Monday, March 24, 2008

Dread Empire's Fall

OK, it has been a while since i actually did a three update week, but I swear that I am going to get back into the habit of doing this the right way.

Recently I had the opportunity to read through the current three novels of Walter John Williams' Science Fiction series Dread Empire's Fall. These books have been winking at me from the shelves of teh Science Fiction section for a while now, but I have been hesitant to pick them up, if only becuase I did not want to fall into another giant SF series. Luckily for me, I bought the first two books at Borders in Wayne during their store closing sale.

The series takes place about ten thousand years from now. Humans and several alien species have been living under the rule of an alien species calle the Shaa for milennia. Any sources of innovation and free thought have been ruthlessly suppressed for generations, and the Shaa have employed horrific weapons to ensure the continued obedience and loyalty of their servant species. Over the Empire's 12,000 years, the ideals of the Shaa, as embodied in a document of law called the Praxis, have become the ideals of the client species. Unfortunately, the last of the Shaa has decided to end its immortal life (presumably the rest of the Shaa had done so over the course of time leading up to this point).

The problem is that the Empire is kind of like a bonsai tree, and has been shaped and molded to the specifications of the Shaa over many generations. The vacuum of power left behind by the last Shaa has been filled by the bureaucratic Convocation of Peers, who rule as any collective would. one of the client races, the Naxids, decides that it is up to them to restore a proper heirarcy with one species on top, taking the place of the Shaa in the Empire. As they were the first conquered species, the Naxids decide that they are best equipped to run the Empire.

This series follows the course of the Rebellion of the Naxids and the careers of several very interesting characters. All of the story is told following the exploits of Gareth Martinez, younger son of a very welathy, but not prestigious family of Peers from the Empire's furthest provinces, and his on-again off-again lover Caoline, Lady Sula, last survivor of the high ranking Sula clan, whose Peerage is second only to two or three other families of humans. The rub is that Sula is not quite whom she says she is, and Gareth is an overly romantic fellow who does not understand the problems that the Lady Sula seems to have with their relationship. Set against the backdrop of this vast war (which is the first war ever fought between fleet of similar technology as well as the first combat that the fleet has seen in over 1000 years), the romance, politics, and interpersonal maneuvering make this series really stand out.

Throughout the series we watch as the political wrangling of the Convocation, which is attempting to run the war themselves, and whose armchair general practices lead the Empire into blunder after blunder, and we can see exactly how the galaxy has come to this dreadful pass. Through the techings of the Praxis, everyone knows that one the tried and true ideas of old are worthwhile and practicable, and thus the tactical innovations practiced by Lord Martinez and Lady Sula are looked at with disdain as being one step short of heresy. It is interesting to watch as the political interplay unfolds in the story, and how the characters are treated by an Empire that should be very grateful to have their service.

I tore through these books very quickly, and that is a testament to how much I enjoyed them as well as the ease and accessability of the writing. Walter John Williams has done an excellent job, and I look forward to reading some of his other works when I have some more time.

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