What Kind of Empire Is This?

Orson Scott Card
TOR Books

About halfway through Orson Scott Card’s Empire I had that sinking feeling. You know the kind where you’re plowing through a book that’s just a great concept but you know it’s juuuuuusst not gonna make it there. It wasn’t the slight heaved at the great state of New Jersey (more on that in a moment) that turned me off the sci-fi thriller, no, it was reading an author trying to walk too much of a tightrope and not trying to offend anyone in out there in the audience.

Let’s geta few things straight. Empire is a great concept. It’s a great what if book. What if there was a second civil war? What if tension between red and blue states finally came to blows? Not really a far-fetched concepts. In fact if you’re fond of the Sunday talk shows and Fox News there’s been a war of words going on for several years now.

The plot is intriguing. The president is assassinated in a brazen attack on the White House. It’s the exact same attack predicted in a research paper by the novel’s hero, Captain Malich , a special forces ace whose politics lean conservative. He then has to go on the run with his wife, whose politics lean liberal (eh, see where this is going?), along with his aide to West Windsor, NJ, — where everyone goes to hideout.

The story really kicks up a notch when giant mechanized robots take over the streets of New York as liberals, fearing a conservative takeover of the government, strike. It all sounds a little silly but Card makes it work, despite the fact that as you read along you get the feeling that the robots are there for the tie-in video game and movie, which are apparently already in production.

Honestly, the robots aren’t needed and the book would probably be more powerful without them. However, the worst part about Empire is it’s unwillingness to take sides. Neither the right or left are wrong in this conflict. It’s kind of hooey and walks too-fine a line to ever be a great tale about our current political situation. It’s a bit like saying, “You know the south did have a point about that slavery thing.”

Anyway, the book does have its moments and, as a diversion, it’s fun . Still I couldn’t help but think while reading it could have been much more and when finished it felt a lot like a missed opportunity.

We’d be remiss for not taking Card behind the woodshed for his slight to our fair state on pg. 135. As one of the characters drives from Washington to New York for an appearance on the Bill O’Reilly show we are treated to this piece of descriptive candy from Mr. Card:

Yet he kept driving north, up I-95 to Delaware and then across the river into New Jersey and its ugly toll road that funneled you to New York City as if you were being flushed down a toilet.

Ahhhh, what creativity there. Never heard the Jersey-toilet connection before. I don’t want to get off on a tangent here but you know in the Garden State we understand the NJ Turnpike isn’t the most attractive of roads. Certainly not as attractive as all those other interstates running through places like, say, Cleveland or Detroit or North Carolina, where Card hails from, but perhaps just a bit more work on this description could have been done. I mean equating the NJ turnpike with a toilet is done almost nightly on TV talk shows. Hmmmm, who might we quote for a little creativity. Ah, I know something from master Springsteen perhaps.

Early north Jersey industrial skyline I’m a all-set cobra jet creepin’ through the nighttime
Gotta find a gas station, gotta find a payphone this turnpike sure is spooky at night when you’re all alone
Gotta hit the gas, baby. I’m running late, this New Jersey in the mornin’ like a lunar landscape

Bruce Springsteen, Open All Night

Let’s see toilet, lunar landscape. Jerseyans what paints the picture here?



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