Stephen Gallup's Reviews > Empire

Empire by Orson Scott Card
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it was amazing

As it happens, I read part two in this saga last year and am only now getting round to the beginning. Luckily, each can stand alone. I didn't even realize they were connected until I recognized Coleman and the Special Ops guys in the "jeesh." Hidden Empire makes passing references to a recently concluded Left-Right civil war. Empire is where the philosophical underpinnings of that conflict are explained and, of course, acted on.

There are flaws in the story. For starters, it obviously strains credibility that underwater terrorists would be sneaking up the channel just at the moment Malich and Coleman happen to standing at Hains Point gazing down at the water—or that Coleman would recognize subtle indications that something was moving below the surface, and immediately grasp the implications. The fact that this string of coincidences also strains credibility for other characters is an indication that the author too knows it's a problem. (In literary analysis there's even a word for this situation.)

But perceived coincidences are a feature of the story. Characters notice them and worry whether they are clues of an improbably elaborate conspiracy, or signs of their own over-active imaginations.

Also, as I've noted with other OSC titles, his dialog often feels like it's there only to clear up points he wants to make to the reader. (Some readers call that preaching. I think OSC is just sacrificing realistic dialog in order to give each side in the discussions a thorough airing.) While clumsy, this is characteristic of OSC and I've learned to live with it. I continue reading his books because the concepts never disappoint. (Well, judging from other people's comments, I guess they disappoint left-wingers. But all of us can probably agree that the scenario described here has become more plausible over time. Malich comments that there is a population of people who would not view assassination of a sitting president as a bad thing. Even in the year this book was published, a movie was released to exploit that interest. Much more recently, the Secret Service was forced to open an inquiry when Madonna spoke ("rhetorically") to a cheering crowd about blowing up the White House. I just Googled "assassinate Trump" and got 111,000 hits for people threatening to or at least publicly saying they want to do just that.) A fictional treatment of our balkanized polity—one that does not name actual politicians—is entirely appropriate. Consideration of what hatred and self-righteousness can lead to might empower enough of us to keep it in check.

Anyway, here's an example of dialog that serves to clarify matters for the reader (I seriously doubt Coleman and Malich needed to have this conversation for themselves):

Coleman: "They were killing cops. They were killing uniforms. They may think they're saving the Constitution but they're saving nothing."

Malich: "It's all about imposing their will on unwilling people. But don't you understand? When you have The Truth, everyone who opposes you is either ignorant or evil. You rule over the ignorant and you kill or lock up the evil. Then you can rule the world according to your perfect Truth."

Lately I've been thinking of the way cataclysmic events like wars and revolutions recur periodically (in the same way epidemics sweep through a population and then fade away). I've been listening to Empire on audio by day while reading a very different novel at night—Black Dogs, by Ian McEwan. The feral dogs in that book are compared to the frenzy of war that gripped Europe in the last century. They appear, they bring harm, and finally they run away, potentially to show up again another time. At the risk of repeating myself, I do think OSC has something worthwhile to say on this subject. Given that a polarized society is a fact of life today, there's no point in getting indignant that someone has written about it.

In terms of literary merit, and certainly in comparison with Ian McEwan's prose, this is a three-star book. On the other hand, I admire the author's afterword, in which he takes pains to say extremists on both sides are at fault. And in view of all the one-star reviews by deniers who insist OSC is off-base, I'm going with five stars. Guys, your objections seem to have been overtaken by events. One of the rebels in this book may have been the first to use the "Not my president" meme that more recently became so popular. No doubt he would approve of a video clip I just saw in which Yvette Felarca, spokesperson for a violent protest at Berkeley, says "The Left has been far too timid for far too long." Okay, rant over. If OSC writes a third installment I'll read it too.
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Reading Progress

July 17, 2017 – Shelved
Started Reading
July 22, 2017 – Finished Reading

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