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Claude Lalumiere's Fantastic Fiction
The Risen Empire

by Scott Westerfeld

(Tor, $24.95, 304 pages, hardcover; published in March 2003.)

In the far future, there's a war brewing in an interstellar empire. The tyrannical Risen cover scanEmpire, ruled by a caste of scientifically created immortals with divine pretensions, is being undermined by the Rix, a terrorist group that worships sentient artificial intelligences.

Scott Westerfeld's fourth novel, The Risen Empire, is the first of a two-book series called Succession. It's a space opera played on a grand stage against an admirably complex political backdrop, but the execution doesn't do the premise justice.

The Risen Empire borrows too transparently from George Lucas's Star Wars and, to a lesser degree, Frank Herbert's Dune, giving this enterprise a much too familiar aura. Westerfeld's previous novel, Evolution's Darling, also wore its influences on its sleeve, but in that case Westerfeld seemed to be striving for a bold new synthesis, while in The Risen Empire it feels like he's using second-hand ideas.

This new novel reads more like an outline than a finished book. The characters and relationships are purely functional, and thus often unbelievable. This functionality is emphasized by Westerfeld's choice to title sub-chapters after the focus character's role (Captain, Senator, and so on). The prose is sober and colourless to a fault, describing in a flat monotone and in minute detail an endless series of military operations.

The result is a cold and uninvolving read, bereft of emotion and excitement. The Risen Empire's plot structure is all too transparent, driven by too many contrived cliffhangers. In fact, the book ends on a cliffhanger.

Westerfeld's world is carefully imagined, but his purpose remains, at best, vague. This whole novel ends up feeling like nothing more than a prologue, but not one enticing enough to make this reader want to stick around for the main feature.

Originally published in
The Montreal Gazette, Saturday, 19 July 2003.

Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction is a series of
capsule reviews first published in the Saturday Books
section of The Montreal Gazette.

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