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Literature / Dread Empire's Fall

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A fairly hard space opera trilogy by Walter Jon Williams, comprising The Praxis (2002), The Sundering (2003), and Conventions of War (2005).

Dread Empire's Fall is set in the far future. For thousands of years, a large interstellar empire comprising of all known intelligent life forms has been ruled over in a strict hierarchical manner by the Shaa. At the opening of the first novel in the trilogy the Shaa are all but extinct - having chosen to commit suicide out of boredom. The aristocrats responsible for running the Empire are seemingly more concerned with lining their own pockets and the whole edifice starts to crumble fairly quickly with Civil War breaking out shortly after the last master is interred.

The plot follows the progress of Lord Gareth Martinez, an ambitious space navy officer always looking out for advancement and Lady Caroline Sula, a cadet in the same navy mostly looking to protect her deep dark secrets.

A one off story covering Sula's time on Earth after the war,Impersonations (2016), was followed by a new series starting with The Accidental War (2018).

Has nothing to do with Dread Empire, a dark High Fantasy series by Glen Cook.


This work provides examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: The Lady Sula is an amoral sociopath who nevertheless rises to be a hero of the empire. You frequently sympathize with her, but at times she's indistinguishable from a Villain Protagonist.
  • Artistic License Physics:
    • Fleets remain in stellar orbit for weeks or months at a time, accelerating to a large fraction of the speed of light before going through wormholes. The problem is, the ships would quickly exceed a star's escape velocity and fly off into interstellar space unless they divert much of their thrust into maintaining a circular path around the star.
    • Furthermore, the reason fleets accelerate to large fractions of c in the first place is a tactical doctrine that "superior speed confers superior maneuverability" in the battle that follows. That only makes sense if you assume that the spaceships steer using keels and rudders — a sort of transverse-only Space Friction.
  • Artistic License Space: The Protipanu system's brown dwarf actually should be a white dwarf. It's described as being the remains of a star that was once a red giant. That would be a white dwarf, which is the compact remains of a star's core. A brown dwarf is a failed star that's too small to have ever supported sustained nuclear fusion.
  • Battle Butler: Martinez tends to hire experienced soldiers or engineers to serve as his servants.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality:
    • Gray - Martinez is willing to compromise a lot for his ambition.
    • Sula comes in at a very dark shade of gray, in book 3 she even has a clueless superior assassinated to keep her from mucking things up.
  • Crapsack World: Somewhat. The Empire is definitely a dictatorship, but a rather old, lazy dictatorship. Criminals are punished extremely harshly, but they tend not to bother the average citizens too much.
  • Censorship Bureau: Everything sent electronically is censored. Everything. General media censorship is used so the populace doesn't panic. Or at least not in "unprofitable" ways.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Ambitious slum girl Gredel meets her Identical Stranger, aristocratic waster Caroline Sula. After Sula's death, Gredel steals her identity, and becomes an officer cadet.
  • Did Not Get The Guy: Sula and Ramirez never repair their romantic relationship, and he gets married for political reasons.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: 24hour punishment channel show the sort of things that are meted out to even only mildly nasty criminals. There's also a quick mention of the bombing of an entire planet in retribution for a few inhabitants investigating forbidden knowledge.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Only possible using wormholes. General ship movements are limited to below the speed of light, with months spent a high level of acceleration to get up to decent travelling speeds.
  • Handsome Lech: While Martinez isn't exactly a pervert, for a protagonist he's surprisingly willing to hit on any attractive women he meets.
  • Hypocrite: Sula sulks about government abandoning the capital when she is the one who came up with the plan
  • Impoverished Patrician: Lady Caroline Sula. Before their downfall, her family was much richer. She's by no means poor by most people's standards, but she's nowhere near the level of other Peers.
  • Last of His Kind: At the beginning of the series, only one Shaa is left alive. His death spurs the beginnings of the civil war.
  • New Meat: Basically everyone at the start of the series, both good and bad guys. The Empire's only had 3 days of war in its history, and that was a few thousand years ago. The Shaa's technology was so advanced they had nobody who could put up a real fight, and therefore their only practice was drills.
  • Recycled In SPACE:
    • Books 1 and 2: A Game of Thrones IN SPAAAACE
    • Book 3: Baghdad in space
    • Books 4-6: The end of Republican Rome...IN SPAAACE
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Martinez's eventual wife, Terza Chen. She always bends to the will of her father and (arranged) husband but proves to be very shrewd in advancing her and her family's interests. On rare occasions Martinez sees "an intensity that bordered on ferocity" under her tranquil veneer. At the end of Book Six, we finally get some of her POV...and she's not the helpless victim of her family's ambition and greed that Martinez thinks she is.
  • State Sec: Complete with their own custom all-black vehicles, all-black weapons, and all-black armor. Although extremely vicious, they mostly seem to police things like organized crime and gang violence.
  • Vestigial Empire: The Shaa Empire. It died with the last Shaa, but it left a wormhole infrastructure, a space navy, and lots of ambitious nobles.
  • While Rome Burns: Large parts of the Peer (aristocrat) class. Who cares about the war as long as there are lots of parties and money to be made.
  • You Are in Command Now: Martinez ends up commanding a ship after all other officers are ambushed during a shore leave. He gleefully milks his inherited authority for everything it's worth.
  • Zero-G Spot: There are "recreation tubes" for Terran inhabitants of their starships. They work for up to two occupants and presumably have versions for all of the species that could be crewing their ships.

Alternative Title(s): The Praxis, Conventions Of War

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