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Hidden Empire by Orson Scott Card
Review by Linda Marie Schumacher
Macmillan Audio Audio CD  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781427207777
Date: 22 December 2009 List Price $39.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

In Hidden Empire by Orson Scott Card, a brutal plague is ongoing in Africa, and genocide begins, using the plague as an excuse to wipe out some minority tribes. An elite US Military force develops super body amour and heads to Nigeria to combat the plague and the genocide.

In Hidden Empire by Orson Scott Card, the United States has just completed a brutal civil war. The president was assassinated, and new President Averell Torrent is trying to put things back together.

Europe is also having problems, and Captain Bartholomew Coleman, known as Cole, is negotiating issues in Europe. Cole is the leader of an elite military special operations force. The force recently acquired a new set of body armor. It is ergonomically balanced to enhance the body’s motions. The users can run faster and jump higher. The armor also includes state of the art helmets, with heads-up displays and the ability to recognize eye movements and use them as commands.

A parallel story is ongoing in a small village in Nigeria. A young man, Chinma, has endeared himself to his village by climbing trees and catching monkeys that are in demand for medical research in other parts of the world. One iconic day, Chinma is climbing a tree and finds a family of monkeys that are exceptionally docile. Chinma expects they are ill, and one sneezes on him. Another falls out of the tree and bites his brother. Soon after, Chinma's brother dies a violent death and Chinma becomes ill. Soon the whole village becomes ill and half of them die. News spreads quickly through political-unrested Nigeria, and the government forces enter the village and other nearby villages and massacre the survivors. Only, Chinma happened to be climbing a tree and was unnoticed. He was able to record the events and take photos, using a camera a local professor had given him to help with research.

News of the massacre quickly spreads to the United States, and President Torrent realizes that genocide is underway. The Nigerian government was killing the survivors of the disease who were already immune. Torrent quickly does two things: Initiates a blockade of Africa to contain the disease and Sends Captain Coleman and his special forces into Nigeria to stop the genocide. The majority of the remainder of the novel takes place in Nigeria with many twists and turns.

Torrent's aides quickly accuse him of trying to "empire build" by blockading Africa and using the media hoopla to his advantage. The ides of Torrent twisting the outcome of the plague and the outcome of the revolution to his advantage is hinted about through the entire novel. One of the aides also convinces Torrent to allow a group of medical volunteers to enter Nigeria. Everyone knows that despite his efforts, Torrent will not be able to contain the plague in Africa, and these volunteers will have already caught the virus. Those who survive will be able to help treat the rest of the world once the virus spreads. With the help of Chinma, the volunteers are able to develop a protocol to treat the disease and significantly reduce the death rate.

I find it interesting that the book is full of stark contrasts. The group of volunteers are Christian based, and although they are not on a religious journey, they cite their desire to go to Africa as wanting to do what Christians should and help those in need. At the same time, the book quotes historical figures of how plagues in history have kept the world's population from growing out of control. Certainly true, but brutally honest. Also mentioned are stark contrasts between how military leaders function during peacetime and wartime. During peacetime, the competent administrators rise to the top, but a different kind of general is required during wartime. I cannot prove that is true, but it sure sounds like it, and I have never heard it put so bluntly before.

I received the book from SFRevu as an audio CD set. Listening to it on CD provides some interesting aspects. One thing that took me a while to figure out was that each chapter begins with a speech made by the president, and then the narrative of the novel continues. At first I did not know they were different, but I figured it out. Another thing that I have to admit about writing reviews on audio books is that I do not always spell the names and locations correctly. I have to admit, that since I am writing a review, I usually get a hard copy of the book from the library and check the spellings. To just listen, none of that is required you can just breeze through the story, and it is great.

Hidden Empire sits on the border of science fiction and thriller. Plagues that take over the world fall into the SF genre, but they are certainly feasible. The time period is near current day just a bit in the future. The fancy body armor is the most sensational technology, but certainly feasible. Much research is going on with ergonomics and amplification of nerve impulses, etc. The story is appealing to lovers of both genres.

I love audio books, and this is a good one. The plot line is great, and I thoroughly enjoyed the stark comments on reality. Nothing is outrageous, but certainly is not politically correct, and I just never thought of things in that context before. I highly recommend Hidden Empire.

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