Book Bites: S.M. Stirling’s The Change Anthology

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Book Bites is Cooking the Books‘ more easygoing sibling. Authors talk about their book and share a recipe, all in one tasty bite.

S.M. Stirling’s military and adventure science fiction spans numerous series including Shadowspan, Draka, and The Change (Nantucket & Emberverse series) – the latter featuring a world without electricity, internal combustion, and firearms. 

This week, The Change series has a new addition – an anthology featuring stories by authors including Stirling, Harry Turtledove, Jane Lindskold, Walter Jon Williams, and my friend Lauren C. Teffeau.

Knowing there’s often some … interesting cookery within Sterling’s work, I am delighted that S.M. Stirling has joined us today for Book Bites.

Book Bites with S.M. Stirling

The world of The Change starts on March 17th, 1998 (6:15 Pacific Time): all high-energy-density technology stops functioning; guns and other combustion engines, electricity in wires. The consequences are, as they say, drastic! I’ve been writing this series since 2003, and it’s served many purposes — boffo adventure setting, post-apocalyptic ramble, speculations about ethnogenesis and the role of myth, family saga, chance to write Romans vs. Cowboys…

It’s been my most successful work; after the first, Dies the Fire, I’ve been doing about one a year. And the most fun to write; I designed it that way, with ample room to sprawl. As a sign of the latter, it’s now been extended to a shared-world anthology where I contribute a story and a bunch of other writers play in my sandbox. Some are established ones like Diana Paxson and Harry Turtledove; others new, like Lauren Teffeau.

I’ve been accused of writing bits of food porn into most of my books. This series is one where most of the human race starves to death (mostly offstage) in the first year, so I’ll spare you the fights over the last can of dogfood or the cannibal banquets. No Chile Con Hombre. But even in the beginning, the surviving characters do manage to put together an occasional good meal, and enjoy it the more for the rarity and uncertainty.

What the main group are eating right after The Change in Dies the Fire is “anything they can find”, often cooked up in the “eternal soup”, a perpetual boil-up of all ingredients that come to hand, brought to a boil every now and then to keep it from spoiling.

But Juniper Mackenzie, founder of the Clan Mackenzie, manages to find a small herd of sheep for the survivors she brings together around her mountain cabin. Mostly they try very hard -not- to eat the sheep, since they’re the seed of a future flock.

But as anyone who’s dealt with sheep knows, they have a genius for self-destruction, and one of a particularly dense stupidity, known unfondly to its amateur shepherds as “GDLL” (for God-damned Little Lamb) finally manages to elude their vigilance and drown itself.

Since they’re a heavily Celtic-themed group, Juniper being a folk musician and her mother from a Gaelic-speaking part of Ireland, Irish Lamb Stew follows! It’s the high point of the month!

Irish Lamb Stew:

  • Some bacon, the last of your dwindling supply until the pig is old enough, diced
  • Stock from the Eternal Soup (beef stock will do, 4 cups)
  • The God-Damned Little Lamb. 6 lbs boneless shoulder cut into 2-inch pieces, if you’re not desperate and eating the whole thing.
  • Salt
  • Flour
  • Hoarded black pepper, salvaged from abandoned store while dodging cannibals on a foraging trip to town.
  • Several garlic cloves, minced
  • Two teaspoons sugar
  • 4 cups diced carrots
  • 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
  • Potatoes. The Mackenzies throw in all they’ve got; for the 6lb version, 3 will do.
  • Dried thyme, from the same wrecked store you got the pepper.
  • Bay leaves
  • Cup of wine, also looted.

Fry the bacon in a skillet; remove bacon pieces, drain, set aside.

Dredge the lamb in the flour, salt, pepper, toss, brown in skillet with the bacon fat. Remove the meat and put in the stock pot.

Put the onion and garlic in the skillet and cook until the onion is golden. Add about a half-cup of water, scrape with spatula and add to the stock pot with the meat, the stock, bacon pieces, sugar. Simmer for about an hour and a half.

Add the carrots, potatoes, half-teaspoon salt, teaspoon dried thyme, bay leaves, wine, (and if you’re being super-authentic in recreating the Mackenzie feast, whatever other veggies like peas come to hand), reduce heat and simmer until the vegetables are tender.

Serve with that bread made from your first harvest of wheat!


A writer by trade, born in France in 1953 but Canadian by origin and American by naturalization, S.M. Stirling currently lives in New Mexico. He graduated from law school in Canada but had his dorsal fin surgically removed, and published his first novel (Snowbrother) in 1984, going full-time as a writer in 1988, the year of his marriage to Janet Moore of Milford, Massachusetts, who he met, wooed and proposed to at successive World Fantasy Conventions. His latest books are The Golden Princes (September 3rd, 2014), The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth (June 2nd, 2015), an anthology, and The Desert and the Blade, (September 2, 2015) from Roc/Penguin. His hobbies mostly involve reading — history, anthropology,archaeology, and travel, besides fiction — but he also cooks and bakes for fun and food. For twenty years he also pursued the martial arts, until hyperextension injuries convinced him he was in danger of becoming the most deadly cripple in human history. Currently he lives with Janet and the compulsory authorial cats.

S.M. Stirling can be found at smstirling.com and facebook.

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3 comments

  1. Mmm. The recipe sounds fantastic, but I may be biased 😉 Thanks for the post. Now, I’m off to the fields to plant my grain!

  2. […] George R. R. Martin was our host, and he introduced Steve to an enthusiastic crowd, joking that he was confused as to why Steve chose to focus an anthology on menopause. He didn’t, of course. The Change was established in Stirling’s post-apocalyptic novel Dies the Fire, where all electronics, explosives, and internal combustion engines mysteriously cease working and humanity must find a way to survive. Since then, eleven other books have followed, some hitting the New York Times bestsellers’ list. Steve provides a great introduction to his world (and a tasty recipe!) in the Book Bites feature on Fran Wilde’s blog. […]

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