Empire by Orson Scott Card

2/5

Originally on Goodreads 2010

 

I will keep my review “fairly” brief, after scanning a number of the positive and negative reviews. I have no problem with the main characters having a conservative point of view. I do have a problem with the execution of the writing. As I pursue my own masters in creative writing, I am stunned by how Card violates some of his own advice from his two good books on writing (Character and Viewpoint; How to write science fiction). Whether you call this science fiction, or an espionage/thriller, it still has to be believable within the confines of the world he is building. It doesn’t.

Card choses to build a world that is essentially “right now” and post 9-11. He populates it with people that actually exist (O’Reilly on FOX). If you do that, in broad brush strokes you are setting expectations that this is the world we live in right now and people would react as you have seen them recently react. They don’t.

Card does a number of things that make this hard to swallow: 1) Major attack in and on New York City, where the entire nation still empathizes with the police and fire department (left or right politically) and has the revolutionary forces kill all uniformed people and the city then rolls over and embraces that group? This world? Today? Really? Embrace the killers of anyone in uniform? Then he basically ignores the entire situation for several months (elapsed novel time) and focuses strictly on the remaining protagonists? Card, what happened to “world building” as you discuss in your craft books? Yes, you wanted to keep it fast paced, but that much time elapses and we get close to zero feel for what is happening in the nation. A few blurbs about city council votes does not cut it!

The premise at its core could have worked. I have had two similar ideas boiling in my head for years…but if I ever approach the idea, I will look to this book as a list of things to avoid, not to emulate.
My concern (for Card’s future) is that this book seems to have not been fully edited by a good set of critical editors. As authors become popular, this seems to occur frequently. Good and great authors still need to be told when something doesn’t work and they need to not let their past success go to their head. I recently read a collection of Card’s short stories, which included some LDS oriented stories. Despite the obvious political and religious leanings, those stories were quite good and the short essays that went with each story were insightful. But, most of those were written long ago.
Finally, as mentioned by a few, this also feels “video game-ish.” I will probably not spend the time on the sequel to this, “Hidden Empire,” as I suspect it will be in the same world and follow the same style. I don’t begrudge Card the opportunity to get preachy, I just would like him to do a better job at it. Sometimes, when an author is too passionate about something s/he loses objectivity and the ability to self-edit. I think this may be the case for this book (and its sequel).

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