'The Given Sacrifice' by S.M. Stirling


The series started out as pretty hard SF, then gradually moved into a magic and mysticism quest by the third volume. We also have some apparent padding–interminable descriptions of rituals and detailed menus of various feasts which add nothing to the story, but which do add to page count. Only Sterling’s mastery of the medium rescues the series from unreadability, although I confess to some impatience for the hero to die and get the series over with.

Me, I’ll wait for the paper-back before buying the book. It is available in electronic form, but that has zero lendability or resale value, so we’ll stick to hard copy.

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This once great series jumped the shark into religious woo woo a long time back.


Gotta say the Nantucket stories were much better. Tying the later series to the first 3 was a stretch (even if he conceived them as one series) and a mistake on par with Asimov grafting his robot novels to his Foundation series. I had hoped that Nantucket would get explored more, in fact he seemed to set himself up for that with the fleeing of the surviving daughter of Walker to the Russian steppes and/or the crashing of the Nantucket attach dirigible somewhere in the near east hither land. Now it looks we will get more of west coast Emberverse stories. Disappointing to say the least

I assume he didn’t continue the previous series because it wasn’t popular enough or he couldn’t line up anyone to publish it, not because he wasn’t interested in doing so.

Have to agree with the poster and author of the article about preferring the original 3 novels, The first couple of the Emberverse novels were OK but not up the the Nantucket stories.
In my opinion S. M. Stirling is better than the 11 books he has committed to this, at best, YA fantasy.

Like many a series, this one has been overextended.

I’ll throw out the following hypothesis for discussion: No story needs more than three volumes to be satisfactorily told. (By word count, let us say no more than half a million words, max.)

Also much preferred the Island in the Sea of Time universe and wish that continued. Got bored withe the Emberverse a few volumes in, stayed with it a couple more just out of loyalty, and now just don’t care. Agreed with others on too much mysticism in the series annoying me.

I would also prefer that instead of ripping off the Emberverse to create a TV series about humanity without power, NBC ripped off the Nantucket series and send a modern city back in time.

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I’ve enjoyed the Island In The Sea Of Time books, and quite a few other things he’s written, but have never bothered to start this series because I just can’t muster any real interest in a post apocalyptic series set in the ruins of present day America. I keep waiting for him to get back to something interesting.

You must hate virtually every play of Shakespeare.

I read Boyett’s sequel recently. Aside from the idea–the modern world stripped of technology–there’s not much similarity between the two.

Me, I like the Draka series and the Nantucket series. Love the book set in India (Peshawar Lancers). The Fire series started strong through the Protector’s War, then it’s been “vamp till ready” in plot, kinda like Martin’s series has gotten to be.

Bring back the Draka!

On the one hand, I’ll happily read it, on the other, the series needs to end, I want to read something new from him, I’m kind of sick of it at this point.

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Stirling started out strong in the Draka series and with the Nantucket books. But the Emberverse books (and the later Draka series) are just to damn depressing for me to get through.

What I’d really like is another book in the same Universe as “The Peshawar Lancers.” That was a fun read!

All right!

No, you’re the one who said you hadn’t read the book you’re criticizing.

I never said that I hadn’t read Ariel. I read it when it first came out. I read the sequel recently–because it’s only recently come out!

Do I have to diagram the sentences in order to enhance your reading comprehension?

Finally, yes, I compared Stirling to Shakespeare–in the sense that they both have borrowed. As I’m sure you know, Shakespeare wasn’t original in virtually any of his plays–his plots, stories, and characters, as well as many of his famous lines, come from many other writers. But, as you probably hate Shakespeare for borrowing, as you hate Stirling, you probably haven’t read Shakespeare either.


Yeah, but you also accused Stirling of theft, and, it’s obviously not theft, because Ariel is still there.

So why not stop playing around with definitions, and answer the actual point? That artists routinely borrow, steal, or whatever you want to call it, and modify, and advance the ideas of others, and that general ideas aren’t special gems that belong to one person and must never be reproduced or touched by anybody else. Writers rarely create anything completely original, a lot of very good writing comes from writers looking at something and saying, “I’d very much like to play with a similar idea.”

