Review: Crisis of Empire

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    Crisis of Empire

    (David Drake, Thomas T. Thomas, W.C. Dietz, Roger MacBride Allen and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro.)

    -An Honorable Defence

    -Cluster Command

    -The War Machine

    -Crown of Empire

    Somewhat irritatingly, I was pointed to this series shortly after I first wrote The Empire’s Corps. It consists of four short novels set in the universe of the Pact, a human-dominated empire where the general attitude to other races is on a par with Apartheid South Africa – and, unsurprisingly, the Pact is in decline. Humans and aliens are struggling for freedom, a handful of external powers are sharpening their knives and it looks as though the universe is about to collapse into war. The four novels each follow four separate aspects of the crisis that threatens to bring the Pact down.

    Also irritatingly, it isn’t clear how much of the universe was designed prior to the first book being written. For example, An Honorable Defence refers to the Pact as an Empire, possessing an Emperor – who has died, leaving a child as his successor. The later books use Pact exclusively and make it clear that it is the High Secretary of the Pact that died … and his son is a typical teenage wastrel.

    crisisAn Honorable Defence is set on a distant sector which has just received word that the Emperor is dead. It follows a handful of characters as they try to decide which side to support, including a civil servant who has more guts than most characters seem to realize. Unfortunately, when it comes to the story, it is also the weakest of the series and jumps around too much. Your mileage may vary.

    clusterCluster Command is a far superior novel. It follows a naval commander who has been given the task of escorting an ‘alien-lover’ senator to Harmony Cluster, where the Senator intends to put his radical ideas of humans living in harmony with aliens into practice. Unfortunately, this appointment comes with strings attached; he has to marry the Senator’s niece Bethany (her previous marriage having been broken up by the government) and he is expected to keep an eye on the Senator (and stop him if he goes too far). Along the way, he discovers the true price of the Pact’s power and eventually takes up the standard of reform himself.

    warThe War Machine follows Bethany’s ex-husband as he is recruited by the secret police (after almost killing herself after losing her) and given command of a small squadron with orders to investigate a disturbing mystery in another system. He discovers a growing alien threat that has to be stopped before it can take advantage of the chaos threatening to grip the Pact.

    Irritatingly, although it is a well-written book, The War Machine doesn’t fit very well into the series. Instead of following the Pact’s decline (or sending him into conflict with the hero of Book III), the character heads off to deal with an alien threat.

    crownCrown of Empire is difficult to define. On one hand, it follows events on Earth from the death of the High Secretary to the selection of a new High Secretary. (The book’s blurb is quite fun; it lists a line of dreadful consequences covering what would happen if the Hugh Secretary dies … and ends with a note that the High Secretary is dead.) The succession crisis has begun and the High Secretary’s children (and his former wife) are pawns in the game – whoever marries them gets an excellent claim to the throne.

    On its own, the book isn’t too bad (even if it does read rather like a YA book in places). However, it ends far too quickly – and the solution seems too simplistic to work for long. I don’t see every faction involved in the Pact’s decline seeing such a peaceful succession as a good idea. In fact, I’d still expect the Pact to face a civil war.

    I didn’t draw the comparison to Apartheid South Africa by accident. When the Apartheid system collapsed, it was not long before the new government started to factionalise, demand recompense for white abuse of blacks and much worse. Zimbabwe went much further and torpedoed its own economy through driving out the white farmers who actually knew how to work the land. The Pact is likely to have the same problem on a galactic scale; aliens will demand more freedoms and rights, humans will panic and demand crackdowns. There will be far more troubles coming for the Pact …

    [David Drake was kind enough to allow me to write in a similar universe, so maybe I will put my money where my mouth is.]

    It would have worked better, in my opinion, if the main characters from Book II and Book III came to blows. There’s a great deal of personal hatred there, unsurprisingly, as well as political disagreements.

    Overall, this series is quite enjoyable. However, it doesn’t quite live up to its own potential.

    [All four books have now been released as ebooks by Baen.]

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