Book Review: Empire (2006)

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Published on: 2010.03.15

Title: Empire
Author: Orson Scott Card
Subject: Polarized “left” and “right” groups in America go to war
Genre: speculative fiction
Publisher: Tor

In a departure from his normal sci-fi fare, author Orson Scott Card in this book explores a possible near-future Second American Civil War, this time between extreme factions of the political “right” and “left” ideologies.

Card is best known for “Ender’s Game” and “Speaker for the Dead,” both of which won sci-fi’s highest awards, the Hugo and the Nebula, making him the only author to ever win both of those awards in consecutive years.

Having read his Ender series, all set far in the future, “Empire” was a nice break. Set in current time, this novel follows U.S. Army Major Reuben Malich and Captain Bartholomew Coleman, as the U.S. falls into a civil war.

Early on, I began to suspect that the idea wasn’t Card’s alone, because a few things didn’t quite fit. Then I found the afterword, where Card says the idea was suggested to him: “The originating premise of this novel did not come from me…”

Apparently, a company called “Chair Entertainment” came up with the idea and Card simply filled in the story and wrote the novel.

The story itself and the characters in it are fully fleshed out in normal Card style. It was the gadgets that didn’t feel Card-like. There are futuristic vehicles — giant robots and hovercycles to name a couple — that felt like they came from a video-game plot. They were also anachronistic, which I didn’t like.

Other than that one weakness, the novel was a fun read, especially Card’s 11-page afterword, where he gives his impression of current American politics.

“When you look at the red-state blue-state division in the past few elections, you get a false impression. The real division is urban, academic, and high-tech counties versus suburban, rural, and conservative Christian counties. How could such widely scattered ‘blue’ centers and such centerless ‘red’ populations ever act in concert?”

These ideas are mentioned by characters in the story as well, and closely resemble my own observations of political division throughout my adulthood.

In the story, Card presents realistic battles fought by believable characters. He also leaves an opening for a sequel, which was written three years later: “Hidden Empire.”

While I might not recommend Empire to the average science fiction fan, or even to the regular Orson Scott Card reader, it’s certainly a worthwhile read, and it’s entertaining. It could also make for some interesting dinner table discussions.

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