Boyett’s probably done it himself. I don’t know many of the specifics of his fantasy world, but I’m sure he borrowed a few ideas from mythology if nothing else. And for a long time, most fantasy was thinly altered Tolkien ripoffs. Nor is it certain from your description that Stirling is even aware of Ariel. All technology dying is an interesting plot, but it’s not something that couldn’t be invented independently by more than one person (and even if it wasn’t, it can be handled differently by different people). Following that premise:

“The Change” is a fairly obvious way for the people to refer to the event, considering it’s, well, when, things changed. You could call it “The Alteration” I guess (although I sense you’d still use that as evidence where ideas were stolen), or “The Depowering”, or “The Low-Technitude”, but… “The Change” does nicely.

SCA being better equipped to handle the new circumstances than people who have based their lives on technology is also a fairly obvious conclusion. The story is going to focus on those who survive and we’re going to hear their stories more than those who didn’t.

Fortresses become much more important and harder to assault, so villains will tend to use them, and if you want to attack one using modern tactics but no modern technology, a hang-glider is an obvious way to do so.

Even if all of these were directly inspired by the book, I still don’t see a problem (except that he probably should acknowledge the influence, if he remembered he was influenced by it… a lot of influence happens that way, an idea gets to you and you don’t remember exactly where from), but maybe others do, so let’s explore that possibility. Do you have any actual evidence of that, beyond the similarities mentioned? Has S.M. Stirling mentioned reading the novel when he was young, or has somebody snapped a picture of him at home with it on his bookshelf? Is any of the prose or characters lifted from the book? Are there even any other examples, beyond what you mentioned, where there are similar plot elements?

I don’t know. I can’t say one way or the other. Maybe he does reuse other people’s ideas. Generally, I don’t see anything wrong with it as long as he also changes plenty and tries to bring something new to the table. And although the merits of his books are debatable, I think it’s safe to say plenty is changed. You say yourself that Ariel is an outright fantasy, and apparently it’s got unicorns and such (btw, magical creatures coming back to the world? Not the most original idea either! Boyett must have totally stole that idea from Bakshi’s movie Wizards, where faeries and other magical creatures came back after nuclear war destroyed humanity, and just changed a few details. Personally, I don’t see how you can defend such a blatant thief.).

I’m sure Ariel’s a great book, and it’s great to promote it and say it dealt with similar themes earlier. But accusing an artist of wrongdoing is going to need a little more than a few plot elements that happen to be similar, most of which follow fairly logically from the basic premise (else every war movie where a guy gets shot is a potential ripoff of the first movie where that happened).

Still waiting for some evidence that he actually derived the concept from there, instead of coming up with it on his own, or from some other source. When you think about it (and I read somewhere else pointing this out), it’s pretty much the mirror image of his previous series, Island in the Sea of Time: one has a world suddenly gaining a technological leg up thanks the big magical event, the other has a world suddenly regressing in technology thanks to the big magical event. It’s easy to imagine him thinking, “I want to do something about what happened to the Earth Nantucket left behind… hmmm, maybe they’re dealing with kind of the opposite situation, and they’re actually regressing in technology,” and then, once the idea was formed by him, maybe reflecting back on an old story he once enjoyed that also used that premise, and drew some inspiration, while also introducing plenty of elements of his own and a completely different storyline. Hard to say.

Not idiosyncratic at all, as I said, if you’re writing a story where technology fails and people are forced to rely on medieval weaponry, the people who, for a hobby, practice extensively with such weaponry are naturally going to have a leg up on everybody else. If I were writing a story with that premise, it’d be a part of mine, too. Just like it’d be that staying in a huge city immediately after the change would be a deathtrap (apparently, Ariel dispenses with this, by just having most of the population disappear. Fairly significant difference in plots… in addition to the fact that, from what I can tell, Ariel starts many years after their Change, and the Dies the Fire universe follows the characters directly through it, and all the growing pains and learning what works and doesn’t).

