Card gets political in Empire Review by Violet Kane

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In Print
Politics have always played a central role in the fiction of Orson Scott Card, but in his newest novel, Empire, Card creates a near-future America where the political landscape is a familiar one—at least until the story gets going.

Protagonists Reuben Malek and Bartholomew Coleman are special-ops military officers living in an America much like ours. Post-9/11, people are still worried about terrorism, but have returned to living their ordinary daily lives. The memory of the 2000 election is still fresh in the minds of liberals and conservatives, though the sitting president and vice-president go unnamed. One of Reuben's recent assignments has been to brainstorm on possible terrorist attacks America could be facing in the near future. When terrorist operatives carry out one of Reuben's proposed attacks to the letter, he and Coleman realize that there's something bigger going on, that someone within the government passed Reuben's plans on to the terrorists. Their suspicions are confirmed when, in the wake of the assassinations of the president and vice president, New York City is overtaken by an army of War-of-the-Worlds-eqsue mechanized robots—a movement by radical progressives to wrest power from a newly promoted, unelected president.

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On Audio
When reviewing a politically-loaded book like this one, I suppose it's only proper to divulge my own political orientation. As a moderate/liberal, north-eastern American citizen, I am clearly in "blue state" territory, while most of Card's protagonists are self-professed "red staters." That said, I call myself moderate for a reason. Liberal viewpoints abound in fiction without much criticism, while Card has gotten a lot of flack for his largely conservative perspective in this book. I found it rather refreshing to read about characters with a conservative mindset, especially when I read about predictably liberal characters all too often. Fiction is, after all, about expanding one's horizons. In true Card style, the author does make a concerted effort to be balanced. His "red staters" are fairly moderate, and Reuben's Democrat wife is a perhaps obvious attempt to put a credible liberal voice into the novel—albeit a moderate liberal. There is a tension, however, in this book between having too much at consequence and not enough. Card makes it clear that the progressive conspiracy is fueled by radical liberals, and the "civil war" he creates in this book ends up being a short-lived one as a result. It never truly gets to the point of red vs. blue, but rather turns into a politically precarious campaign to eliminate the progressive conspiracy at its source. Card lost me, in many respects, starting with the mechanized invasion of New York City. From there it read more like scifi, than potential new future. I would have liked to see Card spin a story of a more subtle build-up to a more politically ambiguous civil war. I think his critique of American politics would have been more powerful and credible if he had. As is, his afterword is a more affective political statement than the story.

Ultimately, this novel is Card in good form. While it may not be my favorite in terms of believability, it's a welcome change from the plethora of liberal perspectives in fiction today.

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Violet "Violanthe" Kane is the Webmaster and Founder of ARWZ.com. She is an editor of ARWZ Literary Zine and is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Medieval studies.