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Literature / Succession

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Succession consists of the two novels, The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds, by Scott Westerfeld. They take place several millennia into the future, when humanity has spread and altered itself vastly.

The Risen Empire are made up of the Eighty Worlds, planets ruled by the Risen Emperor, who found a way to become immortal in order to save his twelve-year-old sister. This defeat of the Old Enemy, death, led to his becoming the ruler of the empire along the Senate with his sister, the Child Empress, for 1600 years; anyone who is "elevated" (i.e. considered worthy) who dies cleanly can be given the symbiant, which returns them to life. Of the other civilizations, the most prominent is the Rix Cult, cyborg women devoted to spreading compound minds (meaning intelligent AI that takes over anything electronic it can get access). The Empire and the Rix are often at odds with each other, as most of the Empire sees intelligent machines as unnatural.


The Risen Empire begins with the Rix taking the Child Empress hostage in order to spread a compound mind on her home planet, Legis XV. Captain Laurent Zai, a war hero piloting a prototype reconnaissance starship in the Legis system, is commanded to save her and the political prisoners also trapped with her. These hostages are so important that any of their deaths on Zai's part will lead to an Error of Blood, a ritual suicide without reanimation for not completing the Emperor's wishes. Complicating things on Zai's end further is his relationship with Nara Oxham, a senator who he's fallen in love with and who is openly against reanimation and the Emperor's rule. The plot thickens through many desperate twists and battles as Oxham and Zai try to keep the empire and each other from falling apart. The books were originally meant to be one book but were split for publishing reasons, so The Risen Empire just kind of ends; The Killing of Worlds picks up directly where it leaves off.


As two of Westerfeld's earliest novels, it's easy to see where inspiration and concepts in his later works came from.

This series provides examples of:

