How Empire of Silence puts the opera back in space opera


Empire of Silence will inevitably draw comparisons to Star Wars, the titan of their shared genre, but loving Star Wars doesn’t guarantee liking this book.

For better or for worse, Star Wars is the titan of space opera in fiction. It stands alone. But Christopher Ruocchio’s author bio declares Empire of Silence, the first in The Sun Eater, also belongs to that genre. DAW Books sent the title my way. Suffice it to say that even a Star Wars fan might not have the time or patience for this one.

Empire of Silence is weighty — even with several pages devoted to notes at the end. Although Ruocchio tries for some self-aware humor by having our protagonist, Hadrian Marlowe, constantly recall his first teacher mocking him for his melodramatic tendencies, it seems 1500 years or so haven’t scrubbed them away at all. (Even for his long-lived people, Hadrian is old by the time he’s writing these early adventures down.)

Apparently, age has not diminished his — or, one supposes, Ruocchio’s, as he’s the author — tendency to get rather overwrought in language. Nor does it stop page after page devoted to ruminating on things that apparently won’t pay off until the next book at the very least. It’s hard not to think of opera during these interludes, as if they’re his arias.

You’ll recall, of course, that A New Hope starts pretty slowly, establishing our hero’s origins. It does at least end with Luke Skywalker destroying the Death Star. By comparison, Empire of Silence takes that and proceeds to forego any sort of Death Star whatsoever. Yes, Hadrian has his adventures. The book isn’t boring by any means (as long as you can deal with the aforementioned melodrama). But it’s hard to find the book particularly satisfying when you close it because there’s no sense of climax or even ending.

This is supposed to be part of a series, and Ruocchio does quite a lot of work laying how the galaxy functions. We have an enemy, an Empire, even Space Catholicism (which is not, unfortunately, like Futurama‘s version of it). Technology is tightly controlled by the Holy Terran Chantry in the Empire. That adds an interesting wrinkle when you throw in other powers that aren’t quite so afraid of the technology. This is all very interesting, but it also contributes to the pacing problems.

Next: Why City of Lies should scratch your fantasy itch

Ultimately, Empire of Silence goes big. In some respects, it succeeds. But in others — like making the story feel like something other than a very long prologue — it does not.