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REVIEW: The Killing of Worlds by Scott Westerfeld

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.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

13 Comments on REVIEW: The Killing of Worlds by Scott Westerfeld

  1. From what I’ve heard, it originally was written to be THREE volumes and he realized it was over padded and trimmed it down to two.

    I guess the whole three vs. two thing will be an SF urban myth at some point.

  2. Don’t you ever SLEEP?

  3. Sleep is for the weak. Also,…there’s…no…Zzzzzzzzz.

  4. No, Fred Klesche is completely wrong. It was not written as three volumes. Scott *never* over pads. Where on Earth do these rumours come from?

    The Risen Empire & The Killing of Worlds were originally one book called Succession. It was sold to Tor as one book. A major US chain decreed that it would not be ordering any hardcovers that cost more than approx. $25 if they weren’t by, say, Stephen King.

    Scott was given one week to decide whether to split his book in two or have it come out as a trade paperback. At the time his books had only ever been published as paperbacks. Typically hard covers get far more attention, are more widely reviewed etc. Also his publisher was keen for him to go the two-book path.

    So that’s what he did. If he could go back in time and make that decision over he would *definitely* choose to keep the book as one as originally intended. It seems to have really hurt sales–not to mention buggering up the book. It has since been published as one book by the SFBC under the title Succession and will be out next year in the UK in one volume, confusingly, titled The Risen Empire.

    Justine (Scott’s vigilant wife–for some reasons these ridiculous rumours annoy me WAY more than they do Scott)

  5. Justine, wow, thanks for the insight on how the publication biz works. I notice from Amazon UK that the UK edition is out in March. Perfect – Richard Morgan’s “Woken Furies” is out in March too, so people can buy both in one order.

    Kind regards


  6. If the rumors annoy you, how does the shamless fanboy praise in John’s review strike you? 🙂

    If I were to guess which ‘major chain’ you’re talking about, I’d have to say Wal-Mart. They have tremendous pull with their suppliers. But then again, I rarely see any SF in any Wal-Mart store. So it was probably for their online store.

    I don’t see any of the big book chains balking at a hardback at more than $25 because they know more people than just the Stephen King demographic buy big and/or expensive books. Another reason for my Wal-Mart belief.

    Justine, thanks for stopping by and posting with us. If you come back and read this, tell your husband that we really enjoyed the Risen Empire books. I know I haven’t read anything so engrossing and flat-out enjoyable in a long time!

  7. Shameless fanboy praise is always welcome. I pointed out the reviews to Scott and he was dead chuffed (Australian for pleased). Mostly the books have been really well-received (except for the grumbling about the one-book-split-into-two problem which is totally understandable–why should you have to pay $50 when it could’ve just been a $30 book?–just don’t blame Scott!).

    Nope it wasn’t WalMart. I won’t say who, mostly because I don’t think the big chains are evil incarnate, despite this particular decision. They’ve done a lot to make a wide range of books available. I’ve met some of the buyers for some of them and they’re good people who really really know their stuff. Independent book stores are fab too. Booksellers=good.

    I should also point out that this is not a unique story. Scott isn’t the only writer to have been effected by this decree. Not by a long shot.

    McDill: the publishing biz is very strange indeed. Writers have way less power than most readers imagine. Most don’t get to choose their covers or write their cover blurbs or pick the interior fonts or set the price or in some cases I’ve heard of even pick the title. Not until they get really really big anyway. I imagine J K Rowling has a great deal to say about how her books look.

  8. That would be Kiesche.

  9. “It was not written as three volumes. Scott *never* over pads. Where on Earth do these rumours come from?”

    Well, I for one never said that padding was involved. And, if memory serves, this was a tale reported by Locus, probably in the review of one or the other of the two volumes.

    If you think that’s bad, ask Gene Wolfe someday about “The Castle of the Otter”.

  10. Sorry about spelling your name wrong (mine gets mispelled all the time so I feel your pain)–this font makes it hard to pick between i’s and l’s.

    You know, you’re right, I have a feeling that was in a Locus review. I shall investigate and go after that reviewer with sharpened knives. (Though I have a feeling I already did. My memory fades as my teeth lengthen.)

    Oh sure, and Chip Delany has a gazillion stories to tell of other nefarious publishing hatchet jobs and stupid rumours. If I know the facts I try to correct folks where possible. But I have to be honest it’s only when they’re done to me and mine that I get truly ropeable. A sad failing I know.

  11. Agreed.

    His writing style makes the story dynamic, never letting it go stagnant; one intersting idea after another. Westerfeld has a firm grip on military strategy, societies/politics, and technologies that just make so much sense. All of his literary decisions make all the sense in the world. How poetic to end his harrowing chapter of madness and destruction with a memory of a kiss…

    These books are any scientists’ (or would-be scientists’) wet-dream. Westerfeld takes fascinating ideas in relativity and chemistry, and apply them to a deadly space battle. And everything has realism to it (possible SPOILERS?):

    -Energy weapons cause cancer and must be fired a safe distance away from the ship;

    -Ships engage each other at distances of tens-of-thousands of kilometers;

    -Ships are travelling so fast that if the gravity-compensators are not working 100% perfectly, people are crushed into meat sauce by the ship’s acceleration;

    -Objects travelling at near-light speeds are used to ram other ships, and even the smallest things can become unstoppable weapons;

    -In space, if you’re not emitting any electromagnetic radiation whatsoever (like light), then you’re practically invisible to the enemy!

  12. **Correction: I meant to say “tens-of-millions of kilometers away,” not “tens-of-thousands.”

  13. you made some great books. you must have worked hard. don’t let other people tell you otherwise.

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