The Risen Empire

This weekend I read The Risen Empire, a little sci-fi work by one Scott Westerfeld, and it was terrific. The opening scenes alone are worth picking the book up from the public library for. The beginning of the book is top-notch military sci-fi work, but twisted in just the right way, and I was delighted with the way it was written.

Henry van Til (I call him Hank, he' s my boy) states in his The Calvinistic Concept of Culture that
"sin has not destroyed the cultural urge of man to rule, since man is an image-bearer of the Ruler of heaven and earth. Neither has sin destroyed the cosmos, which is man's workshop and playground. Culture, then, is a must for God's image-bearers, but it will be either a demonstration of faith or of apostasy, either a God-glorifying or a God-defying culture.

"All that [man] does is involved in the whole of his nature as man. It certainly appears as if the search for value is dominated by man's ego-centricity, that it is purely anthropocentric, yet there is a deeper dimension to man's being, which is vitally involved in his activity as cultural creature...It may be asked, says [T. S.] Eliot, whether culture is not the incarnation of a people's religion."
The Risen Empire seems to be refreshingly honest about that truth in man: man will worship. The only question is, what will he worship? The story is set among the "Eighty Worlds" of the Risen Empire, so-called because the Emperor and his sister were the first to become a way. The Emperor was, sixteen hundred years before the story picks up, the discoverer of a way to reanimate for eternity the dead; he is a self-proclaimed god, and the bestower of eternal life. Faithful subjects of the Empire are "elevated" at death, and a sharp divide exists culturally between the living and the dead (living) of the Empire. Just about everything that's done is done by the living, but the dead hold immense power.

The book open at the brink of war with another (post-) human culture, the Rix, who are a borg-like race worshipping planet-sized composite AI minds as their gods. The Rix see their sole aim in life as service to the propagation of these minds. Interestingly, the Rix have long ago done away with "the unnecessary sex."

One of the greatest virtues of the book is making the godness of the emperor seem realistic and believable, and it makes imagining how previous peoples could have worshipped rulers of states as saviors of the world.

"Whereas external and deathless Nature has vouchsafed to men, as the greatest good and bringer of overwhelming benefaction, the emperor Augustus; the father who gives us happy life; the savior of all mankind in common whose provident care has not only fulfilled but even surpassed the hopes of all: for both land and sea are at peace, the cities are teeming with the blessings of concord, plenty, and respect for law, and the culmination and harvest of all good things bring fair hopes for the future and contentment with the present."

-- The preamble to a provinical Asian decree from A History of the Ancient World, by Chester Starr, page 557.

"The birthday of the god was for the world the beginning of tidings of joy (euangelion) which have been proclaimed for his sake." from an inscription celebrating Augustus' life.

The Risen Empire actually gives us an Augustus who rewards his children with eternal life, and I appreciate the way the author manages to make that "setting" in mankind seem so natural; after all, it is. The next volume in the series is out, so I'll have to get a hold of it. The series is entitled The Succession. It will be interesting to see who/what succeeds to the throne.

One interesting possibility is that these novels will end up being about the ancient wars between pagans and Christians, and that the Rix would represent Christians. Well, they would actually represent Unitarian Monotheism, not Trinitarianism, but we can't expect pagans to differentiate too well between, say, Islam and the Way. Or perhaps an intermediary will be found. After all, Christianity could be described as the synthesizing of the One and the Many, or the redemption of the Unitarian and the Pagan, through the Trinity.

Ooh. How exciting! All that plus laser guns.