Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dread Empire’s Fall Trilogy; Walter Jon Williams

The Praxis (2002)
The Sundering (2003)
Conventions of War (2005)

The “Dread Empire’s Fall” trilogy starts off with the death of the last immortal Shaa, the race of which conquered the galaxy and put all of the defeated races beneath it’s yoke, imposing it’s ideals and values upon them. After the death of this race, a civil war begins between a renegade group of Naxids, and the remaining races of the alliance – including the far-future members of humanity – over whom should rule over the galaxy. I’m reviewing the three as a single story, because the only way that I really read the current crop of science fiction trilogies is all at once – I can’t really wait for a year to find out what happens in the next novel, and by this stage, I’ve forgotten most of the original story, anyway.

The narration of the story largely passes between Gareth Martinez and Caroline Sula, both of which are the main characters of the trilogy. Martinez is a provincial Peer, the equivalent of the nobility in the novel, and his family are desperately trying to claw their way up socially, through the judicious use of marriage and money. Sula is the last member of a once highly-respected Peer group, her parents having been executed when she was a child. Both encounter each other quite early in the first novel, and something of a convoluted relationship between the two develops. There are some other characters that narrate the story, particularly Lord Chen, a highly-respected peer fallen on hard times due to the war isolating his business interests, and whom is financially rescued by the Martinez family, but on the whole, the story passes between the two. The major characters are all well-fleshed out, and are all interesting to read.

I found the military SF aspect of the trilogy to be quite well done, and this series is recommendable for that alone. I quite liked how the three novels kept the reader updated on the strength of the forces of both factions, in terms of the ships that each group had. It was a simple but extremely effective way of showing how the armadas were progressing in the war. Williams also envisages a variety of methods of futuristic warfare – large, pitched battles in space, ground-based guerrilla warfare, a small raiding party, space bombardment of a planet, and so forth. The variety of battle styles does make for interesting reading, particularly since military tactics in this world is narrowly-focused, and has crystallised and stagnated under the rule of the Shaa. The warfare of both sides sometimes comes across like a stereotyped perception of England at war – there’s a refusal of military command to adapt to changing conditions in battle, command is based on social class, with only nobility able to take positions in command, and the decisions of policy makers are partially based upon the commercial interests of the voter and their acquaintances.

The story alternates between telling of the war and how the alliance is faring against the Naxids, and telling the story of how civilian society is reacting to the war. The social aspect of the trilogy, while on the whole interesting, did not always keep my interest like the military part of the trilogy did. The first book is broken up with a backstory of a character named Gredel, whom befriends Lady Sula in her adolescence. The significance of this back story is quite obvious far before the revelation occurs, and during the backstory, slows the pace of the story dramatically. The second book, midway through, suddenly becomes quite concentrated on the idea of several members of the Martinez family getting married within quite a short period. It slows the book dramatically, does not make for interesting reading, nor is the sudden blossoming of various marriages explained well. These are minor complaints in regards to the story considering how much I enjoyed the rest of the trilogy, but do need to be made.

On the whole, the “Dread Empire’s Fall” trilogy is excellent military SF. There’s a variety of ways in which futuristic war is waged, the characters are quite interesting and well-fleshed out, and so is the society the characters live in. There is a variety of perspectives of the war, focusing on a lone, individual fighter and scaling up to commanding a fleet of warriors, and tactical command itself, and the perspectives add variety to the story.

The Praxis – 4.5/5
The Sundering – 4.5/5
Conventions of War – 5/5


Wow Gold said...

Interesting blog. I liked it.

Aion Compte said...

Good blog

B Elliott Edwards said...

Only a year after the OP, better late than never I suppose.
I just finished the series and had to say I agree with you.
My biggest problem with the series is that there isn't more. In Conventions of War, Williams had set up at least another sequel. It ended much like the first book.
Good post.