  • Aerith and Bob: Names like Laurent and Anastasia juxtaposed with those like Katherie and Nara. Like in Uglies, Westerfeld plays with these - people with more traditional and 'gray' backgrounds have more normal names, while people who are more radical politically or socially have more exotic ones.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Played with. The A.I.s are hostile to the Imperials, but only because the Risen Empire itself is violently opposed to compound minds because the Emperor really hates the idea of competition.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Poor Katherie.
  • Artificial Gravity: There are four types of gravity:
    1. Hard gravity: natural gravity, made by large amounts of mass.
    2. Easy gravity: the first type of artificial gravity. Cheap to generate, but easily overruled by hard gravity, and sufficiently variable to make some people seasick.
    3. Wicked gravity: chaotically unstable artificial gravity. At short range it can tear a starship apart, at extreme range it will give the crew an increased risk of cancer.
    4. Lovely gravity: wonderfully powerful and controllable, and so expensive to generate that it is mainly used for saying "We are rich."
  • Attack Drone: Virtually all craft besides full-sized capital ships are remote-piloted or AI-controlled drones. They're also rather small — "intelligencer" surveillance craft are comparable in size and weight to a speck of dust, while FTL-comm equipped forward command drones (necessary to eliminate light-speed lag during battles taking place over interplanetary distances) are roughly the size of a large coffin. Also notable are "flockers", finger-sized AI-controlled kinetic-kill missiles that are rather dumb individually, but are deployed in swarms numbering in the thousands, allowing them to form very clever democratic intelligence networks.
  • Blessed with Suck and/or Cursed with Awesome: Both Nara Oxham's empathy and Rana Harter's "brainbug".
  • Bullet Time: One of Zai's marines has reflexes in the top hundredth-percentile for the entire human race, so he spends his entire life like this.
  • The Captain: Captain Laurent Zai.
  • Divided for Publication: But it's one 704-page volume in UK paperback.
  • Empire with a Dark Secret: The Risen Empire and the Emperor are nowhere near as perfect as the Emperor would like people to think. Immortality by the symbiant only lasts about 400 years in absolute time, and the Emperor is willing to destroy entire worlds to keep word from getting out.
  • Epigraph: Every chapter starts with a quote from the in-universe Anonymous 167, who is Zai's favorite military strategist and who sometimes sounds quite a bit like Sun Tzu.
  • Emperor Scientist: The Risen Emperor invented immortality, followed by a religion based around him and his invention.
  • Face–Heel Turn: The XO is seen to be contemplating one. She was infiltrating the circle of mutineers to bring them down.
  • Genre Savvy: Alexander notes that, based upon his entire library of millions of books, plays, and video games, that governments that hide secrets do so at their own peril.
  • God-Emperor: An interesting case, since everyone acknowledges that the Emperor was mortal, and that it was his own invention that led to his "Divine Ascension."
  • Healing Factor: The symbiant can heal a dead person's body to a certain extent, but after a certain point, reanimating a damaged body would just be a living hell because their body would be unable to heal.
  • Love Across Battlelines:
    • Laurent and Nara are on completely opposite sides of the political spectrum, and his crew members refuse to even countenance the possibility of a relationship. For once, a High-Heel–Face Turn does not take place - instead Laurent is the one to switch sides. When their relationship is revealed, at least some of Laurent's fellow officers approve.
    • Rana and H_rd.
  • The Mutiny: Unsuccessful.
  • Nanotechnology: Nanos are used as weapons as well as for healing.
  • Number Two: Katherie Hobbes.
  • The Power of Love: The reason why Zai did not commit the ritual suicide required of him after the failed rescue of the Child Empress.
  • Opposites Attract: In-universe. Several people refuse to believe that there could really be a relationship between the gray military captain Laurent Zai and the pink opposition Senator Nara Oxham.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Played with. It appears that Laurent Zai's XO is so piqued at learning the person he loves and refused suicide for isn't her (having briefly thought it was) that she plans to join the mutiny against him. However, she just does this in order to stop the mutiny attempt.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Averted for the most part. Westerfeld takes time needed to travel and space distances into consideration, with travel between the distant Legis system and the Empire's central planet, Home, taking ten years in absolute time. The series also has two different scales, one the vast reaches of space and the other on the level of nanotechnology.
  • Seppuku: Expected of Imperial officers if they fail important missions.
  • Smart House: Nara Oxham owns one that Laurent visits.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Katherie Hobbes, in a somewhat unusual example of the trope. Her beauty doesn't cause the usual problems for the most part, but it marks her out as being from a Utopian world.
  • Swiss Army Gun: The Risen Empire forces used variaguns. These guns could use a variety of ammo for its ballistic hardware and also had a built-in Ray Gun that could stun or kill depending on setting. AI forces prefer the overwhelming power of their more specialized blasters.
  • Telepathy: Nara Oxham can feel people's emotions as a side effect of surgery, an ability called empathy. She was thought to be mad for several years because large populations of humans overwhelmed her mind with emotion. There is a 'cure' of sorts, an 'apathy' bracelet that injects a drug to suppress the empathy, but Oxham often lowers the dosage or stops using the drug during meetings so she can read crowds.
  • Unusual User Interface: Most military officers and political workers have forms of surgical synesthesia and in some cases eyescreens like those later seen in Uglies. The surgery to give people this synesthesia can cause strange side effects, like Oxham's empathy.
  • We Will Have Perfect Health in the Future: All the major factions have absolutely no disease at all. However, they maintain a joint neutral zone called the Plague Axis in which diseases are allowed to flourish among the inhabitants just in case a new plague ever arises and they might be able to find a cure among the diseased. Inhabitant of the Plague Axis are required to wear environmental isolation suits when on envoys to the other factions.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The 'pink' faction in the Senate, who want to stop use of the symbiant and let folks die naturally. Several different factions and parties exist within this group with differing reasons for wanting the symbiant gone.
    • Notably, they want this because they think it's better for society, not because they think immortality would suck for individuals.
    • There are a few examples who think immortality does suck for individuals; Nara's chief aide had a lover who became immortal, and when he went to visit her, he described her as dead, but still moving. "The dead are dead, Nara. The symbiant is a lie."

Alternative Title(s): The Risen Empire


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