The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld

Millennia in the future, light-years away, the Risen Empire spans eighty planets. To the people of the empire, the Risen Emperor, inventor of immortality, and his eternally young sister, the Child Empress, are more than rulers- they are gods. They have ruled for sixteen hundred years, and the empire seems as immortal as they are.

But the empire is not alone in the galaxy. The Rix are a civilization of cyborgs, and their domain lies just outside the Risen Empire. The Rix have no leader and no culture. They are a Spartan civilization with only one goal- to propagate an artificially intelligent “compound mind” across the digital network of every populated planet. They worship these minds just as Imperial citizens worship their emperor. Because of this, the Empire and the Rix are constantly on the edge of war. As the novel opens, the Rix have succeeded in capturing the Child Empress, and in planting a compound mind on the planet Legis XV, the location of the Imperial palace.

Captain Laurent Zai is in command of the most powerful starship in the Empire- the Lynx. He has been assigned the task of rescuing the Empress, and the penalty for failure is death by ritual suicide. Light-years away, a senator named Nara Oxham is also becoming entangled with the Rix conflict. Together and apart, destinies closely intertwined, they must both find a way to succeed, or perish in the rising tide of war.

What can I say? It’s by Scott Westerfeld; therefore, it’s amazing. The plot was truly original, which is hard to find in sci-fi these days, and the major cliffhanger at the end left me craving the sequel. Though I don’t think The Risen Empire is actually YA, it reads like one, with cool plot twists and exciting action. The book also makes use of flashbacks and multiple points of view- both common narrative devices, but this time, they’re actually done well. All the events in the book- military, political, dramatic, and romantic- are well executed and convincing.

The real genius of this book, though, was in the details. Scott Westerfeld has managed to convey a vast world with minute precision. Everything, from microspaceships to smartalloy bullets to induced synesthesia to the four types of gravity, is described with a ridiculous amount of detail. While reading this book, I didn’t just feel like I was there. I felt like I knew absolutely everything there was to know about the Rix, the Empire, everything. I was a military officer, a scientific expert, a master pilot, a Rixwoman, and a politician. The world that Scott-la has created is so real, down to the last nanometer.

Strangely enough, this book’s biggest strength is also its biggest downside. Plotwise, it tended to forgo explanation in favor of action, and several times, I found myself rereading the same passage three or four times, trying to figure out what in heaven’s name it was talking about. Most of the cool made-up technical and political jargon is just thrown in there, and explanation comes much later, if at all. I have to admit, the book was more than a little hard to follow. And be warned- it’ll be even harder to follow without a little knowledge of physics, relativity and quantum mechanics.

Still, though, once I figured out what was going on, I enjoyed The Risen Empire enormously. This book has it all- futuristic technology, political intrigue, romance, secrets, lies, cyborgs, undead cats, and obscure, geeky allusions, all woven together in a captivating story. I loved Laurent Zai, Nara Oxham, Rana Harter, H_rd, Alexander, and yes, even the Emperor. I loved it all. I can’t wait for the sequel. Four and a half sixteen-molecule-wide monofilament daggers.



How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

How to Say Goodbye in Robot, by Natalie Standiford, is the story of Beatrice Szabo and her very unique friendship with Jonah “Ghost Boy” Tate. Bea’s family moves all the time, so when Beatrice is told that they are moving to Baltimore for her senior year, she readies herself for yet another year of gossip and parties and shallow friends. Instead, she meets Jonah, nicknamed “Ghost Boy” by his taunting peers, and the two of them embark on a relationship that cannot appropriately be pinpointed by words such as “friend” or “boyfriend.” To Bea and Jonah, their togetherness is much more than that. It is sharing a love for a late night radio show, talking over beer and music in their favorite downtown hang out, and planning secret visits to Jonah’s sort-of-dead twin brother.

Quite honestly, I didn’t feel it. I liked the idea of a friendship above words and gossip and shallowness, but I felt that the author didn’t develop the characters or the relationship enough so that when the friends had a falling out, I didn’t care at all, really. When Bea’s parents had problems, I didn’t feel for them or for her. Overall, I got the impression of a sort of bleak world filled with chickens, greasy hair, and beer, and it was not a world in which I particularly wanted to stay. Not in a good way, either—some books paint a bleak world intentionally and the darkness can be powerful, but in How to Say Goodbye in Robot this was not the case. There were certainly a few touching moments, and the themes of loss and death and how thinking about them is not necessarily a bad thing were very nice, but I didn’t feel any sort of real connection with the characters.

I liked the never-quite-shot-down ideas of inhabitants from the future living in our time thread, and I found the radio show, The Night Lights, very sweet and quirky. I liked the idea that one could have a whole sort of radio community of friends, and that there can be friendship based on more than just gossip and the troubles of this world. Unfortunately, the author didn’t quite portray the sweet world of their friendship, so there was no basis to build off of.

If you care to do your homework and go all the way back to my Toad Hill days, you'll know what this means: How to Say Goodbye in Robot was a bit less than crinterprood.

And that's that.