Ossus Library Index
Science Fiction Index


A novel by Ben Bova and A.J. Austin
(1992, TOR Books)

Empire of the Hundred Worlds, book 1

Two Emperors and the project's organizer confront much opposition in a project to save Earth's dying Sun.


-- First reading (hardcover)
February 19th to 24th, 2000


Wow! I sure raced through that book.  This is another case of picking up a book on a whim, and then delaying reading it because I can’t figure out why I bought it in the first place.  But I loved it!

The book was defined by its characters.  The premise was there simply to allow the characters to interact in prescribed situations.  I love character studies such as this one, as long as the situations are not too unbelievable –or dull.

Divided into six sections, only the first five are relevant.  The sixth is an emotional payoff of two chapters, and the epilogue sets up for a sequel.  It often felt like the different sections may have been written at different times, perhaps to fit a magazine format.  Looking at the front of the book, it turns out I was right.  Parts of the story were published in Analog and others before it was turned into a novel.

We are introduced to the premise from the very first page: Earth’s Sun is dying, and nobody knows why.  But a young scientist has a potential solution.  Unfortunately, the Empire of a Hundred Worlds is stagnant, and nobody wants to change to come fast, if at all.  And the new plan to save Earth’s Sun will bring scientific research and change unprecedented since the initial expansion of the Empire.

But the Emperor goes against his advisors, and initiate’s the young woman’s program.  He moves the Imperial headquarters to Earth’s Moon, and appoints his son as head of the project, and temporary Emperor as he makes the trip.

For there is real science in this science fiction.  Relativistic effects must be taken into account.  Traveling from the former Imperial headquarters to Earth takes fifteen years, even though the journey takes considerably less time from the passenger’s point of view.  Communications can only travel at the speed of light, so messages get delayed, and sometimes arrive late.

Part two introduces us to the new Imperial palace on the Moon.  We learn about all the people who want to stop the project, because of change, because of cost, because of religion, and jealousy.  We even get to meet an alien race, which is terrified of the technological changes of the Empire, because they feel threatened.  We will meet each of these, in turn.

The first one comes from the advisors to the Emperor.  They feel that if they can make it cost too much, the Emperor will abandon the project.  There is also a religious group on Earth that thinks the Sun should die, because that is the natural order of things. 

The landing of Acting Emperor Javas’ father is very impressive.  The sheer scale of things, and the magnitude of the event is totally engrossing.  Nicholas’ conversations concerning the sabotage, and the attempts on his son’s life were greatly anticipated, and terrifically written.  He then plans his own death, in front of the entire Empire, before anybody else can kill him first.  He uses his nurse as a scapegoat, which causes the security agents to search for the cult and root most of them out. 

In part three, Javas has still not come to grips with his father’s death.  He has sent Adela (the project’s initiator) to a renegade ship-building world to get them back in line, because they have great expertise with building the kind of ships she will need for her project.  In response to his ex-wife’s pregnancy with an egg fertilized by him before their divorce, he fertilizes one of Adela’s eggs, and they have a son.  This was a shock to me at first, but since the story takes place so far in the future, I figure it makes a lot of sense, especially for an Emperor to have an heir. 

Eric, their son, meets with Mistress Valtane’s son, his brother, in the forest on Earth, which results in a humiliating event, from which he is saved only by Brendan, Emperor Nicholas’ former nurse, who has been banished from the Imperial grounds. 

Later, when he is sixteen, he goes to Moon to visit his father.  There, one of the cultists, working with Mistress Valtane, forces them to leave the Imperial palace to return to Earth.  But the shuttle is damaged, and crashes, and all communications are jammed.  Father and son have to wend their way through the forest, and are both nearly killed before being rescued by Brendan again.  But they are captured once again, this time by Eric’s brother.  The following taunts are great, and the plan is exposed.  Eric is barely able to kill his brother, and they are saved. 

Part four takes us away from Earth, to the renegade planet.  Adela uses her influence to bring the planet back in line.  The planet is divided by a huge fault, and the two lands on either side are divided in ideology as well.  It takes the threat of military action and a quarantine to make them realize they are better off in the Empire than outside of it.  This part was well done, but was not quite as interesting as the previous parts.

When Adela gets back into the solar system, a lot has changed.  For her, it has been less than a year, but forty years have passed in realtime.  Instantaneous communication has been developed.  The first test on her plan is in the process of being performed.  But her ship is not equipped with the new communications systems, so she still has to wait weeks at a time for messages. 

The problem here lies in the equations, which made assumptions about future technology.  Now that the technology has been developed, her equations are flawed.  They must be altered.  But the chief academic wants the test to fail, so that the project can be abandoned.  He recommends going ahead with the test, even though everybody knows it will fail. 

The alien Sarpan race has helped develop some of the equipment to be used in the tests, which includes shielding for the singularities that will transfer solar material from one star to the Sun.  When the test fails, one of their ships gets pulled through the singularity, effectively discovering faster than light travel.  So, while the test failed, progress has been quickened even more.  The chief academic realizes that it is inevitable. 

So Adela finally gets to meet Eric in the last part.  They meet, and fall silent, because they don’t even know each other, not really.  But they have eight years together before she goes into cryogenic sleep, to wake up two hundred years later, when it is expected that her project will be ready to save the Sun. 

I was wondering about the ending.  It seemed like it could be the end of the story, because there was nothing left to do except run the final test, which, according to all the research, would be less than exciting.  Everything was accomplished, so we could be at peace.  But then Mistress Valtane arrives, and tells Adela, just before she leaves for cryogenic sleep, that she plans to depose Eric, and use another of her fertilized eggs to take the throne.  That smells setup for a sequel to me. 

I couldn’t find one, for the longest time, but the sequel is called To Fear the Light, and it is out of print in most stores.  Even if I had not found it in the library, to discover the end of the story, I think I could be satisfied with the way things went.  Without the intrusion of Valtane, the story could have been satisfactorily concluded at the end of this book, knowing that all opposition had been quelled, either by time, death, or by being exposed.


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