REVIEW SUMMARY: Superb space opera
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Emperor sends war hero Captain Laurent Zai on a hopeless mission to destroy a battlecruiser of the Rix, a group of machine-augmented humans bent on seeing an AI hive-mind as ruler of the Eighty Worlds.
PROS: High-octane action; fun, immersive story; lean writing; great storytelling.
CONS: A single story released as two books.
BOTTOM LINE: This is Scott Westerfeld’s second entry in his two-book SUCCESSION series, the first being the excellent The Risen Empire. Both are highly recommended.
The Killing of Worlds is broken up into three parts. In the first part, doomed-to-fail Captain Zai must overcome the odds to battle an incredibly powerful battlecruiser of the Rix who only want to universally perpetuate the collective AI that calls itself “Alexander”. But Zai is nothing more than a pawn at the hands of the Emperor, sovereign of the Eighty Worlds. The Emperor, once dead, has been resurrected – a privilege that only the elite can enjoy. That promise of immortality brings loyalty to the Empire, but the Emperor is a bit of a manipulator. His real goal is to use Zai to destroy the Rix AI which has since learned the Emperor’s deep, dark secret. (“The Rix AI” sounds way more menacing than “Alexander”, doesn’t it?)
The second part focuses on a Rix Commando’s attempt to free the Rix AI from the confines of the planet Legis XV and on Zai’s encounter with an even more powerful incarnation of the AI. Meanwhile, back at the Home planet, the War Council must decide how to handle the situation. On the council is Senator Nora Oxham who must confront her forbidden relationship with Zai and decide between loyalty to the Emperor and love.
The third part focuses on the Emperor’s secret and how it is used to change the course of the Empire.
In a nutshell, Westerfeld maintains the same level of excellence that he did in The Risen Empire. This is a first-rate space opera because not only does it contain all the elements that make space opera fun (lots of high-octane action, character conflict, plot twists, intrigue), but it does so with lean, taut writing that I could not help but devour. This is a relatively quick read because the writing is clear and descriptive and the book just plain drew me in; particularly the first part of the story dealing with battle between Zai’s ship, The Lynx, and the Rix battlecruiser. There were many times when I just couldn’t put the book down. There were also times when I caught myself physically reacting (a wince here, a laugh there) to what was being revealed on the pages. I really, really enjoyed this story. This is what makes science fiction fun.
If I have any beef related to this book, it is the decision to release this story (originally written as one) in two separate $26 volumes. To me, it seems a tad excessive for a story this size. We’re talking 635 combined pages here and that’s with a larger-than-normal typeface. What, has it suddenly become impossible to pint a 635-page hardback? Bah! Fortunately, I managed to find the 2 hardbacks at bookcloseouts for a combined price of less than $15. Otherwise, I might have passed on this superb space opera.