Monday, December 31, 2007

Book review: Empire, by Orson Scott Card

TitleEmpire (Tor Science Fiction)
AuthorOrson Scott Card
Tagsfiction, politics, sf, orson_scott_card
Your reviewOrson Scott Card is a fascinating writer and person. The first book of his I read was Songmaster. I was in my teens or twenties, and I couldn't put the book down. I finished it in the wee hours of the morning and then it haunted me so that I couldn't get to sleep. The Ender's Game series is one of the best series in the English language, in my opinion, though I liked the later books in the series better than the original. When I was active in science fiction fandom in the 80s, I attended and was delighted by Card's Secular Humanist Revival, held in a tent near the hotel pool. So I was rather startled to find out that Card is a devout Mormon, and that his views on homosexuality were despised, I think with justification, by gays I knew.

And after that I didn't read him as much as previously. I did read several of the Alvin Maker series and liked them, though was not as impressed as I had been by some of his work. Other books didn't sound like things I'd be particularly interested in. I never forgot, however, that some of his works haunted me.

So when it is easy I've occasionally been picking some of his books up. I started one several months ago that I didn't finish for lack of time, and then read one written by someone else but based on one of his ideas. And I just picked up and read Empire.

Did not think I would stay with it, as there was lots of politics that really got up my nose. Ridiculous to think that there would be a coup from the left against the government. For one thing, those of us on the left are too anti-authoritarian to have the discipline to stage such a thing. Then I suddenly remembered the French revolutionaries, and the Communists, and maybe it wasn't totally far-fetched... but still unlikely.

I did keep reading, though. One reason is that I have been concerned about the chances of another civil war in this country, although I see the danger coming from the right. Card's speculation on how such a thing might happen is deft and as thorough in its knowledge of the human heart and mind as many of his other works - there is much confusion over what is right and wrong, who the villains are, and how to handle the desperate situation the country finds itself in.

One of the things that hit me hardest was a comment by one of the characters that people on both sides see people on the other side as stupid and deceived. That made me take notice, because I had been wondering how Card, who I know to be well-read and intelligent (see his official web site,, for proof) could be saying some of the things that to me just sound stupid - such as some of the characters expressing admiration for our current president.

In the end, what affected me the most was the afterward, in which Card expresses concern about our polarization, and how difficult it is for a moderate voice to be heard, telling of his experience in being viciously attacked by those of both the left and the right. Here's an example of what he has to say:

"Yet neither side can see any connection between their own fanaticism and the historical examples that might apply to them. People insisting on a Christian America simply cannot comprehend that others view them as a Taliban-in-waiting; those who insist on progressive exclusivism in America are outraged at any comparison between them and Communist totalitarianism. Even as they shun or fire or deny tenure to those who disagree with them, everybody thinks it's the other guy who would be the oppressor, while OUR side would simply "set things to rights". Rarely do people set out to start a civil war. Invariably, when such wars break out both sides consider themselves to be the aggrieved ones.".

I'm not entirely convinced, and still hold to my political beliefs. But I hope that I can see my adversaries as human with their own ideas and needs, and to be willing to listen to them.

In other words, this book made me THINK... and what else does a good book do, whether fiction or non-fiction?
PublicationTor Books (2007), Edition: Reprint, Mass Market Paperback, 368 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN0765355221 / 9780765355225

1 comment:

jjes84 said...

I had a similar experience reading the book, every time I would scoff at a line of conservative dialog being spouted from one of the main characters the text would point out that someone on the left would scoff at that. The idea that I was so easily pegged by a writer who has such different beliefs, and whose main characters were right wing, it was a strange feeling. Good reading.