The Killing of Worlds : Book Two of Succession
by Scott Westerfield
Tor HCVR: ISBN 0765308509 PubDate: 10/01/03
Review by Paul Giguere
336 pgs. List price $ 25.95
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The Killing Of Worlds is the second part of a two-part story (called the Book of Succession) which began with the novel The Risen Empire. In Risen, we are introduced to an interstellar empire that is ruled by a 1600 year old undead Emperor. In an effort to save his sisterís life, the Emperor inadvertently created a technology that could grant eternal life. Over the centuries, the Emperor has used the technology to grant eternal life to various subjects in the Empire in return for their service thus forming an elite class of immortals known as the Risen.
The events in the first novel dealt with a military offensive on the part of the Rix, machine-enhanced humans who wage war by taking over planets through the introduction of artificially intelligent compound minds into the information and technology infrastructure. Captain Laurent Zai of the Imperial Frigate Lynx, and the lover of a mortal senator of the empire (Sara Oxham), failed to prevent the death of the Emperorís sister after she was kidnapped by the Rix. Risen ended with the detection of another Rix incursion to solidify its foothold in the Empire. A dishonored Captain Zai is ordered to intercept the Rix in what can only be a suicide mission.
Killing Of Worlds picks up with Zaiís engagement with the Rix incursion. Indeed, more than three-quarters of the novel deals with an incredibly detailed space battle between Zai and what seems to be an impossible force. In between the action scenes, we are again provided a window into the politics and culture of the Risen Empire through Sara Oxham and to the plight of a lone Rix survivor of the assassination team that killed the Emperorís sister. The strands of all three narratives come together eventually to reveal a secret which will threaten the very existence of the Empire itself.
In my prior review of Scott Westerfeldís The Risen Empire [see SFRevu, March 2003], I favorably compared Westerfeld to some of the modern-day heavyweights writing space opera like Vernor Vinge, Iain Banks, Ken MacLeod, and Alastair Reynolds. With The Risen Empire and The Killing Of Worlds, Westerfeld has not only proven that that he can sit at the same bar with these writers but that the drinks are on him.
Westerfeld is pushing the space opera into new territory. No more 1000 page megaton novels that plod along with little or no character development. No more scientific extrapolation at the expense of good storytelling. Westerfeld is redefining what a space opera ought to be, fun, fast, and readable. But wait, thereís more! Westerfeld has not only managed to create a novel that sits head and shoulders above recent space operas of the past ten years but he has also redefined military science fiction in the process and has shown us where the field of military SF must go if it is to remain a viable (and believable) sub-genre of science fiction.
Westerfeld is a modern-day Isaac Asimov who can tell an epic yarn with real world-building, a fast pace, and enough excitement to leave us gasping for more at the end and all within two 350 page novels. In the two novels comprising The Book of Succession, Westerfeld has really created something special here and I for one am very excited to see what he will write next.