01/11/2008. Contributed by Phil Jones
pub: Simon and Schuster. 708 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 0-7432-7542-X pub: Simon and Schuster. 708 page paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-4165-0292-0.
check out website: www.simonsays.co.uk and www.wordfire.com
Well space sagas. You either love 'em or hate 'em. Kevin J. Anderson is a hugely popular author having done spin-off books for 'Dune', 'X-Files' and 'Star Wars' as well as producing his own fiction and working alongside other authors. So we're well into this 'Saga Of The Seven Suns' with this, 'Of Fire And Night', book five in the series. For those who are new to the series there is a helpful eight page 'story so far' section to get you up to speed or for those readers who need their memory jogging a bit.
This huge and complex universe that Mr Anderson (no reference to 'The Matrix' intended) has created is primarily pivoted around conflict. For those who've read the previous books will know the sheer scale of this series. There is a lot going on with multiple storylines and threads but to give new readers a quick heads up, here's a brief summary.
The Earth is ruled by the Terran Hanseatic League and although to the outside is ruled by a monarchy of King Peter and his Queen, Estarra, inside the control is pretty much totally the Chairman, Basil Wencleslas who has an almost megalomaniac hold on Earth's rule and the outlying Hansa colonies. Even the Whispering Palace's staff does not realise the total control Wencleslas has. Using propaganda to control Earth's populous, King Peter has become more and more opposed to Basil's methods of rule. Basil has a replacement for King Peter in the form of Prince Daniel who he tried to mould. This didn't work quite to plan so Daniel was put into a medically induced coma, sort of put on ice. The Earth use robots known as compies. With rising threats to Earth Wencleslas orders soldier compies to be manufactured using technology from Klikiss robots who were built by an ancient extinct insectoid race. King Peter warned Wencleslas that this may pose a threat but he ignores all the warnings and it comes back to bite him, when all the soldier compies synchronously turn rogue both on Earth and on EDF (Earth Defence Federation) ships.
For readers of the series, we kind of knew this was coming for quite a while now. It just so happens that King Peter is giving a press conference and sees the opportunity to spring into action when he is given the news. Wencleslas cannot stop him as he is on TV at the time and King Peter orders the compy factory to be shut down immediately. The fast action helps to thwart the rogue compies on Earth but not without Wencleslas ordering the bombing of the factory and wiping out a crack team of soldiers. Even the head commander of the soldiers on Earth begins to question Wencleslas's actions but respects King Peter's rapid response to the dilemma. Wencleslas is even more enraged with Peter's lack of ability to follow orders and seeks for Prince Daniel to be awakened to replace the existing royal couple. Coupled with various defeats by the Hydrogues, a strange angry alien race who dwells in gas giants, Wencleslas's hold begins to become slightly shakier. The only way out is to assassinate both the queen's unborn baby followed by the King and Queen themselves.
The Roamers, humans who have chosen to stay out of the rule of Earth and Terran Hanseatic League, have also suffered losts to both Earth forces and the Hydrogues. It's various hidden colonies and outposts thrown into disarray. They are brought together by Jess Tamblyn who has been saved by the Wentals; a water-based life-form who have embussed him with new powers. In a similar way, Tamblyn persuades the Wentals to save his dying lover, Cesca Peroni. They both set out to carry out the Wentals mission to destroy their enemy, the Hydrogues, by getting the Roamers to help distribute and disperse the Wentals into the gas giants where Hydrogues reside.
Ildiran Mage-Imperator Jora'h is the one to over see there ancient plan to communicate directly with the Hydrogues played out, but things don't quite go to plan when the Hydrogue ambassador gives Jora'h a terrible dilemma. The Hydrogues demand the destruction of Earth else all Ildrians with be wiped out. He seeks the help of a group of humans to try and push the stagnated Ildrian scientists to come up with a weapon or solution so he doesn't have to destroy earth.
On Theroc, the world trees are trying to recover from the terrible near extinction. With the Help of Beneto and the infusion of Wentals, the world trees along with green priests merge to form organic battle cruisers to help in the fight against the Hydrogues.
There are definite echoes of Asimov and Doc Smith in these pages. On the face of it, these books are easy to read but what Kevin Anderson does is spin tales that stretch over numerous pages and books. Little threads that are introduced in previous books suddenly spring into life. There is a lot going on here and Anderson seems to manage to juggle many balls here and keep them all in the air for a long time.
The short bite-size chapters are, I think, these books greatest flaw. It jumps around a bit too much. There is a lack of continuity. Yes, all the story elements fit in the right places. The problem is although the short chapters make for an easy read, they deny the flow and development that a series of this size really needs. It's too structured and often Anderson denies us much in the way of descriptive text. We never get to feel and see what this universe is like. There's nothing wrong with the characters or the storylines it just lacks enough developmental glue to get you really sucked into the universe he created. It is an impressive large piece of work let down by its structure. There is plenty to like, the humour for one, interesting characters and alien societies. There's some good twists and turns and quite satisfactory conclusions to various story threads. The surprise at the end of the book is also welcome as up to this point you start thinking where is he going to take this saga with so much being wrapped up.
It's enjoyable B-rated read. For those who have already invested in reading this series, you'll most probably enjoy this book and by the end be looking forward to the next. For new readers, if you don't expect too much and can cope with the jumpy style, there's still plenty to enjoy.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA