Mark's Reviews > Conquerors' Pride

Conquerors' Pride by Timothy Zahn
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's review
Oct 21, 2008

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bookshelves: sciencefiction
Recommended for: Hard Core Fans of the Space Opera Genre Looking for Something New

"Conqueror's Pride" by Timothy Zahn is a good, solid space opera. It's a good read for fans of the genre.

By "space opera", I mean a science fiction book that doesn't really explore any hard scientific themes, but instead focuses on plot and adventure. Maybe there will be some character development, but you definitely won't have a lot of scientific explanations as to how people can travel huge differences without the relativistic time dilation effect, and the aliens encountered won't be really weird and incomprehensible like they probably would be in actuality.

"Conqueror's Pride" is the first in a trilogy and it introduces the characters and universal setting for the series.

The Plot

Through good, old-fashioned imperialism, humanity is pretty much the top of the food chain in the far future. Instead of the United Federation of Planets, we have the Commonwealth. Instead of Star Fleet, we have the Peacekeepers. This is certainly no shiny politically correct universe like in Star Trek, so it's a little more realistic, in my opinion.

The book starts during a long period of peace. In the recent past, the Commonwealth "pacified" an alien race using their secret super-weapon called CIRCE. With the threat of this super weapon, the alien worlds in the Commonwealth don't dare rebel against the Commonwealth for fear of having the weapon used against them.

The plot starts with a Peacekeeper task force meeting up with a new, unidentified alien fleet. Without provocation, this new fleet opens fire on the peacekeeper fleet, completely decimating them. The only survivor, Pheylan Cavanaugh, is captured by these new aliens.

It just so happens that Pheylan is from a rich and influential family, who proceed to mount a rescue operation for him.

The action proceeds from there, switching between Pheylan in captivity and his family's struggle to rescue him. There are a couple of interesting subplots regarding the Cavanaugh's struggles investigating the aliens, and getting involved in guerrilla warfare on a planet under siege by the aliens. There are even a couple of interesting twists and turns that are nice surprises within the plot.

The Good

I liked the universal setting, with humanity possibly being the bad guys, or at least very imperialistic to a fault. This seems realistic and in keeping with history. In the past, humans have moved into the territory occupied by other, less technologically advanced humans and killed and subjugated them. Why wouldn't we do the same, if not more so, with non humans?

The aliens were more "alien" than the average Star Trek alien; possessing motivations and methods that were not necessarily human.

The main characters were written well enough that I could tell them apart and I wasn't confused as to who was who. I really got the impression that they were a family and that they loved each other enough to make the kind of sacrifices and effort that they did.

The plot twists were great. They were rather unexpected (to me anyway) and greatly increased my attention and interest in the book.

The Not-So-Good

This is probably Monday morning quarterbacking, but I really felt there were some missed opportunities here.

Maybe it's our current economic client, but I found it really hard to feel any kind of pathos or pity towards Pheylan, the son of super rich and super influential father. Not only was the family super rich and super powerful, it was a family that was so in love with each other that they'd make the Brady Bunch look like a daytime soap opera. This is not to say that I don't think rich people love their kids. It's just hard for me to feel sorry for rich people right now.

I just thought that the novel would be better if the separate plot threads had separate characters. For example, why not make the Pheylan character a run-of-the-mill line officer from a regular middle class family? The struggles of his family and his comrades to lie, cheat, and steal a rescue operation would be more compelling for me. They wouldn't be able to buy themselves super advanced equipment, they'd have to cheat for it and steal it. The investigation of these new aggressive aliens and the guerrilla operations on the colony planet could be separate threads with separate characters. Having these threads meet up later in the series would be cool and clever.

Perhaps having regular people steal and cheat for advanced military and technological equipment might be less realistic, though. However, I think it would depend on how it was written.


"Conqueror's Pride" is a good, solid read. It was good enough that I'm interested in seeing how it turns out. The plot twists made the book for me. If you like space operas, it's not the best out there, but you should check it out if you've read all the "leading" space operas and you're looking for something new.
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message 1: by Nate (new) - added it

Nate >the aliens encountered won't be really weird and incomprehensible like they probably would be in actuality.

What are some books you feel do portray "realistic" aliens well?

I'm dying to find some books that approach aliens in a scientific manner, instead of just abstracting from humans.

Mark Nathan wrote: ">the aliens encountered won't be really weird and incomprehensible like they probably would be in actuality.

What are some books you feel do portray "realistic" aliens well?

I'm dying to find som..."

Peter Watts Blindsight has some really weird aliens.

Also, The Mote In God's Eye by Larry Niven has some strange aliens.

John Scalzi Old Man's War has some relatively "alien" aliens

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