Saga of the Seven Suns: Hidden Empire

It's not often these days that I'm disappointed by a book I pick up - usually I've seen enough reviews, read enough interviews, and so on to know well in advance whether I'm going to like a book or not. But reviews and interviews led me astray on Kevin J. Anderson's Hidden Empire, Book 1 in the Saga of the Seven Suns.

The concepts he's dealing with are interesting enough, though they're not original. There's a definite resemblence to Dan Simmons' work in Hyperion. He's dealing with a dead civilisation, which left behind intelligent robots who have no memory of their makers. Some of the characters are archaeologists investigating these remains; more are engaged in the politics of humanity and the one alien race they've made contact with. The resemblance keeps on rolling down to the term "worldtrees", and the priesthood that work with the trees.

I can handle unoriginality, though. It was the quality of the writing that made me put the book down before I finished it. Anderson introduces more than 15 viewpoint characters in the first half of the book, and by the time I stopped reading, I still didn't care about any of them. Neither are they distinguished from each other in any way - several times I had to check the chapter headers, and read up and down the page a bit to remember whose part of the story I was currently reading. The infodumping is pretty awful - it's never more than a couple of sentences, but it contains information that's away from the current viewpoint character's experience. Nobody, to quote one glaring example, is going to think of the air of their homeworld as "spicy", particularly if they're a child who has never been on another world.

The writing itself is mechanical, overuses adjectives to the point where I was having to mentally edit them out, and repeats nearly entire sentences in several places. Also, any writer reduced to using "nice" as a descriptor in the narrative needs some help.

And finally, there are sizable holes in the reasoning and plots already. It has never occurred to the alliance that forms the bulk of humanity that some of the other factions might be larger than they say. The worldtrees are firmly established as being able to see things around them, yet a child exploring among them makes a new discovery there. And despite the advanced technology all around them, nobody seems to carry any mobile communications devices of any kind; people constantly can't be found when they're needed. That's not true very often here and now; it's starting to look increasingly anachronistic in science fiction.

In summary: Not impressed. Not going to finish this book, and I'll be avoiding Anderson's works in future, no matter how tempting the blurbs are.

Posted by Drew Shiel at June 28, 2005 12:45 PM

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