(2005) Scott Westerfeld, Orbit, £12.99, pbk, 626pp, ISBN 1-84149-371-6
Originally published in the US in 2003 as two volumes, The Risen Empire: Book One of Succession and The Killing of Worlds: Book Two of Succession, this is a hard SF space opera of a conflict between two empires. There are The Eighty Worlds of the Risen Empire, where loyalty to the Emperor is rewarded with an immortality treatment unknown elsewhere, and the empire of the cyborg Rix, who seed worlds with compound minds (global AI's) and worship them as gods. When the Rix seed one of the Eighty Worlds, they also capture and hold hostage the Emperor's immortal sister, so Captain Laurent Zai is dispatched in a frigate to effect a rescue. But the newly awakened compound mind discovers a secret that the Emperor cannot allow to be made public, so he contemplates the destruction of the entire planet to destroy the mind. But on his war council sits a senator, Nara Oxham, who is Zai's secret lover, and her party believes in death and rejects immortality. When the mind decides to leave the planet, Zai must put his frigate up against a Rix battleship, not knowing that the Emperor would just as soon have him dead, and Oxham has to use her empathic abilities to try to avoid a global genocide.
This tale is well enough written, but contains almost nothing original, with the possible exception of the tiny, remotely-piloted drone ships deployed by the big boys, and then not so much in the concept as the execution. However the plot thunders along at a suitably thrilling pace, switiching between character viewpoints with illuminating abandon - most of the best sections being the p.o.v. of a Rix Commando or of the mind, Alexander, itself. I can't really recommend this as anything other than a beach-reader but, as such things go, this isn't a bad one, it's just that this has been done much better by the likes of Iain Banks and Alastair Reynolds. If space opera is your cup of tea, you probably won't be disappointed...
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