Also following fairly logically. You’ve got a defended fortress. You want to get past their defenses without confronting them directly. You’ve got modern inventions, but no modern technology. Slipping in with a hang glider is about your only option aside from a balloon, and balloons are easier to spot and shoot down. And remember, Stirling’s story doesn’t have this additional element of magical creatures that it can ALSO draw on for other options, Boyett’s does. He could have written the attack on the fortress being facilitated by a pegasus. Stirling didn’t have that option.

Can’t speak to the similarities in the characters. Being generous (and, again, it’s not that much of a stretch to a character who is into fantasy in a book where the world is thrust back to medieval tech), and, in my not having read Ariel, I’ll allow for the possibility that maybe they’re pretty much identical in personality and circumstances, including the extensive family ties to many of the other main characters, rather than that they share one particularly notable trait. So, okay, maybe you’ve got ONE point. There are going to be plenty of similarities in any two books, particularly any that share a basic premise. Any others?

Another example of ‘fairly obvious stuff’ is a superior bow (or for that matter, anything) made before the change out of high tech materials, that is now much more valuable because although it still works, it can’t be made any more. Does Ariel have that? I don’t know. But if it did, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. How about a character dying of what is, in the normal world, a fairly easily treatable disease?

How about anything you can point to that’s nearly identical that’s NOT related to the premise?

And you think that when he shamelessly stole a book’s plot without credit, he would attempt to hide it by also using the same subtitle? Ooookay.

None? You don’t think he was influenced by any other books but the one you insist he stole from? If so, he’s incredibly inventive, because, reading a plot synopsis of Ariel, it doesn’t sound anything like Dies the Fire at ALL. For one thing, the Ariel, in Ariel, refers to a freaking UNICORN the main character encounters and befriends and the plot revolves around. I mean, that’s a pretty substantive change. Stirling’s book is mostly how different groups of people survive a changed world build a new society and the politics and conflicts that follow, rather than one man’s coming-of-age adventure with a unicorn through a world that’s already changed many years ago. There’s not even a side character that can’t return home until he kills a dragon, or anything else, in Stirling’s work as far as I read. If Stirling had no other influences, than he’s some idiot-savant font of creativity.

I didn’t know before this conversation, but look what I found in just a few searches:

From http://www.sfreviews.net/boyett_ariel.html:
" (To be fair, Stirling acknowledges the debt, as he offers the new edition its most prominent blurb.)"

and from http://librarydad.blogspot.ca/2010/02/steven-r-boyett-vs-s-m-stirling.html (in the comments, it’s anonymous so it could be bull, but it claims to be Stirling):

“Steve Boyett’s work was one of my inspirations and I’m a great fan of his; that’s why I did a blurb for “Elegy Beach”.”

So, yep, he has given it some kind of acknowledgement, a fairly significant one.

So we’re left with a basic premise that inspired a completely different work that shares a few elements in common. I see no problem here. This is how art happens.

The situations are not at all analogous, considering the paintings in that example are virtually exactly the same in every way. These books are not. See the absence of a unicorn for Exhibit A. A comparable example would be a person like you complaining that that any picture of a spaceship towing an asteroid with some kind of structure on it stole from Chris Foss, even if the spaceship, asteroid, and structure looked nothing alike (except in that spaceships tend to have certain features in common with other spaceships, asteroids with asteroids, and structures with structures), and there was also an alien space battle and black hole. And no, I’d have no problem with that situation (the similarity in concepts that is, I’d think the complainer’s a bit off-kilter). Especially if the artist’s also said, “Yeah, I really liked that Chris Foss painting and I wanted to do something with an inhabited asteroid being towed.”

Inconvenient? No, I’ve seen many times people think that because a few elements are the same, it’s been stolen. Sometimes, as here, I decide to address the stupidity, most times, I ignore it. And sometimes it’s done tongue-in-cheek (heck, I think I did it myself earlier in the thread, with respect to the TV series Revolution, I don’t literally think it was a ripoff), and it’s hard to tell how it’s meant. Frankly, I don’t care. Accusing a writer of theft for using a general idea in a completely different way is a dumb opinion no matter how many people say it, and I didn’t quote it because… it wasn’t relevant. Saying “somebody agrees with my opinion” is a logical fallacy when what we’re discussing is the merits of the opinion itself.

