Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Hidden Empire by Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card's Hidden Empire picks up where his previous (prometheus nominated) Empire left off.

A new virus has just made the jump from monkeys to humans in Africa and Averell Torrent, the new U.S. President, knows how to take advantage of the situation in order to cement his power and make the world a better place. The story flows more smoothly than in the previous book; the action is intense, and the characters are engaging and sympathetic. There are very affective depictions of loyalty and heroism. Card knows how to propel the story through the characters' actions, and without needing editorial explanations to clarify his point.

But in the end, it's an apology for strong-man politics. The underlying message is if the right (visionary, ruthless) man can get control of the levers of power at the right time, and he has the right motives, he can make everything better. Card is careful (through the characters' actions) to warn us that it's crucial to a free society that the strong man be watched carefully to ensure he isn't pursuing nefarious ends, but in the end, Card says, if he is pure of heart and has the right goals, then he should be allowed to proceed.

If Hidden Empire becomes a finalist for the Prometheus this year, I would read it more as an indication of a weak year for well-written libertarian novels than an endorsement of the political principals displayed here. Of the eleven novels nominated so far (of which I've finished only 7), I can only recommend The Unincorporated Man as both libertarian and well-written. Makers by Cory Doctorow is a wonderful story (review coming shortly) but not libertarian enough to qualify. The United States of Atlantis is nearly as good, but also weak on libertarianism. The Iron Web is stridently libertarian, but with cardboard characters and weak writing.

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