. (Eg., the Isle of Wight situation in England.)

    I'm assuming there would be some of these, but not all that many. It requires flipping heads ten times in a row.

    Boise and surrounds are a borderline case between this and:

    c) Areas which will have some mortality, depending on how well people get their act together, but don't require superhuman prescience and ability (eg., Iowa), and

    d) Areas which require only a modicum of common sense for large-scale survival. (Most of the more remote parts of the Upper Midwest, for example, or big chunks of the Australian outback, some Latin American hinterlands, or in the case of truly primitive zones places like the interior of New Guinea or Bhutan or southern Ethiopia or the Haud.)

    Then there are the statistical outliers, the freak accidents.

    New Singapore is one; the urban population of Singapore manages to evacuate and march up the Malay Peninsula to the rice-producing areas, hoovering up all the useful supplies along the way. -Somebody- had to be spectacularly fortunate and have everything fall their way.

    Western Oregon is a mixture of people doing the right thing and luck.

    Arminger drives out a big chunk of the population of Greater Portland, and a lot of them (and people form Eugene and other towns) concentrate around Salem.

    The State government attempts to feed the refugees around Salem, because the nascent PPA seizes the Columbia Valley and the large-scale food supplies stored there.

    The result is a large population weakened by hunger in badly-managed, insanitary refugee shantytowns, and then the camps are hit by epidemics of everything from cholera to the Black Death.

    (Plague is endemic in various rodents in the area. Plague in its pneumonic form is unbelievably contagious and virulent. Mortality without early, aggressive treatment approaches 100% and it can kill in less than a day. For various reasons medical care fails abysmally, even worse than the circumstances make unavoidable.)

    That gets completely out of hand and nearly everyone in the Willamette Valley dies except communities which manage to enforce quarantine.

  4. Hmm...have you considered a Boise novel or novella? The Star Wars EU and Brian Herbert have churned out a lot of "interquels" that fill out the story, plus George RR Martin has written a novella set during the "Dance of Dragons" civil war for the DANGEROUS WOMEN anthology.

    (IIRC you've got a story in there too, so I imagine you've read it.)

    Not only would your hard-core Emberverse fans love it, but Boise seems to be the major area where people remembered they were a Americans, even Thurston's treacherous son who wanted his own son to have an empire "from sea to shining sea." Other than that PPA yeomen who helped the allies during the War of the Eye, it seems most people in the PNW drank the "THE USA IS DEAD" Kool-Aid pretty quickly. Depicting the area where things went differently would appeal to the skeptics on top of the hard-core fans.

  5. I designed the Emberverse to have a lot of space for books. OTOH, I can only write about one a year without pushing things harder than I prefer, so I have to prioritize. I'm editing a shared-world anthology of Change stories, titled with stunning originality THE CHANGE, which will cover a lot of areas not dealt with in the mainline books.

  6. As for the Kool-Aid, I was assuming that the horrible and sudden death of 95% of the population and the change in physical laws would result in a bit of psychological dislocation... 8-).

  7. Hence the general phenomenon of utter nutters (and/or the totally ruthless) coming to dominate many post-Change communities.

    "When the going gets weird, the weird get going", as one character remarks.

    This effect is magnified by the aforementioned psychological dislocation. Previous ideologies and worldviews (especially scientistic rationalism and its associates) are largely discredited and people are open to reorientation towards the obsessions of whatever charismatic and effective fruitloop rises to the top locally.

    It's a world suffering from mass PTSD in various forms.

  8. Mass PTSD? So everybody, especially the leadership, is insane?

    Oh my.

  9. Check out the fanfiction of Steve's web site for stories of what went on elsewhere during and after the Change. Dale Cozart has two excellent shorts set in Illinois, I wrote a trilogy set in Colorado, and there are tales set in other places as well at different points in time.

  10. I read your Colorado story and enjoyed it. I'm pretty sure I remembered participating in some discussion on the Facebook group at least.

    Haven't read the Illinois ones though...

  11. The issue with the military personnel (many, not all) basically going down with the ship trying to save people in the cities is...well, the first duty of a military commander is to preserve his/her Command. If you lose your troops, you can't do anything at all.
    Sometime on the third or fourth day, which is about how long it will take to assemble a battle staff out of the officers within reach, the leaders will look at the urban areas and write them off. They are self-evidently non-salvageable. At that point, the military organizations begin to look to their own survival and that of their dependents.
    Also, with a handful of exceptions (mostly on the West Coast), very few major military installations are within (post-Change) operational distance of any urban center. Lots of troops are based out in the capital-R Rural areas.
    The canon idea that most military units just died in's necessary for some of the dramatic choices the Author wanted to pursue, so not really a problem...but it's not exactly realistic.

    My $0.02

  12. To be fair, most of the series takes place on the West Coast. San Diego is pretty much doomed and if Ft. Lewis's commanders make some poor decisions about saving people vs. preserving their command, proto-Montival isn't going to run into any major military people for awhile.