Impressive goalpost shifting. You must be tired lifting and moving them by yourselves. You started arguing it was theft, and that he committed some horrible sin. Have we agreed that’s not the case? So let’s go to “derivative”. Again, no big deal, but, again, we’re only got some slim evidence (the ideas were similar and he acknowledges it as an influence) that he specifically derived the idea from there (as opposed to wanting to work with the idea and once it was set in his mind, remembered another book with a similar idea). Very wishy-washy word, though, “derivative,” it doesn’t really have a single clear meaning when we’re talking about creative work. So please, define exactly how you mean the word.

Someone working in the general area of a previous artist can’t be said to be plagiarizing, just for that fact alone. You have to actually have evidence of plagiarism. He’s acknowledged the book as an influence, there doesn’t seem to be any stolen text that you can point to, nor any ideas that aren’t pretty natural consequences, and the books appear to be extremely different in plot, tone, and characters, ergo, no plagiarism.

Again, jumping from ‘plagiarism’ to ‘derivative.’ Do you feel they’re the same? Because there are plenty of things that are derivative that aren’t plagiarism. By this point, every time travel book is a little derivative (under some definitions of the word). Doesn’t mean they can’t also be fun, enlightening, even a great work of literature, or that the writer’s done something wrong to somebody else. Boyett’s work itself sounds pretty derivative in plenty of areas (he may also be very good, may even be in fact a better writer than Stirling. Derivative isn’t some terrible curse word). It’s not just SOME elements in one book that aren’t in the other… most elements particular to each book aren’t in the other, as far as I’ve seen. You’ve listed a handful of elements they seem to share (some of which I can’t directly dispute due to lack of references), out of two full novels built off a vaguely (but not entirely) similar premise. Those elements that are, are mostly fairly logical consequences of the shared initial conditions and seem to be handled completely differently. That’s normal.

If I was writing a time travel novel, there’s a good chance it’s going to involve somebody deliberately or accidentally changing history (if not, then it’s got something in common with ANOTHER book, and you could accuse it of being derivative of THAT). When that happens, the character is probably going to discover that the time they left is not what they expected. It’s probably going to be worse, in fact, at least for the main character (otherwise, not much conflict, not much story). And he’s probably going to want to undo his mistake. Many of these possibilities are emergent from the general concept. Derivative? Maybe, depending on your definition. But nobody should call me a thief for it. If I were writing a war book, chances are, there’s going to be battles. If it’s a Vietnam book, there’ll probably be a chopper, and people who seem to be villagers on the side of and friendly to the US forces but are REALLY working for the other side. In the vast majority of novels, there’s a love story SOMEWHERE. Your argument is about as ridiculous as saying, “Look, there’s a romance plot in these two books, one must be copying!”

No, I claim that his actual announcement of the debt is his announcement of the debt. The name? Isn’t that original, and that if Stirling had some ill intent, he would have taken efforts to disguise it. Most likely, IMHO? He simply didn’t remember it was used. Maybe he read the book once or twice in the 80s, then twenty years after it first came out he had the idea to do this series, then remembered this book he once enjoyed had a similar premise, and a few of the ideas consciously or unconsciously helped influence him.

I don’t know if that’s the case. Maybe he came up with the idea of Dies the Fire immediately after rereading the book. Considering the books seem to be almost nothing alike, I don’t really care either way.

Did he? Then what was it? Quotes, please. Again, I haven’t read it, and, considering how you seem to think a book about several different large groups of people first surviving and then rebuilding the world after a catastrophe is suffered blatant theft of a coming of age story of a virgin man and a unicorn fighting against a necromancer in a world where magical creatures have returned and 99% of the population has vanished, because of the presence of a hang-glider, I can’t really trust your second-hand impression of things.

Off the hook for what? You haven’t made a case… in fact, you’re not even clear about what you’re accusing him of. You still think it’s “theft”? Or is it just “derivative” (whatever that means)? Do you still think, as you bizarrely claimed earlier, that Ariel is the ONLY influence Stirling had on the Dies the Fire series? Or that Boyett’s influences somehow are okay but Stirling’s evil for his?

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