Book: Evening's Empires

Evening's Empires
Paul McAuley, Gollancz (2013), RRP $32.99

Award-winning British writer Paul McAuley is the author of 19 novels and more than 80 short stories. Evening’s Empires is the fourth title in his Quiet War series. Set in the far future following the Quiet War, in which the Earth-based True Empire (favouring “true” as opposed to radically modified “post” humans) conquered the solar system.

Some 70 years before the book begins, the Trues unwisely sent the most powerful armada in history to fight the Seraphs – a race of artificial intelligences from Saturn. The Seraphs won, annihilated the True fleet, and then punished Earth by taking away 50% of its sunlight. The True Empire fell, Earth iced over, 90% of its population died and the solar system slid into recession. The story begins with 19-year-old Gajananvihari (Hari) Pilot, stranded on an asteroid, the sole survivor of the hijacking of his junk-peddler family’s ship, Pabuji’s Gift. Hari is custodian of the head of barely human experimental physicist Dr Gagarian, which he must return to the Tannhauser Gate in exchange for the ship.

The head contains secret data relating to The Bright Moment – an instantaneous transcendental incident decades earlier, that resulted in a confusing mishmash of mysticism, scientific enquiry and conflict. Vowing revenge, Hari is chased by assassins across the asteroid belt, acquiring and discarding companions along the way, navigating the intricate array of strange religions and kooky cults.

Evening’s Empires is true new space opera, filled with wonder, original and diverse landscapes, cultures and the characters that inhabit them. The text is lovingly peppered with sly references to science fiction’s golden age, yet stands firm as thoroughly contemporary, “hard” SF.

The book works well as a stand-alone story, requiring no previous knowledge of McAuley’s intricately fabricated Quiet War solar system and histories. Highly recommended.

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