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The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld: short review - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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September 6th, 2007

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02:22 pm - The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld: short review
After recent discussions of SF both on my lj and on rpg.net, I've decided to try many of the various recommendations. The first to arrive at my local library was The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld. I finished it on Tuesday and ran out yesterday to buy both it and the sequel The Killing of Worlds Thankfully, unlike far too many modern books, it's not part of a series, there are just two books.

I'd read one novel by Scott Westerfeld before, Polymorph, written in 1997, and was deeply unimpressed – it was exceptionally generic cyberpunk with a dull main character and a trite plot. However, it was also his first novel, and he clearly has improved greatly since then. The Risen Empire is a rip-roaring space opera romp that is very much in the tradition of modern space opera – cyborgs, AIs, and an absolutely marvelous and exciting scene that is a battle between dust-size tele-operated probes and dust-sized nano-defenses. This novel is not hard SF – in both tone and details, it's fairly different from the work of various hard SF authors like Alastair Reynolds. However, it's also very much not science fantasy – I consider it Medium-hard SF, along the lines of Brin or Niven's work, but considerably better than most things Niven has written.

Also, and rather unexpectedly, even the worst villains have completely comprehensible motivations, which places it well above many similar novels. Also, by half-way through it was quite clear that the easiest way to tell heroes from villains was that heroes were almost always motivated primarily by love, and this includes some fairly unlikely heroes, including one that initially seemed to be a villain.

Romantic, heroic, modern space opera, with all manner of nifty transhumanist touches... Pretty much exactly the sort of thing I love reading. I haven't had a chance to do more than read the first 20 pages of the sequel, but it looks equally good. Highly recommended!

As a sidenote, a while back amberite mentioned that while the SF genre is not thriving, young adult fiction is doing exceptionally well, and these two books (both written in 2003) were Westerfeld's last adult SF novels. Since then, he'd been a prolific writer, having written 11 YA novels since that time. Such is the way of modern genre publishing.
Current Mood: pleasedpleased

(4 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:September 6th, 2007 10:01 pm (UTC)
Regarding that classification list - didn't Blue Planet have wormhole travel?
[User Picture]
Date:September 6th, 2007 11:06 pm (UTC)
Very true, which should definitely downgrade it to Plausibly Hard. Also, that scale clearly should not be regarded as particularly definitive or rigorous, but I do find it useful for providing fairly general info.
[User Picture]
Date:September 6th, 2007 10:01 pm (UTC)
I liked both "The Risen Empire" and the sequel... they were both slightly harder sci-fi than I usually read, so it took me a long time to get into them, but the characters, amid the nanobots and the rest, remained human enough to be engaging. I liked the sequel better, I think, both because I'd already been introduced to the world and understood it better, and because it includes characters from the other side of the war.
[User Picture]
Date:September 20th, 2007 07:07 pm (UTC)
Hey, thanks for the tip!

My copy arrived from Amazon.co.uk today (From the British Isles to Finland in 3 days, fast!) and the first 50 or so pages have been fun.

Now, I should go to sleep at some point tonight... which might be hard.

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