Orson Scott Card has written Empire, a near-future thriller about coups, plots, and civil war in America. What follows is a short but idiosyncratic review with spoilers.
I knew before I read the book that it was a book based on a video game, so I didn’t mind the laser hovercraft, the mechs, and the draining lake of awesome.
Here’s what I did mind.
At the beginning of the book the soldier-hero verbally spars with a brilliant history professor who argues that modern America’s collapse into Empire is inevitable. The political system is disfunctional, he says, the populace is increasingly indifferent to the old ideals, political figures increasingly manipulate those ideals cynically in the quest for power and so on. America is effectively Rome in the late Republic. It will have its coups, its plots, its civil war, and then, inevitably, its Empire. The hero finds it hard to rebut these arguments–which as the book develops appear to be largely accurate–but is determined to resist by any means.
I was hooked. I saw how the book was going to go and it was going to be grand and tragic. A myth even. The hero was going to try to do everything he could to revive his ideal of America, to suppress the plotting and the coups, to counteract the moral corruption of the politicians, to bank the fires of civil war, and inexorably he was going to draw immense power to himself. Much against his will he was going to become a heroic version of Augustus, who scrupulously observed the old Republican forms and even tried to revive their content, but who failed because no one wanted to go back. The hero was going to create the Empire by fighting against it.
But the book didn’t go that way. It wasn’t history or destiny that our hero was up against. It was a video-game villain, with an improbably complex and successful plan.
If you like that sort of thing, read it. If not, not.