Six Impossible Things

A Blog About Fiction and Reading


EmpireEmpire by Orson Scott Card


I’ve come to the conclusion that Orson Scott Card is a gifted writer. He has a talent for telling compelling, thought-provoking stories, and, as near as I can tell (I’m only on my third novel of his), he does so consistently. Empire is one of Card’s stand-alone novels, but it’s timely and thrilling, and set about 30 minutes into the future.

Major Reuben Malick is the consummate special operations solider. He’s smart and analytical, follows orders but questions motivations, and he’s experienced.  That he’s given a position in the Pentagon to carry out clandestine operations after a distinguished career in the milirary is no surprise; when he’s caught up in a conspiracy that killed the President and the Vice-President, through a plan that he was told to develop, he finds himself a target on the run.  Along the way, he picks up Bartholomew “Cole” Coleman, a captain assigned to Reuben in the Pentagon.  Since both of them are there during the assassination attempt, and get there too late to prevent it from happening, they both find themselves caught up in the conspiracy, trying to find the evidence to prove their innocence.

This is a novel that moves at a brisk pace, and is reminiscent of the dealings in 24 (no surprise there, once you read the afterword and learn of its influence on the book).  There is little time to catch your breath throughout the book, but that’s just fine.  It’s a plausible, timely book, which illustrates the possible devastation that can occur from people getting caught up in polarizing rhetoric.  The book shows how a Civil War could erupt in the United States, and it’s not too hard to imagine it, given the way that Card sets up the events.

What I find most interesting about this novel is that it could easily have taken the side of the conservatives or the liberals portrayed in the story, but it keeps itself firmly in the middle.  There are times when you might think that the political tilt of the book will reveal itself, but Card deftly avoids this.  In fact, the moderate nature of the book is a central theme, and crucial to the premise of the book.  It may take you until the end of the book to discover why, but like most mysteries, you’ll have a pretty good idea of where things are going long before you reach the conclusion.  Unfortunately.

See, Card introduces a character toward the beginning of the book, and you’ll realize that he’s going to play an important role in the rest of the story.  The thing is, once Reuben and Cole get involved in the conspiracy, this character disappears, and you’ll likely wonder what the heck happened to him along the way.  The good thing is that you’ll wonder what his role is going to be.  It’s clear that he’s a major player in the story, but knowing how, when, and why he’s involved will keep you guessing.

There was also a point in the story where I almost got pulled right out of the illusion of the story.  I hesitate to say that Card “jumped the shark,” because it fit the premise well enough, but it was so weird and out of place in an otherwise realistic novel that it took me a second suspension of disbelief to get past it.  I don’t want to give too much away by telling what it was, but I think you’ll know when you read it.

Beyond all this, though, the novel made me think.  Even without Card’s afterword, where he delves into the origins and development of the story, the book pointed out how we tend to alienate each other as citizens by subscribing to certain doctrines and ideals.  It’s not enough that we believe in what we believe; we have to make sure everyone else thinks the same way we do.  And if other people don’t believe in the same things we do, then we believe them to be ignorant, stupid, or (at worst) evil.  Political talk-show hosts, both on the far left and on the far right, contribute to a lot of this, and you’ll likely look at your own political and social beliefs and wonder where you are on that spectrum.

I highly recommend this book, and this author.  I’m already tracking down a few other books of his, starting with the first in the Homecoming series.


January 22, 2007 - Posted by | Adult Fiction, Reviews

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