A Stunning Epic – “Empire of Silence” by Christopher Ruocchio

A friend recommended I read Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio. I’m a sucker for science fiction, and I knew this friend had great taste, so I went and got it almost immediately. I was blown away as I devoured it over the next four days. I’ll avoid SPOILERS in what follows, because I just want to encourage you, dear readers, to go grab this book ASAP and read it.

The novel is told by Hadrian Marlowe looking back on his own life. It’s a kind of memoir/autobiographical storytelling style that I personally find captivating. It goes beyond a simple first person perspective by inserting “historical” notes into the text as you’re reading, casually dropping bits of world-building and storytelling into the main narrative. In this regard it reminds me of Fitzpatrick’s War by Theodore Judson, though that overlooked masterpiece probably won’t ring many bells. Anyway, the first person style is usually offputting to me, though I have enjoyed my share of first person perspective novels. For those who enjoy their sci-fi/fantasy in epic style, the first person narrative here doesn’t take away from that in any way.

Again, I’m really hesitant to spoil anything, so to introduce the plot I’ll just tell you what Hadrian himself tells you at the beginning. Hadrian is a man that would be reviled for killing a sun, and all those around it. He is writing from a point well in the future of where this novel begins, telling we readers the “real story” of what actually happened to get him to the reviled hero he is. Along the way, we learn much of Hadrian’s life, motivations, and meet many, many characters, each with unique personalities and contributions to Hadrian’s capacities and actions.

There’s a wealth of sci-fi greats I could see as inspiring Ruocchio’s book. The world building and writing style made me think of Iain M. Banks. The epic scale of the universe could only recall Dune. There’s a splash of Star Wars there, too, though only in the sense of the rise of a hero (anti-hero?) character. I’d be remiss to mention some aspects of the film Gladiator getting mixed in, too. And, for what it’s worth, I really got strong vibes from Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series mixed in, too.

If this seems like a grab-bag of awesome things, I’d like to downplay that a bit. Ruocchio has undoubtedly created his own style and carved out his section of the sci-fi universe. If it is reminiscent of all of these other awesome novels, that’s not because it is derivative. The richness of the narrative cannot really be overstated here. There are times the scale seems incredibly huge, but the reader is never left adrift because the narrative ties us down to Hadrian’s life and perspective, giving us a way to navigate the huge universe. As even more elements pile onto the plot–notably linguistics and archaeology coming into play–Ruocchio manages to balance all these elements and weave them into a deeply personal narrative that turns Hadrian into a fascinating, real character.

Perhaps most importantly for a novel like this–a near 600 page epic–is that although it is part of a larger series (according to a Tweet from the author after I asked him, it will span 4 books along with potential side stories), it has a satisfying ending. Readers won’t feel cheated or baited by the end. Instead, they’ll be lining up to get the next book, knowing how excellent this one was. Hadrian’s concluding lines in the book help to make it feel, truly, like the first volume of an immense memoir.

Without a doubt, Christopher Ruocchio has created a fantastic universe to explore. Empire of Silence is a superb space opera on an epic scale. I recommend it very, very highly. What we are seeing with this book is, I think–as does my friend who recommend it–the rise of a new genre master.

Links

“Space Unicorn Blues” and “The Stars Now Unclaimed” – Two Recent Debut Science Fiction Novels Worth Noting– Come read about two exciting science fiction debuts that couldn’t be more different. Space unicorn wha?

“Gate Crashers” and “Space Opera” – Two wild first contact novels– Do you like first contact sci-fi? Here are a couple novels to look at if you like a helping of humor to go alongside it.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

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“Gate Crashers” and “Space Opera” – Two wild first contact novels

I quite enjoyed sharing my last couple reads of debut novels with you (Space Unicorn Blues and The Stars Now Unclaimed) and figured I’d keep doing some of these little book posts. Here, I want to review two humorous first contact novels I read recently.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

I love space opera. It is perhaps my favorite subgenre of science fiction, and I read a ton of science fiction. When I saw a book entitled simply, “Space Opera,” I was intrigued. When I saw the cover and the tagline “In space, everyone can hear you sing,” I put it on the “to read” pile for when I was ready for what I assumed would be a funny romp.

I wasn’t wrong. Catherynne M. Valente is clearly a talented author, and her humor is cut from the same cloth as Douglas Adams. At multiple points, I was reminded quite vividly of Adams’ writing, but never in a derivative way. Valente has her own brand of dry humor that will make you laugh, really laugh at life. Yeah, life–in the all-encompassing everything that is alive now kind of way.

The plot is zany: humans are contacted by some species and told we can produce our best talent to compete in a universe-wide talent show and not lose or be killed. So a washed up pseudo one-hit-wonder type of band gets brought back together to show the galaxy what-for. It’s ridiculous but it somehow works. It’s full of what would almost certainly be anachronisms and occasionally stilted dialogue, but by gum it still works. Valente basically wills this novel into being in a way that feels fresh and frankly hilarious throughout. You care about the characters more than some of them perhaps deserve, and the aliens introduced are interesting. But what makes it tick, again, is Valente’s almost casual wielding of humor that never gets in the way.

Space Opera is perhaps a little bit too over the top at times, but Valente cashes in on a wildly funny premise, fills it to the brims with wit, and brought me laughing to a satisfying finish. Readers who enjoy Douglas Adams should run to get it.

Gate Crashers by Patrick S. Tomlinson

What if we are totally incompetent when it comes to contact with other species? What if they were just as confused by us as we were by them? What if we found out they were trying to just ignore us? Tomlinson touches on all these questions and stirs in a helping of humor in his intriguing Gate Crashers, a rare self-contained space opera/first contact novel that hits back at several tropes.

The book is ultimately more serious than you might be lead to expect by the extended introduction. There is a lot of depth here, and readers hoping for a simple laugh riot may be disappointed by a lengthy middle portion introducing many side characters and much exposition. But it is this central portion that sets up for a rather satisfying conclusion that Tomlinson deftly handles in a way that doesn’t disappoint.

Gate Crashers is an entertaining read, though at times I wondered what the central theme or motivation is. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my time spent in this jaunt. I recommend it for people who think C.J. Cherryh needs more humor and less verbosity (I don’t know why Cherryh came to mind, as Gate Crashers only tangentially reminds me of her work, but that’s where I’m at as I type this up).

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.