Hidden Empire: Book 1 of The Saga of Seven Suns by Kevin J Anderson
(Earthlight, £17.99, 677 pages, hardback, ISBN 0-7342-2045-5; also available in trade paperback priced £10.99; published 1 July 2002; ISBN 0-575-07322-5. Earthlight, £6.99, 704 pages, paperback, first published 2002, this edition published 7 July 2003.)
If by some amazing chance you've just arrived at the infinity plus review pages as an sf virgin looking for a book to really turn you on to reading sf then skip this review. Hidden Empire, book one of The Saga of Seven Suns, is not that book.
In 400 years time the Terran Hanseatic League has colonised a number of worlds in our spiral arm of the galaxy - helped in no small part by the generosity of the alien Ildirans. 200 years earlier the Idirans, with the benefit of their ftl drive, rescued Earth's first interstellar generation ships, dropped them off where they wanted to go and gave us the ftl drive for free. Humanity has spread like wildfire since then under the apparently tolerant gaze of their complacent benefactors to the point where the Hanseatic League is about to test some star-making technology left by a mysterious and now vanished race of insect-like aliens.
The League and the Ildirans both need a fuel called ekti available only from the atmospheres of gas giant planets to power their ftl drives, and only a loose grouping of interstellar gypsies known as Roamers can be bothered to mine these planets for the absolutely vital fuel. But after the successful test of the sun making technology, Roamer 'skymines' begin to fall victim to the deadly spacecraft of a strange new race and the Earth Defence Forces and Ildiran Solar Navy find themselves drawn into an apocalyptic war.
That doesn't sound so bad, does it? Some fine, uncluttered space opera in the old tradition - hasn't even Samuel L. Delany himself written novels with flimsier plots? Wasn't Peter F. Hamilton's excellent Night's Dawn trilogy very much this type of grand old story brought a little up to date? There are broad similarities to Hamilton's trilogy, both in the narrative style and the story, but Hidden Empire lacks all the depth of that convoluted but not so very complex work. Simply writing a very, very long story doesn't excuse you from having a decent plot, believable characters and milieu and some decent ideas.
Hidden Empire is not simply bad, it's embarrassingly bad, especially when you realise just how many books Kevin J. Anderson has produced previously. The individual motivations, galactic politics, technologies, culture - everything, in fact, seems crushingly predictable, poorly reasoned and frankly rather naïve.
Earthlight publish a lot of good sf, so why they should feel the need to print this monstrosity is beyond me. Innocent trees have died to make this book, and such senseless slaughter should make you angry!
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© Stuart Carter 18 May 2002