    In any event, I think there's some Emberverse fan-fic (that, per the Man Himself is canonical) depicting surviving military formations in Italy ("Luke Hutton's Journey") and I think in Kentucky (it's called "the New 10,000" or something like that).

  13. Most American military bases (the ones with large troop allotments) and unfortunately within the Death Zones of major American cities. California, Texas, North Carolina, etc etc all end up as Death Zones from sheer overpopulation relative to the food supply. It is certainly possible that a military unit was the last organized body of survivors in such places, but so what? They are still stuck in a food desert and must make a herculean effort to get elsewhere. That has to cost significant losses in manpower. I postulated in my Colorado change stories (but haven't written up the tale yet) that the Fort Carson commander realizes on Day 3 that Colorado Springs cannot be saved, and begins the evacuation of the Fort down into the Lower Arkansas valley between Rocky Ford and Lamar, CO. The result becomes what is later referred to as 'The Army in the Arkansas'. Counting the local population, they manage to bring almost 40,000 people through the Change (after some bad disease outbreaks and near-famine). But they simply don't matter to Stirling's Emberverse stories; they are too far away from all the action, and their ability to project power is severely handicapped by holding a territory with no natural defensive boundaries and the consequent need to protect against potential hostiles on all sides. By CY 20 they can field an army of 10,000 men - but they can't send it anywhere without deadly risk to their left-behind homeland. I suspect the same happens to the survivors of other bases, say Fort Wood or Fort Hood or Fort Drum. There are probably still organized descendants there or nearby, but they cannot be germane to Stirling's story-arc because 1) they are not in the path of any of its events, and 2) they can't project their military power very far from their bases (or at least, not far enough to interfere significantly in the stories).

  14. Peter Sartucci, author of "Firebreak"? Awesome. Thanks for commenting.

    About surviving soldiers from Fort Drum, Rudi and his friends on the Quest could have run into them, or the Norrheimers could have mentioned them as an enemy (they might object to the whole "Land-Taking" thing). Given how this didn't happen, I would imagine Ft. Drum went down or the soldiers went elsewhere. The battles with the Bekwa and CUT sounded like something so big it's likely some hypothetical "United States of Watertown" would have taken notice.

    I'd definitely like to read a story about "the Army of the Arkansas" (that'd be their name if they use Civil War type nomenclature like "Army of the Potomac") and whatever they got into after the Change.

  15. Matt, I'd love to write the tale of The Army In The Arkansas, but I have other fish to fry and must earn a living too, so it'll be a few years before I get the proverbial 'Round Tuit'. Sorry - if you can arrange for me to win a big lottery then I'll have a lot more writing time and can accelerate that schedule. :-)

  16. I've never understood why the whole of the south became a dead zone im from the south central Florida to be exact and I've seen places that are very isolated but large enough population centers to matter there some place in the rural areas of the south that didn't get electricity til the 90s and the people are very clanish in nature very inslurar they all more or less know how to hunt fish and farm at least in the form of small gardens in their backrard my own grandmother does that or mabye one of the ten thousand islands off the coast Florida what other people call the Florida Keys would survive

  17. or some of the gulah people in Georgia who are people desendents of African slaves who have retained much of their African heritage such as in their language which is a form of English that has many African lonword the grammar and sentence structure is African in origin and they are famous for their skills in fox huntig and widely considered to be some of the best in the world surely due to their isolation and skills at least some of them would have survived the change

  18. Stirling himself might show up at some point, but in case he doesn't, I think he said in the Facebook group that although the South is more rural, it's no longer self-supporting. He used a specific term for it that I can't remember.

    (He said if the Change happened in the 1960s, the South would have survived.)

    Plus I think the "Death Zone" on the map might be what the Montival people know about--apparently there was a mini-PPA survivor society in California discovered after the Prophet's War and before the events of A GOLDEN PRINCESS. I don't think the Norse-pagan survivors in Maine were on the initial map, nor were the Morrowland Scouts or Jake Sunna Jake's band. A cluster of survivors in the interior of central Florida would fall under that category, frex.

    Furthermore, even rural groups that could have survived on their own might be overrun by hordes from elsewhere. The gullah might go down beneath the starving of St. Simons and Charleston, frex. Depending on the roads and weather, Orlando could be a problem for the rural Floridians.

  19. Most liberals would kill each other (like in BLM protests where they trash their neighborhoods and tax payers foot the bill) but in this case like being on Opioid.

    so in this kind of scenario they will get weeded out pretty quickly by those who actually know survival skills and are not dependent on government help.

    The Quakers or actually called (Friends) as Quaker is an insult would most likely make it the most though some would die off initially until they learn not to be pushed around by foes as they don't believe in self defense usually and they won't be able to distinguish lacking the spiritual conviction. It's good at times to have a no nonsense attitude.