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Scott Westerfeld – The Risen Empire

February 3, 2009

13. The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld (2003)
Succession, Book 1

Length: 350 pages

Genre: Science Fiction

Started: 30 January 2009
Finished: 01 February 2009

How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 04 December 2008
Verdict? Erm… unclear. Keeper at least until I see if any of my habitual book-borrowers are interested in it.

Immortal rulers,
AI, nanobots, and more
in this space opera.

Many thanks to the wonderful Dot Lin of Tor Books for sending me this book!

Summary: In the Risen Empire, immortality is a matter of course for the wealthy and powerful. Sixteen hundred years ago, the Emperor invented a form of life-after-death, and has since ruled the eighty worlds of his empire, along with a caste of similarly immortal nobles and military elites. However, the borders of his empire are threatened by the Rix cult, a group of fanatics who worship compound minds: AI developed from the computing power of entire planets. When the Rix take the sister of the Emperor hostage, in order to plant a compound mind on her planet, the situation becomes critical. Laurent Zai, the captain of a small Imperial frigate, is tasked with rescuing the hostages – a mission which, if he fails, will result in an Error of Blood and his own ritual suicide. Back on the Emperor’s homeworld, Senator Nara Oxham must do her best to keep the situation from escalating into full-blown war. But neither of them can know the secret plans of the Rix – nor the secret that Emperor will risk anything to protect.

Review: Although I generally prefer fantasy when it comes to my speculative fiction, I’m not opposed to sci-fi. Far from it, in fact: Ray Bradbury was (is) one of my favorite authors, and don’t even get me started on how much I love Battlestar Galactica (or, what the hell, do get me started. I’ll happily yammer on about it for hours if I’ve got a willing audience.) However, taking a critical eye to the situation, the sci-fi I love all has one thing in common: it’s less about the science and more about the fiction. Humans are more interesting than technology, characters over plot, again and again.

And Westerfeld’s book does have some very interesting human moments; there are several scenes that were genuinely and unexpectedly moving. Unfortunately, his characters tend to get swamped out by an overwhelming preponderance of technobabble. It’s imaginative, consistent, and plausible technobabble, but there’s only so much talk of AI and nanomachines and synesthetic viewscreens that I can deal with in one sitting. It’s a shame, too, because Westerfeld clearly knows his stuff, and has shown in other books that he knows how to balance technology and character: I really enjoyed the Uglies series, and Peeps is one of the best blendings of science and story that I’ve ever read. I find it interesting, though, that in a story whose main theme seems to be the interplay of technology and humanity – how much machine can you put into a human before they stop being human, how much humanity do you have to give a machine before it stops being a machine – that the human element loses out to the technology in the storytelling. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I’ll be reading the sequel, The Killing of Worlds, since The Risen Empire ends without resolving anything and with a MAJOR cliffhanger. (Apparently this is one of those cases where the series was written as a single book but split into two by the publisher.) Still, I think this book would be best for those who enjoy technological/military sci-fi; those of us who prefer the focus on the characters might want to look elsewhere – or else be good at skimming through the tech talk.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings has a nice post featuring Stephan Martiniere, the cover artist – who also did the cover art for Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris!

Other Reviews: Once again, I couldn’t find any. Do you have one I missed? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: The five small craft passed from shadow, emerging with the suddenness of coins thrown into sunlight.


  • p. 110: “None of the small, whining Rix projectiles had hit Bassiritz, nor had they, by the celeritous standards of the event, even come close.” – swift, speedy.
  • p. 126: “The seed braked its fall with a long, black drogue chute made of smart carbon fibers and exotic alloys, rolling to a stop in the soft five-meter snows that shouldered the chosen peak.” – a parachute used to slow a vehicle or aircraft. (Same as a drag chute. I kind of figured that’s what it was.)
  • p. 197: “She was glad to reach the council chamber, if only to escape the chilly umbra of the man’s psychic absence.” – the invariable or characteristic accompaniment or companion of a person or thing; also shade, shadow.
  • p. 258: “She could smell them, hear the phatic chatter of their mouths, feel their handiwork in the bulbous curves and plush textures of this supposedly luxurious cabin, informed by the extravagant concept of privacy.” – denoting speech used to express or create an atmosphere of shared feelings, goodwill, or sociability rather than to impart information
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