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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 averts some of these tropes:

  • Arbitrary Maximum Range - Missiles are sometimes even more effective when fired from a very long distance and allowed to cruise up to near relativistic speeds.
    • The key point is sometimes. The defensive systems available mean that shorter range missile fires are generally more effective.
  • Artificial Gravity - None. People stick to the deck, or don't based on how quickly their spaceship is accelerating.
  • Old-School Dogfight - The only use of fighter-sized ships is as low-cost scouts and to maintain real-time control over flights of missiles. The unfortunate pilots piloting these rarely survive a mission.
  • Space Friction - None. Accelerating is easy, it's planning the decelerations and turns that are tricky.
  • Stealth in Space - Occasionally achieved by masking their approach with heaps of explosions, and then it's only temporary.


This work provides examples of:

  • Action Girl - Sula, pinnace pilot and guerrilla fighter
  • 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 very dark shade of gray, in book 3 she even has a clueless superior assassinated to keep her from mucking things up.
  • Bug War - Although the bugs have more personality than usual in this trope, and use the same battle strategies as everyone else.
  • 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.
  • Colonel Kilgore - Caroline Sula
  • 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.
  • Fallen Princess - Lady Caroline Sula, head and only member of the Sula clan.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel - Only possible using wormholes. General ship movements are limited to below the speed of light, with months spent a high levels of acceleration to get up to decent travelling speeds.
  • Feudal Future - The various peer households
  • 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
  • Identical Stranger - There's one in Lady Sula's past.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet - Earth is just some gravity hole somewhere.
  • 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.
  • Mood Whiplash - Martinez and Sula finally getting together
  • 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.
  • Parental Abandonment - Sula, in bloody fashion.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica - Repeatedly attempted against Martinez and Sula
  • Recycled IN SPACE! - Books 1 and 2: A Game of Thrones IN SPAAAACE
    • Book 3: Baghdad in space
  • Secret Identity Identity - Sula / Gredel / Lucy Daubrac / Jill Durmanov / 491 / The White Ghost.
  • Secret-Keeper - Surprisingly, averted. Sula has a very, very big secret that haunts her life, but instead of telling anyone she simply works to erase any evidence.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Space Elevator - By the dozen, connecting entire geosynchronous rings to the surface of numerous planets.
  • Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty - For the peers: Very shiny. For everyone else, not so much.
  • The Alliance - Sort of. It was founded by bombing everyone's planets into submission until they all recognized the might of the Shaa.
  • 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