Review: The Risen Empire – Scott Westerfeld

  • Title: The Risen Empire
  • Author: Scott Westerfeld
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Why: Recommended by a friend.
  • Rating: 5 Stars

Description: Captain Laurent Zai of Imperial Frigate Lynx must rescue the Child Empress, sister of the immortal Emperor worshiped by 80 human worlds for 1600 years. The forever young co-ruler has been taken hostage by Rix, machine-augmented humans who worship AI compound minds – cool relentless fanatics bent on domination. Separated by light years, bound by an unlikely love, Zai and pacifist senator Nara Oxham face the Rix and hold the fate of the empire.

Review: Some books take a while to really get going, and some books throw you into the action from page one. This book was one of the latter. It opens with a thrilling space battle with a completely unexpected twist, and had me completely hooked from the get-go.

This is hard science-fiction (as opposed to the science fantasy from authors such as Jack Vance), with space travel at percentage-of-lightspeed, advanced technologies that sound scientific and plausible, and a suitably advanced culture that is completely believable. One of the coolest technologies is the synesthetic implant that everyone receives as standard, and which allows data to be viewed through the other senses a human possesses. Throughout the novel people see the real world in primary sight and have overlays in secondary and sometimes even tertiary sight, and it sounds pretty awesome. I also loved how there are four types of gravity: hard, easy, wicked and lovely. You’ll have to read the book for explanations of how they all work.

At the centre of the novel is the Empire of eighty worlds, ruled by the Risen Emperor and his sister, the Child Empress. The Emperor has done the impossible: he has found a way to conquer death and grant eternal life by means of a symbiotic implant, though this implant only works on dead people. This gift of immortality is controlled by the Emperor, and he has had absolute power over the eighty worlds for sixteen hundred years.

In contrast to this are the Rix, ‘enhanced’ humans who worship their planetary compound minds and wish to seed these AIs on every inhabited planet in the universe. Caught in the middle is Captain Laurent Zai, who is tasked with rescuing the Empress when she is taken hostage by the Rix.

This book has so much going for it that it’s hard to pin it all down. There is a thrilling space battle that takes up a big chunk of the book and at times takes place in microseconds, yet never gets boring. There is a good dose of politics, contrasting the unbending traditionalism of the Risen and their grey worlds with the pinks: those who believe that to be immortal is to be stagnant, and who would take the power away from the Risen. There is romance, in the form of the relationship between Zai and his lover Nara Oxham, a Senator from one of the pink planets. It introduces the concept of the Time Thief, the effect that the military experiences due to travelling throughout the universe at relativistic speeds. In essence this means that if they spend two years travelling at, say, ten percent of the speed of light, ten years may have passed in absolute time. Ten years relative to them could be fifty years absolute, so any family left at home will age and die long before they do.

I usually prefer to read fantasy over sci-fi, but when I do grab a sci-fi novel, this is the kind of novel that does it for me. Gripping from start to finish. I would just like to add one warning: there are two versions of this book available. One is the version I read, which is the whole book. There is also a version which has split this book into two parts, and it is very easy to think that the second part of that is the sequel to this book. It isn’t. This book appears to be a standalone that just ends on a note which feels like there is more to come. In short, if you have a version which is around 700 pages, this is it, and if you have a version of around 300 pages you’ll need to buy the second half.

Originally published on Silk Screen Views: http://silkscreenviews.wordpress.com/2013/12/29/the-risen-empire-scott-westerfeld/

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