01/02/2010. Contributed by Rod MacDonald
pub: Macmillan Audio. 9 hours 9 CDs. Price: $39.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-4272-0777-7) read by Stefan Rudnicki & Orson Scott Card .
check out website: http://us.macmillan.com/Book.aspx?isbn=9781427207777
Orson Scott Card is well known to everyone for his 'Ender' series of novels. This is somewhat different. A contemporary political thriller, it involves the United States and its quest for world domination. ('Hidden Empire' should not be confused with an earlier work of the same name by Kevin J Anderson.) The second novel of a trilogy, it has sufficient scope to be read on its own but in saying that, having listened to this, you'll probably want to listen to the first version as well. It's also possible that this series will go beyond three books to maybe five or six, depending on the success of the current release.
The narrators are Stephan Rudnicki, an old favourite of Macmillan, and also the author himself. As you would expect from this company, you get a very polished and professional product. There is no possible way to complain about the delivery and diction from this CD audio book. It's well packaged, pleasing to the eye and ear and will provide reasonable entertainment for the best part of a week.
As to the story, on listening to the entire novel, it ends up being political fantasy more than anything else. Averell Torrent has taken over the presidency of the United States of America using dubious methods and underhand tactics. So what, you may say? What's unusual about that? After all, many suspect Lyndon B. Johnson of doing away with Jack Kennedy to take over the Presidency in 1963. Torrent accomplishes this in the first novel with far more spectacular results and with considerably more blood spilt. Actually, I don't think this could happen in the USA today. There are far too many outlets of information available, such as the Internet, to make a takeover happen without most people knowing about it.
Now we come to 'Hidden Empire'. Torrent is in power and to divert attention away from himself and his past deeds, he begins a campaign of world domination. Very popular with lots of people, he is seen almost as a crusader. Bartholomew Coleman becomes Torrent's enemy. Cole, as he is referred to, is sent to Africa to deal with an outbreak of a deadly virus. In a very difficult situation, almost stereotypical of Africa, he is asked to fight against massacres and rioting. He does not like the damage done to democracy in the United States and campaigns against the President, vigorously with determination, making himself an enemy of the state in the process. Going undercover, Cole tries to put together the evidence that will bring Torrent down.
Torrent's chance arrives when this deadly virus breaks out in Africa. This is his opportunity to put America's power to test in a cause which is surely justified. He attempts to isolate and blockade Africa to keep the virus in its place. Essentially, this idea is ludicrous and bears no semblance to reality. America, at the moment, does not have the political or military capability of sorting out one African country, Somalia for example, without having to tackle the entire continent. There are too many players in the world at the moment, China, Russia, the Arab nations and Europe coming to mind, which would make it impossible for America to act in such a way.
However, the novel seems to adopt a high-minded religious tone. Cecily Malich, an adviser to the President, and also her son, Mark, act in a way which is eventually commendable and heroic. They go to Africa to help victims of the virus. An exception to this is the story of Chinma. Orson Scott Card seems to be very good about writing children into his stories, Ender being the prime example, and this young Nigerian boy plays a major part in the novel.
His beginnings are inauspicious. A prime monkey catcher, he captures a particular type of white-faced monkey for scientists. In a parallel to the development of AIDS, when Chinma is bitten by a diseased monkey the virus takes hold and quickly spreads throughout Nigeria and the rest of Africa. This disease is worse than The Black Death! Chinma does not die and as a consequence he becomes very valuable in the fight against the virus.
Some say that Orson Scott Card based President Torrent on Barrack Obama, if not in action but in philosophy. I'm not sure about this and I fail to see many parallels between the two. Nevertheless, I can see a certain similarity between Torrent and Tony Blair. I don't know how much attention Orson Scott Card pays to British politics but there is an obvious similarity between the religious convictions and actions of both.
While this novel may have more appeal to residents of the United States, it can be enjoyed by other nationalities as well. On another level of consciousness, behind the simple story and the actions of the novel, Orson Scott Card seems to be beating the drum of his own beliefs. He is a Mormon, that is certain in fact, but there is also a certain amount of religious zeal, Christian in nature, running through this story which is essentially a quest for redemption.
'Hidden Empire' is certainly well-written and narrated. Nevertheless, personally I could not take to the story with any conviction. There was too much political fantasy in the novel of a type that I found irritating and unpleasant. In addition to this, the author is also involved in video games and the series has another dimension in this field. There are also possibilities of making a movie from 'Empire' or even a TV series. No, irrespective of the success that this may have in all forms of media, there was a general thread of philosophy running through the message of this novel which I couldn't begin to assimilate in any description. Sorry, it's not for me but I'm sure there will be plenty of others who will like this.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA