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Literature / Orson Scott Card's Empire

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Hey, are those Scorpion tanks?

Empire is actually about tolerance and has been attacked by the intolerant for being so right-wing, which it absolutely is not. It would be funny if it weren't so frustrating.
Orson Scott Card

A 2006 What If? novel by Orson Scott Card, telling the story of Major Reuben "Rube" Malich and Captain Bartholomew Coleman, who get caught up right in the middle of the next American Civil War - the war between the Left and the Right. Takes place in the same universe as the game Shadow Complex. Card was hired to write a story for the game, about a second Civil War, and the authors got more than they bargained for. Card takes a very serious look at the rising extremism and political tensions in modern America and extrapolates them to their logical conclusion: when both sides toss around enough "they're going to destroy our way of life" rhetoric, someone on one side will start shooting, and then it becomes a matter of self-defense for everyone involved. This has actually happened before, in several parts of the world, in the last couple decades, and Empire is the story of how it could happen in the 21st-century United States.

It was followed with Hidden Empire in late 2009.


  • 20 Minutes into the Future: It's today… except with Mini-Mecha, Powered Armor, hovercraft, etc...
    • Also, there's no specific mention of who the President and other political figures are except by allusion. This keeps the book from being dated.
    • Literally, it's 2008, about two years after the book was published. This is clued in not only by clear call-outs to modern devices and cars, but also to then-current Senators and specific calendar dates (the Friday 13th mentioned in the book fits with the calendar alignment) and the election cycle. Which brings up the question of why they assassinate a guy that would be out of office in a few months.
  • Alternate Universe: There are less-than-subtle hints that the story is meant to take place during the summer of 2008, during the heated race for the U.S. Presidency for that November, and what was still in the future when the book was first published.
  • Anyone Can Die: Rube, who was the protagonist up until he gets shot in the eye by his secretary. It's extremely sudden — taking all of one sentence — and undramatic.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The Progressive Restoration's Mini-Mecha. In the one major combat action shown, they get blown to bits by missiles from Apache helicopters before they even get into the mechs' weapon range. They did, however, manage to successfully occupy New York City without any problem, so they couldn't have been too impractical.
    • Aircraft and artillery are next to useless in Urban Warfare; mechs might have a maneuverability and elevation advantage over conventional ground vehicles, though.
  • Ax-Crazy: The Progressive Restoration movement.
  • Badass Normal: Rube and Cole face people with power armor and mecha on foot with normal weapons.
  • Batman Gambit: Averell Torrent manages to give the right people the right ideas at the right time for the extreme measures of the plot to occur, then get himself in the right spots to say the right things and end up President. But as he himself says later, he never planned anything specific — he just saw trends and gave them a push, then had gumption and personal connections to make use of them.
  • Big Bad: Aldo Verus, a liberal billionaire, is the leader of the Progressive Restoration.
  • Captain Ersatz: Averell is a rare in-universe example. He wants to be Augustus Caesar.
  • The Chessmaster: Averell Torrent pushes his pieces with ideas and words to trigger their own thoughts.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: "Aldo Verus" (an Expy of Real Life's George Soros).
  • Covers Always Lie: The cover art depicts a futuristic tank shelling the Capitol Building, which never comes close to occurring. Apparently the artist was only told "future American Civil War 2".
  • Divided States of America: Divided along political lines, not geographic ones.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Around halfway through the novel, Rube gets betrayed and shot right through the eye in a very sudden but effective scene.
  • The Extremist Was Right: Seems to be the conclusion at the end of Hidden Empire.
  • Fox News Liberal: Reuben's wife Cessily is the only good liberal major character, but never expresses any liberal views and several conservative ones.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: A benevolent dictator who started a civil war to put himself into power can sometimes be the best man for the job. Card's The Worthing Saga and Songmaster also share this aesop, an apparent author favorite.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The village headman performs one for Reubens. It haunts him for much of the book.
  • Humongous Mecha: The Progressive Restoration build some, both piloted and autonomous.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Averell Torrent.
  • The Mole: Dee Nee.
  • Mood Whiplash: This occurs when mecha start showing up in what was previously a Tom Clancy-esque political thriller.
  • Mini-Mecha: The walkers fielded are pretty much spheres with giant legs, and are piloted via cockpit.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Reubens is asked to make a plan for assassinating the President to guard against it. You can guess how this goes.
    • Even better, he's guilty of funding the terrorists.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Mostly averted except for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, likely because it doesn't seem appropriate to have real-life politicians getting assassinated as a major plot point, and George Soros, likely so that he won't sue for libel.
  • Offscreen Villain Dark Matter: The Progressive Restoration manages to research, construct, and train an army big enough to occupy New York, without anyone picking up on their shenanigans until the moment of their attack. It's hand waved as being funded by a phenomenally wealthy hardcore-liberal, not to mention several characters question where the Hell they got the manpower.
  • Powered Armor: Soldiers of the "Progressive Restoration" are equipped with various types of these.
  • Qurac: The unnamed middle eastern country at the beginning of the novel where the US Military is not officially operating.
  • Second American Civil War: This occurs near the start of the book as tensions over political extremism in the United States boils over into a full-blown war that divides the country.
  • Sexy Secretary: Dee Nee.
  • Strawman News Media: Solidly a left-wing type III, except for Fox News, of course.
  • Straw Character: The point of the novel — the two extremes of the political spectrum decided to stop beating around the bush and just beat the snot out of each other — except the only punches we see thrown are by the left. A moderate ends up being The Man Behind the Man, though.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Reuben inadvertently helps the bad guys set up their plans and prepare their new technology through his assigned tasks at the Pentagon, leading him to need to Clear My Name once the fireworks start.

The second novel contains examples of:

  • Alternate Character Interpretation: There's a couple in-universe of Averell Torrent's actions.
  • Anyone Can Die: Mark, and the whole jeesh except for Cole.
  • Author Filibuster: Done several times by Averell Torrent at the beginning of each chapter.
  • Balkanize Me: Happens to Nigeria by the end of the book.
  • Colonel Badass: Cole.
  • Death of a Child: Mark.
  • Depopulation Bomb: The nictovirus is feared to be one of these.
  • Foregone Conclusion: That the disease will eventually break containment is treated as this, but since it can't be part of public policy, other actions are taken that will conveniently strengthen America's position, readiness, and moral standing.
  • Good Shepherd: Cecily becomes one of these. So does Mark.
  • Kick the Dog: Cole spreading the virus to Northern Nigeria in order to make their planned genocide more difficult.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Torrent's rationale at the end, which Cole agrees with.
  • Mighty Whitey: A good chunk of the plot of the second novel is about American Christians saving Nigerian Christians from disease, to the point that Cecily gets compared to and the same name as a sainted religious figure amongst the Nigerian Christians.
  • The Plague: The entire point of the book.
  • Powered Armor: The jeesh get these near the beginning.
  • Saintly Church: Virtually all of Christianity gets this.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Many fans had this with Cole siding with Averell Torrent at the end.
    • He gets another one earlier in the book when he spreads the nictovirus to Northern Nigeria in order to infect the Muslim population. See Kick the Dog.
    • A literal example occurs when Cole confronts Mingo about infecting the team with the nictovirus deliberately.

Alternative Title(s): Empire, Hidden Empire