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Thursday, August 1, 2013

"Evening's Empires" by Paul McAuley (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Official Paul J. McAuley Website
Official Paul J. McAuley Blog
Order Evening's Empires HERE
Read FBC Review of "Stories from the Quiet War"
Read Review of "Life After Wartime"
Read FBC Review of "The Quiet War"
Read FBC Review of "Gardens of the Sun"
Read FBC Review of "In the Mouth of the Whale"



"In the far future, a young man stands on a barren asteroid. His ship has been stolen, his family kidnapped or worse, and all he has on his side is a semi-intelligent spacesuit. The only member of the crew to escape, Hari has barely been off his ship before. It was his birthplace, his home and his future.
He's going to get it back.
McAuley's latest novel is set in the same far-flung future as his last few novels (The Quiet War, Gardens of the Sun, In the Mouth of the Whale), but this time he takes on a much more personal story.
This is a tale of revenge, of murder and morality, of growing up and discovering the world around you. Throughout the novel we follow Hari's viewpoint, and as he unravels the mysteries that led to his stranding, we discover them alongside him. But throughout his journeys, Hari must always bear one thing in mind.
Nobody is to be trusted."

To make this closer to a "conventional review" let me start with the two major things Evening's Empires is predicated on - no real spoilers as this is where the book starts:

The big picture: after the Quiet War's finale (see Gardens of the Sun), humanity flourished in many forms as described in the awesome vignettes of Life After Wartime.


However everything ends so the True Empire - brutal, militaristic, hierarchic and racially exclusive as THE "true humans", in other words they considered that only people like us today more or less, were humans, while the post-humans, the radically modified humans etc were to be subjugated - based on Earth rose, conquered all more or less and ruled for a while.

Then, some 70 years before the book starts, the Trues made one crucial mistake by amassing the most powerful armada in history and sending it against the AI's of Saturn - called Seraphs, their story mentioned in passing in Evening's Empires - who until then stood aloof of humanity; the AI's annihilated the True Fleet but rather than destroying Earth as they could (see next), they did something arguably crueler taking away 50% of its sunlight so the ice started advancing.

Within a decade 90% of Earth's population died, the True Empire fell and ice covered almost all the planet; later the AI's restored the sunlight but today Earth is still a shadow of its former self and the Solar System is in a decadent, recessionary and pretty basic, "life is a struggle" state, so the Evening's Empires title
 

In the meantime, far away in a distant galaxy - ok, joking, just on a planet at another star where In the Mouth of the Whale takes place, things happen (read that book for them) that lead to The Bright Moment - a sort of transcendental moment instantaneous across space and time, at least as far as the humanity modest spread in space of about 25 LY or so goes; this took place a few decades prior to the start of Evening's Empires and among other things led directly to the birth of Gajananvihari Pilot, aka Hari, the main character of the novel.

In the aftermath of The Bright Moment, more upheaval, to add to the Evening theme, and the response of people was generally threefold - mysticism, religions etc; trying for scientific understanding; and the combination of the two, ie understanding in order to transcend; the conflict between followers of these paths powers the action of Evening's Empires.  

While not having anything new in structure - boy, ship, hijacked, escape, finding why, pursuit, revenge - Evening's Empires has an extremely imaginative universe of the small worlds in the Solar System a few decades after the events of In the  Mouth of the Whale and the stunning conclusion to those, The Bright Moment mentioned above, so some 1500 after the original duology, hence ~3800 AD.

Everything one wants in sf is here and the book has one of the really original and plausible description of the future I've see recently - eg IM Banks, P. Hamilton or J. Corey are plausible with some assumptions but not as original, C. Priest's Archipelago or something like Mark von Schlegell's Venusia are original but less plausible so to speak.

Also in a nice touch the parts of the novel are named Childhood's End, Marooned off Vesta, The Caves of steel, Pirates of the Asteroids, The Cold equations and Downward to the Earth which are all names that should be quite familiar to any sf lover.

On looking at the book as a whole, I would say that and while it was very impressive and a top 25 of mine, it faltered a little in the last part mostly due to its structure and its main characteristic which is that sense of wonder and mysteries of reality are its driving force, rather than the pretty bland main character or the standard action adventure plot.

So while the first five parts with their combination of immediacy, action, revelations, sense of wonder and impressive world building work very well, the last part which takes place across 30 or so years in vignettes consisting a sort of extended epilogue reads more like "future history non-fiction" fiction without too much of the emotional content that ultimately powers a novel.


A 2 page "this is what happened after" epilogue would have worked much better imho as that would have allowed the author to tell the same stuff and not lose the momentum of the book - here a comparison with the In the Mouth of the Whale is instructive as there the action is completely local and far away from the Solar System - so all the history from the end of Gardens of the Sun till the present appears only in Evening's Empires as mentioned above - and the ending is also local with an "we are watching with interest the big picture thingy", but as a novel In the Mouth of the Whale works better.

Overall, Evening's Empires is true new space opera, full of sense of wonder, original and diverse worlds and people, great links to the past of the universe as described in the previous novels and stories, superb speculation and while as a novel it would have worked better with only the first five parts and a short epilogue rather than a sixth part as a drawn out epilogue, it is still an impressive achievement. And of course one wants more in this wonderful universe as there is a lot of scope for such.


4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Liviu

Could this be a stand alone, or one that you could start from this novel without reading the previous?

Many thanks

Liviu said...

all the back story is explained and the novel is independent also in the sense that the action and characters are all new, but knowing more about the universe adds to it

John said...

Hi Liviu,

Will you still be reviewing Herald of the Storm by Richard Ford ?

I remember seeing 'Review coming soon' here at FBC but it's gone now.

Liviu said...

good point; will see how I to deal with that - it all depends on time/energy and that is so variable that I cannot really predict it - but I plan to have something about all the books that will make my top 25 and Herald will be there for sure

for now my shorter (raw) review here:

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/599570003

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