Monday, November 26, 2007

Risen Empire

Space opera is the form of science fiction that most people associate with all of science fiction. In movies like Star Wars, the emphasis is on adventure over scientific correctness. The emphasis is on story-telling rather than the exploration of science and the social ramifications of technological change. Space opera of the more epic sort, from the likes of Hamilton, Reynolds and Banks, tends to focus on periods of great galactic crisis where the fates of entire solar systems are in the balance.

Scott Westerfeld's epic space opera The Risen Empire moves away from the bloat of recent space opera novels delivering a brisk adventure story set a few thousand years from now. The titular Risen Empire is one of a number of intersolar polities that sprang up from Earth. The Empire's greatest foe is the Rix, humans that serve planet wide AIs and eventually become one with some kind of datasphere. The Risen Empire is run by a immortal emperor, such technology coming from symbiosis with exotic biotechnology. The Empire rewards loyalists with a form of immortality as well.

The story is broken into an action segment involving a hostage rescue that requires all sorts of advanced technology and a political story in which the background of the world is developed. Westerfeld develops a number of cool weapons and intelligence systems. Many of these seem like extreme developments of weapon systems we see today. The political story is a bit less interesting, but provides enriching context.

The downside of the slimmed down approach is that the world creation is limited. We learn about a variety of political parties and a few civilizations, but the background is limited. Some authors take this too far, but I think Westerfeld under does it.

Another more serious issue is that this book is really Part 1 of a single book. The story ends with major actions about to commence. There is nothing wrong with this, but it should be more clear. The Reality Dysfunction was split in two, but this made apparent by the Part I and Part II in the titles.

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