Hidden Empire by Kevin J. Anderson
; (UK: July 1st 2002)
Review by Iain Emsley

Hardcover - ISBN: 0743220455 List Price:  £17.99
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Space Opera has seen a rapid growth recently, regaining its sense of being a form of entertainment, its sense of fun and romanticism. Kevin J. Andersonís Hidden Empire is the latest in this line of writers heading back into space with a sense of romanticism about its enterprise. 

Thousands of years ago, the Klikiss race invented a way to make suns, through exploding gas giants and reigniting their chemistry, yet they disappeared, leaving only their ruins and robots.  For years the Ildiran empire has helped the human expansion in to space, from rescuing the original exploration vessels and guiding them (bar one) to habitable worlds to overseeing them as benign stellar parents, through giving them their Star Drive. Gradually they have recorded their entire history in the Saga of the Seven Suns, a continuous poem.  

On earth, the government has been suborned by the Hanseatic Terran league, currently controlled by Basil Wenceslas, who have set up a monarchy to manipulate the population. He decides that he wants a new figurehead and sets about grooming Raymond Aguerra to ascend to the throne.  

When the Klikiss Torch is ignited, the test is an overwhelming success, but Margaret Colicos, a xeno-archaeologist, notices bodies exploding away from the new sun. She and her husband opt to go on an expedition to an ancient Klikiss city with one of the Tree Priests (who have the ability to contact each other telepathically via the World Forest). In their dig, they uncover more of the Klikiss than they bargain for.  

Deep in space, the Drifters have left the Hansa Terran league, living in an anarchic society, mining the gas giants for the fuel needed to power the Star Drives. When two of the mining platforms are destroyed by giant crystal globes, affecting one clan in particular, they are left without the means of directly fighting back. Jess Tamblyn leaves to join the Earth Defence Force, leaving her brother, Ross, to organise the Drifter resistance.   

As the humans scramble to try to organise a resistance to the seemingly unstoppable crystal globes, the Ildiran empire attempts to avoid an direct contact with the enemy. After the rescue of one of its stellar colonies, the empireís hidden history is discovered, forcing them to admit their own powerlessness.  

Anderson gives this opening novel a sense of wonder, from the stately waltz of politics to the sheer grandeur of his empires. In each contact, he tries to write on a grand scale, dwarfing the human enterprise, giving the reader the impression of the vast scale of space. When the star is exploded, we are given a sense of the grandeur, of the sheer scale of the enterprise in hand.  

However this enterprise is somewhat compromised by the author telegraphing the plot at various locations and the way that it is subdivided into character sections. The author could be forgiven for trying to write it into a pulpish fashion, dividing the novel into various scenic chapters, however it jars the narrative flow, as Anderson does not fully develop each section or resolves the conundrums set up. In many ways this novel is also written in a televisual fashion and never really flows together, relying upon the scenes to carry this through.  

Hidden Empire is a solid Space Opera which is as entertaining as it is grand. It maintains a rattling pace which enthrals and sets up future novels in the series in an old fashioned future.  

© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu