Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Risen Empire & The Killing of Worlds by Scott Westerfeld

Having emerged from The Time Traveler's Wife I wanted something entirely different to read. Preferably something with guns and explosions. I ended up nibbling on Scott's books, as when he signed the first he wrote, 'within these pages you'll find all the action scenes you'll ever need'. (For his week at Clarion South, I wrote an unbalanced action piece that broke my brain.) With a promise like that, I couldn't go wrong.

(I feel I should apologise for any typos. I'm making a lot more than I normally do. Tired.)

I don't know that I've read much space opera previously. Maxine McArthur's books and those Star Wars ones, and that's pretty much the sum total. I think, all things considering, I could get really obsessive about space opera. One of the reasons I haven't read much science fiction is the vague menace of hard science - I don't have a scientifically wired mind, and I hate the idea of not getting the central conceit of a book. That, and I have a quite loathing of physics. Space opera isn't so much science, as stories in a science fiction setting. I hope that makes sense. My own brain isn't making sense. Regardless, these books didn't intimidate me, which is just what I wanted.

The Risen Empire was founded around 5000 years ago, and for its duration has only had the one immortal Emperor, he who defeated the Old Enemy, Death. Those deemed worth, those of influential families, those who died in combat are given the symbiant which returns them to life, and grants them immortality. The social implications of having previous generations hang around and retain the balance of power and wealth are amazing, and as much as I liked the guns and explosions, exploring the fallout of such a civilisation was fascinating. It stagnates as the living bow beneath the dead. New ideas can't take hold, progress stops because those who cling to the old ideas are those in power, are those who will not die and thus step aside. It's horrifyingly stifling.

However, mostly I find the idea of living forever horrible, and not something I will even wish for. Ugh.

The kick off sees the Child Empress, the Emperor's sister, hostage in her own palace. Warriors from the Rix cult are holding her to ransom, threatening to kill her if imperial forces attempt to interfer with the seeding of a compound mind in the planet's infrastructure. An AI the size of a planet wakes up. Captain Zai has the impossible task of rescuing the Child Empress from the bridge of the Lynx high above the planet, and it all spirals out of control from there.

There have been very few scenes in books that have started my heart thumping and got the adrenaline going. In fact, I think the scene with the rail gun is the only time I've ever reached the end of a chapter in a book, looked up, and said "Holy cow. That was cool." And that is impressive.

Most of all, from reading these books I learned how to balance action in writing, something I wasn't aware of with my week six story. In real time, action does go indefinitely, but the reader doesn't. The reader needs regular breaks to step back and take a breath. This doesn't necessarily mean that the character in the thick of it gets to (oh no, that would be easy). In this case, Scott used flash backs exceptionally well. I quite liked the House Mind, and was waiting for it to single-handedly taken on and thwart the Compund Mind.

That said, I got to the end, and something very large was missing. Tying up of ends? What happened to Alexander? I mean, it's kind of big and creepy...I guess I'll live not knowing the answer.

I know this vedict doesn't really say anything, but the wiring in my brain is kind of faulty right now.

Verdict: All the action scenes you'll ever want, and some damn cool shit to boot.


  1. For a more positive view on a society of immortals, try Robert Reed's Marrow / The Well of Stars - the latter in particular has a few good depictions. (Not hard science fiction either.)
    Mentioning this because just the other day I was reading that and thinking I could actually see myself live forever like that and liking it.

  2. Scott Westerfeld, eh?

    I must look him up now.

  3. the idea of living for a long long time isn't that bad if you bloody stay 20 and kill anyone who thinks you are older than that.....

  4. Sikkukkut10/8/05 12:55

    Speaking as someone who can no longer pass for 20 I believe I'll pass on that idea.