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Literature / The Course of Empire

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Space Opera novel by Eric Flint and K. D. Wentworth:

Long ago the Ekhat bred the Jao as slaves for their incomprehensible purposes. The Jao escaped from their tyranny and fled to form a glorious empire that stretched out among the stars. They conquered many primitive worlds. Then they turned their eyes on an Insignificant Little Blue Planet and sought to bring the blessings of civilization to it.

The initial results of this enterprise were not as auspicious as might be hoped.


Twenty years later Aille krinnu ava Pluthrak, a young prince of one of the most prestigious houses in The Empire comes to take up his duties. He learns that things were not as reports had indicated. Casualties from the conquest had been immense, the governor, named Oppuck, was arrogant and insane and The Natives Were Restless. Aille set to work. He looked over the planet, began to take humans into his service, and learned about their culture. Much had to be done for the Ekhat were on their way and humans and jao must work together to survive.

In the end all is well. Aille leads a fleet into battle to destroy the Ekhat fleet, composed of submarines retrofitted for space combat while the governor cowers in safety. He wins popularity among both the humans and the Jao stationed on Earth, and becomes head of all the Jao on Earth while meanwhile his efforts cause The Empire to grant the humans the Jao equivalent of "home rule". And everyone lives happily ever after.


The sequel is The Crucible of Empire.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Badass Army: The Bond of Ebazon, drawn from all the Jao clans enforces unity among them and judges disputes.
  • Benevolent Alien Invasion: Played with. The Jao are not particularly benevolent. They are just no worse then human conquerors would be, and the Navro are particularly direct in their methods. Their governor has also gone quite mad.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Jao and humans to each other. Definitely the Ekhat. Bonus points to the Ekhat's Interdict faction, who are this to the other Ekhat.
  • The Caligula: Governor Oppuck though it later turns out that it wasn't completely his fault, since the Preceptor's agents were drugging him into a mad sexual fervor. Thanks to the jao's unusual (to humans) reproductive biology and the clans' refusal to engage in what we would call "sexual education," he wasn't even able to understand what was happening to him before his unsanity destroyed him.
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  • The Chessmaster: The Preceptor. Also Pluthrak is famous for chessmastery among the Jao.
  • The Clan: Jao political rivalries are centered on various clans.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Justly or unjustly, the Resistance tends to have this opinion of those who work with the jao.
  • Cool Old Guy: Both Yaut and Wrot, in diametrically opposed ways. Yaut is an Old Master in a position analogous to a marine gunnery sergeant or a naval first mate, while Wrot is just a snarky, sarcastic guy with a heart of gold and no patience for fools.
  • Creator Provincialism: The United States is the center of the story's action, and other nations are... not always represented in a positive way.
  • Culture Clash: The entire point of the novel, though it ends rather happily with both cultures assimilating into one another.
  • Decadent Court: Played with. Jao politics have some of the features that we would associate with this, but their pragmatic mindset reigns in most of the worst excesses.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: The US Army went down swinging during the Alien Invasion.
  • The Empire: The Jao. In many ways it's a Federation, being an alliance of several different clans with a sort of council ruling above them, and it periodically assimilates other races into itself. However, before Earth, most of them were primitive and quickly adopted the trappings of Jao culture. After encountering humanity, the first hints of a less-imperialistic culture begin to emerge.
  • Fantastic Racism: Several flavors:
    • There's the mutual racism between the Jao and the humans, the former seeing themselves as superior while the latter despises the other for being invaders.
    • The Ekhat have four different flavors of racism depending on each faction. The Melody faction believes that all Ekhat are essentially equal, and the universe should be cleansed of all non-Ekhat life. The True Harmony faction shares their beliefs regarding non-Ekhat, although it will use some non-Ekhat for a while before disposing of them when they cease to be useful, but organizes the different species and subspecies of Ekhat into castes depending on their conception of genetic purity. The Complete Harmony faction has a similar caste system, except that they believing in "uplifting" Ekhat from lower to higher castes and inducting non-Ekhat they find useful into slave-labor as the lower castes and exterminating the rest. The Interdict faction are Evil Luddites who believe that breaking the lightspeed barrier is sinful and isolationists who believe contact with any non-Ekhat is unclean, but they are known to talk to non-Ekhat for reasons known only to themselves, mostly related to curbing the advance of the other factions. The envoys they send to talk to the non-Ekhat (usually a pair) brutally rip each other apart after delivering the message to purge their now-unclean selves from the rest of the Interdict.
