08 June, 2010

Review: The Killing of Worlds and The Risen Empire, by Scott Westerfeld

In his Succesion [US][UK] series author Scott Westerfeld, better known for his more recent Leviathan (2009) brings the tangled geometries of space warfare into keen focus, delighting readers with his meticulous rendering of complex stroke and counter-stroke in truly stellar space battles. The Succesion books – The Risen Empire (2003) and The Killing of Worlds (2003) are hard edged military science fiction at its finest, combining crisp and incisive writing with a knack for drawing almost as much adrenaline from readers as from protagonists. Highly recommended for military science fiction aficionados and first time genre adventurers alike.

In a distant future (dum dum dum) where humans have spread across the galaxy, two civilizations are on the verge of war. One is ruled by an immortal Emperor who has discovered a cure for mortality; the other, knows as the Rix, is composed of technologically augmented humans who worship planet scale AIs. The story hits critical mass when, as the Emperor’s sister is visiting one of his civilization’s many worlds, she is taken hostage by a group of elite Rix commandos. The Lynx, the most advanced military vessel ever produced by the Risen Empire is tasked with freeing the Emeror’s sister and protecting the secret to immortality.

One of the greatest strengths of Westerfeld’s narrative is the way in which it meshes immeasurably different perspectives into a coherent, and I might add fascinating, story. From battles waged on microscopic scales by remote controlled craft to mile long rail guns capable of firing relativistic bullets, Westerfeld impresses at every turn with immaculately choreographed violence. Strategy and strength, luck and logic all play their part and combine to create a story that is as logically consistent as it is compelling.

I often find myself trying to categorize authors I have not read in terms of authors that I have read. Thus, I am best able to describe Westerfeld’s Succession series (originally published in England as one book) as an immensely satisfying mix of David Weber and Richard Morgan. In terms of style, scale and world building, the Succesion series closely resembles the world inhabited by Honor Harrington - especially with respect to the crisp mathematical geometries of space combat. Then again, there is an element of both the tragic and romantic – a focus on the more personal logics that reminds me of Takeshi Kovacs in Altered Carbon – the pacing is similarly brutal.

Regardless of what the Succession series best compares to, it was an immensely enjoyable read from my perspective. Admittedly, I am a glutton of military science fiction, but I imagine that by the standards of any science fiction or fantasy fan, The Risen Empire and The Killer of Worlds will make for some quick and enjoyable reading. With few notable flaws besides perhaps some convincingly presented strategic inconsistencies, The Succession series belongs at the top of your reading pile if it isn't already on your shelf.

6 comments:

Tyson said...

Sounds interesting, I enjoyed his other books may have to grab this one once my pile gets a little lower.

Yagiz [Between Two Books] said...

Nice! I'll add them to my wish list :).

Melissa (My World...in words and pages) said...

I have Scott Westerfeld on my list to get a book of his and try it out. I have heard wonderful things on his books. This sounds like another good read. Thanks!

Seak (Bryce L.) said...

These look really good. Can I assume this is a good place to start with Scott Westerfeld?

Alec said...

@ Tyson

Recommended indeed.

@ Mel

No prob! Thats what we are here for after all...

@ Seak

Yea I would start here if you like sf as much as you like fantays, although for some reason you seem more in the fantasy camp to me.

natsunekko said...

A commenter asked, "Is this a good place to start with Scott Westerfield?"

I'd have to say, "Not really."

I was initially introduced to Scott Westerfield through Leviathan, a wonderful series of young adult books. My "tween" son encouraged me to read his other books, the Uglies and Peeps series, also young adult books. After reading those, the Succession series was a HUGE shock! It was certainly an enjoyable shock to discover that Mr. Westerfield can also tell hard sci-fi tales on an adult reading level.

In short, the Succession books are great, and you should read them! Mr. Westerfield's other books are great too, and you should read them! But they are not at all similar to his other books, which are safely sanitized for young readers and center on teenage love.