At the start of the year, I posted a list of books I was planning to read for the Planetary Awards. I’m going to try to blast out mini-reviews of the ones I’ve read before the February 14th nomination deadline. That’s right, Feb 14, get your nominations in.
Embers of War will not get my Planetary Awards nomination. The primary reason is that far too much of the book consisted of characters thinking rather than doing or talking. I might have enjoyed the book more if some of those thoughts had been exposed through dialogue rather than internal monologue, or if some of them had been left out completely, letting the reader infer them from the characters’ actions or conversations.
If I’d read this as a paperback, I think I’d pull out all the pages, and make a pile where characters were thinking and one where characters were doing. I’m betting the thinking pile would be at least twice as large.
The book touches on some philosophical issues, but ends up brushing them aside. It’s possible they are delved into during the sequel, Fleet of Knives.
One of the characters is a hunted war criminal, hated by everyone because she ended a war by bombarding a planet. Her bombardment reduced the total casualties the war would have caused on both sides, but the only people willing to even consider her position are a few of those who served with her during the bombardment. Everyone else seems to be in complete agreement that she deserves execution.
At the end of the book, a super-powerful AI fleet comes out of hiding and ends all violence galaxy-wide, by threatening violence. I suppose that has some parallel to European colonialists who ended tribal warfare within their colonies, but what happened when the colonialists left, and all the pent-up hostility was released? If you don’t know, look up post-communist Yugoslavia, 1947 India, or any of the nearly limitless examples from post-colonial Africa.
Personally, I don’t think peace is a goal that should be pursued at all costs. War is horrible with its death, amputated limbs, refugees, starvation, and disease. But, peace can be horrible too. Without the threat of war, bad guys are free to impose systems of slavery, rape, genital mutilation, forced labor, starvation, infanticide, burning widows — there’s no limit to what they’ll do. To me, there’s a “just right” level of violence that doesn’t consist of pointless, perpetual war, but keeps the bad guys on their toes and keeps their behavior in check.
Of course, my philosophy might not apply to the universe in Embers of War. The AI fleet believes that some kind of chaos monsters are hiding out in the darkness of deep space, and that violence will attract them. Of course, there’s already been at least one interplanetary war and a planetary genocide, so if that didn’t attract them, I don’t know why the AIs are so concerned about ending all violence. Maybe that’s another thing that will be addressed in the sequel.