  • Feuding Families: Jao kochan are frequently at odds, with the largest being between Pluthrak and Narvo.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: The jao don't always understand human ways, but the less-bigoted among them quickly learn to appreciate them.
  • Humans Are Special: Humans are the first race the Jao had come across since the founding of their empire that could actually maintain a technological civilization, or, at least, that had developed to one. The Jao, after Oppuck's disastrous governorship, decided that the easiest way to get along with humans was to call them a "taif" rather then try to assimilate them, and the two cultures began to merge to mutual benefit.
  • Humans Are Warriors: The human held off the Jao until they could only be subdued by throwing asteroids at their cities. Allie realizes in short order that they are better on his side then as enemies. Played with according to the individual however: Yaut recognizes that not all of Aille's human servants are capable killers.
  • Improvised Weapon: Submarines are improvised for space warfare.
  • Just Shoot Him: The Jao are pretty good about this. They established air and space supremacy early in the invasion, but their ground forces got bogged down in Chicago. So they grab a large asteroid and turn it into a crater.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: The Jao and the Ekhat are used to laser and plasma weapons, and their armor and force fields are geared for reflecting laser or deflecting plasma. They are vulnerable to raw kinetic force, making "primitive" human artillery very effective.
  • Language Equals Thought: Sort of. The Jao are largely unimaginative, and have one blanket word for all forms of fiction (translating as "things-that-are-not.") However, they have an innate sense of time but no time units, since they don't need them.
  • Mad Artist: The Ekhat's Starfish Language gives off this impression. The few passages from their point of view include wild industrial dance numbers, occasionally punctuated by fits of sudden murder and blood/entrail painting with their Battle Thralls.
  • May–December Romance: Caitlin and Kralik are attracted to one another from the get go and get married in the end, despite him being rather older than her. Many jokes are made, some by he himself, about him being a "cradle robber."
  • Military Mashup Machine: The spaceships used in the fight against the Ekhat are human missile submarines - with two rows of four tank turrets welded over most of the missile launches - converted into spacecraft with Jao technology, then surrounded with force-fields to plug leaks and prevent the heat of the sun from killing everyone.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: Though they differ in the degree of proactivity they prescribe to counter the problem, all four Ekhat factions regard non-Ekhat life as revolting pollution. The Interdict are notable in being so repulsed that even omnicide is too dangerously close to outside contact to be tolerated.
  • Passive-Aggressive Kombat: The Jao, especially the higher-ranking ones, have this down to an art form. For example, the technique that Aille uses is known as "advance-by-oscellation," where one deliberately goes against an authority specifically to provoke a useful reaction.
  • Pragmatic Villainy : Jao are so pragmatic that they don't even "execute" those that offend the authorities. They "put them down".
  • Proud Warrior Race : The Narvo are famous for this. Oppuck was an unfortunate example and by contrast one of the Narvo wins glory for his heroic death defending Terra; the award given him by the humans becomes Terra's heraldric symbol in the jao order.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: The theme is based on the old idea of Romans conquering Greece then ironically adopting Greek culture, or the Mongols and the Chinese doing much the same thing.
  • Redshirt Army: The Jinau, or human troops in Jao service.
  • La Résistance: The Resistance. Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Some are genuine, organized guerrillas, some are little better than roving bandits.
  • Rock Beats Laser: During the invasion humans confounded the Jao's lasers with steam grenades. Then shot them to bits with ordinary ammunition.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Much of the resistance are little better than marauding bandits.
  • Scary Dogmatic Aliens: The Ekhat at best regard contact with other sentient life as pollution to be shunned.
  • Space Battle: A Space Battle inside the sun to be precise.
  • Space Romans: The Jao are drawn in part from the Romans, and in part from the Samurai.
  • Starfish Language: Jao speech relies heavily on body language to convey emotion and a somewhat improbable number of concepts, and controlling it is considered an important part of conversation and being cultured. At the end of the novel, Caitlin's use of both human and jao speech and body language in a merged fashion is believed to be the start of a new, hybrid language. The jao also picked it up from their Ekhat once-masters, whose language is even stranger.
  • Tribal Face Paint: Popular among the Jao collaborators, though the jao are born with family markings.
  • Vichy Earth: A more sympathetic take than most, as the jao and the collaborators are not represented as purely good or evil. Eventually humanity joins The Empire as a full partner instead of a colony.