Book Review: Empire (Orson Scott Card)

Don't let the bad photoshop fool you... this is a wicked-awesome book!Anyone who reads Orson Scott Card – the author of the insanely awesome Ender saga – knows that he’s one of the best Science Fiction writers around.  His stories reflect what is best and worst about our natures, and use gripping, thrilling, so-awesome-you-have-to-read-it-twice narrative to do it.

Empire is no different.  It’s the story of the Second American Civil War.

The book feels as though it’s set tomorrow.  Foreign terrorists assassinate the President and Vice President, and shortly thereafter a group of either right- or left-wing radicals take over New York City, declaring themselves to be the liberators of America.  States quickly move to choose sides and the fighting begins.

What makes Card’s tale so compelling is the frightening plausibility of it.  Card’s America is as sharply divided along party lines as is ours, so this war is not fought across the Mason-Dixon line; instead, it’s red-state/blue-state, urban/rural.  The divisive, divided rhetoric could be taken from any number of email forwards so lovingly sent around – not to mention FOX News or CNN.

Perhaps most intriguing is Card’s comparison of America to Rome – not the Empire, but the Republic.

Card argues – through one of his more interesting characters – that America is not an Empire because were we to disappear as a nation today, our culture would not endure in the world the way Rome’s did.  Rather, America exists as did Rome at the end of her republic phase: broken by infighting and divisions, unable to stand strong on the world stage.

Only when Rome was united under a strong leader was she able to become probably the greatest empire the world had ever known.  And so Card begs us to ask, Will we follow those currents of history, ride along in Rome’s wake?

One of the more inflamatory passages in the book sums his probing well: “We don’t want individual liberty because we don’t want individual responsibility.  We want somebody else to take care of us.  If we had a dictator who did a better job of it than our presenty system, then as long as he pretended to respect Congress, we’d lick his hands like a dog.

Bottom line: A great, quick thriller that will make you rethink your politics.

Bonus!  Card just released a sequel called Hidden Empire.  I can’t wait to read it!