Reviews: The Course Of Empire

Good ideas, so-so execution.

Well, read the title. This novel succeeds brilliantly as a work of political and military science fiction, but could use some improvement as a work of literature.

The first, and perhaps most important, topic of interest are the jao themselves, as they are some of the most interesting, three-dimensional, alien aliens in literature, while remaining at least somewhat sympathetic. It's clear that lots of work went into imagining what their culture is like, and how it compares to humanity. In fact, most of the jao characters are far, far more interesting than their human counterparts!

Second, the politics and how they are presented to the reader. Aside from a few obnoxious info-dumps of stuff we already know here and there (the jao's constant exclamations of how crazy we are or how evil the ekhat are gets old after a while), this is a triumph, and really draws one into the world of the novel. And the dramatic space battle at the end is amazing, if a bit one-sided in the heroes' favor.

But, unfortunately, we now come to the flaws of the work. The writing just isn't very good in many places. The familiarity of the upper-caste jao with human culture, history, idiomatic language, etc. really does stretch the suspension of disbelief, for one, and while the analogy of jao/human relations to the Romans conquering the Greeks or the Mongols the Chinese is inspired, it gets repeated far, far too often. The action is firmly centered on the U. S., and the rest of the world really doesn't get treated in the best light. The worst bit on lack of subtlety alone is easily the slimy Japanese ambassador trying to re-institute whaling.

And, worst of all, most of the human characters are some combination of flat, static, or just uninteresting. Between the shoehorned romantic subplot that takes up far too much time, the absent-minded professor, and the grumpy rebel mole, all are at least initially annoying, and only Tully, easily the best human character in the work, really gets all that much development or depth.

Again, the ideas are great, and I can recommend the book on them alone. But, outside of the politics and military analyses, the book itself is very hit and miss. At least it doesn't go fully into that Humans Are Special b.s.!