Title: Hidden Empire (the saga of the seven suns, BOOK ONE)
Published: Earthlight 2003
Purchased: Borders, Cambridge, 2004-01-24, £6.99
Kevin J Anderson is best known for Star Wars tie-ins, and for co-operating with Herbert Jr on the latest Dune novels. (Though not all commentators have liked the result.)
Here, though, he has started a new series which doesn't play in someone else's universe.
The scenario is a few centuries hence. Mankind sent out STL generation ships, and an alien species, the Ildirans, discovered one. The Ildirans were nice enough to give Humans an FTL drive, and since then, mankind has colonised a number of planets, and all is hunky-dory. There are apparently only two races around, Humanity and the Ildirans, and ruins of a vanished civilisation, the Klikiss, some of whose robots have been uncovered and reactivated.
Humans are split into three factions - the Hanseatic League (well, this is what they call themselves, but they have no similarity to the historical grouping of the same name), the Roamers, who are a Gypsy-like set of space dwellers whose numbers aren't really known, and the tree-huggers of Theroc, who are important because only they can talk to the telepathic trees that provide instant communication across the galaxy.
Ildirans, on the other hand, have only one faction, bound in a feudalistic telepathic bonding to their emperor. They can't even survive on their own.
And so the story starts. We witness the turning of a gas giant into a star. Shortly thereafter, strange ships start rising out of other gas giants and destroying whatever they find. Funnily enough, it takes over five hundred (yes, 500!) pages for anyone to realise that there just might be a connection.
This novel has way too many viewpoint characters. With each chapter only a handful of pages long, we flit from story to story, and the result is that we don't care about any of the characters :- their rape, mutilation or death becomes just another minor incident. Anderson is attempting to set up a broad sweep of stories for a substantial saga (spot the subtitle here), but the result becomes a slog to get through, since very little happens - well, except for the destruction of a few colony planets and the like - perhaps it would be better to say that very little develops for the vast majority of this book.
The plot is clumsy - all attempts at interesting twists have been so destroyed by poor logic or heavy foreshadowing.
The characters are almost all dull. Oh, I said that already. And despite the large number of them, they all end up in the clichéd small world syndrome - you know it's going to be the same jolly space trader who ends up doing all the same sorts of trips.
In general, the whole thing could have been cut to half the length, and greatly improved as a result
Rating: not recommended. I'll probably read the later ones, simply because I hate having a half-done story embedded in my brain.