The Praxis: Dread Empire's Fall Mass Market Paperback – Aug 26 2003
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About the Author
Walter Jon Williams is a New York Times bestselling author who has been nominated repeatedly for every major SF award, including Hugo and Nebula Awards nominations for his novel City on Fire. His most recent books are The Sundering, The Praxis, Destiny’s Way, and The Rift. Mr. Williams lives near Albuquerque, New Mexico, with his wife, Kathleen Hedges.
Top Customer Reviews
The basic setup is reasonably standard: It's placed in that hoary old cliche, the last days of glory for a massive stellar empire. What Williams *does* with this tired cliche is what's so impressive. To start, he gives the empire a reasonable excuse for existence. Almost every one of the usual reasons for interstellar empire falls apart under any reasonable examination, and most space operas blithely ignore this as they move on with the action. While that's often just fine, and many excellent genre books have been written without any rational explanation for the existence of empire, Williams actually gives a plausible explanation for such a cumbersome and inefficient social structure: Religion. Old-fashioned, fanatical, unyielding, uncompromising, burn-the-heretics religion. In another break from the 'usual,' the religion isn't human. Humans don't run the empire, they're not even second in charge. Nor, to avoid another cliche, is humanity an oppressed bottom-of-the-heap victim. Instead, humans are respected, powerful, third members of the empire; essential parts of the machinery of empire, but nothing more special than that. Earth itself is merely one planet among many human worlds, and only mildly notable.
The religion in the case is the "Praxis," an uncompromising, vaguely feudal philosophy belonging to the undisputed masters of the empire, the Shaa. The Shaa have bent every species they've ever met to their will, and their will is the Praxis. No level of brutality has been spared in converting the various species to the Parxis, but once a species adapts to the Praxis, they are incorporated into the empire with full rights, and are assumed to be equals to all other species (save, of course for the Shaa... no one is equal to the Shaa). That's the theory, anyway. In practice, so long as the Shaa live, 'practice' is pretty close to 'theory.' Unfortunately for everyone, the Shaa are dying out. Having renounced immortality, the Shaa have diminished, and now only one remains. When the last Shaa dies, what will become the empire? At least one group has plans for the empire that don't include the status quo...
Williams breaks a number of other stereotypes: There is no pan-galactic integration, but rather the various species keep to their own planets and clusters for the most part, with the notable exception of the civil service and military. Likewise, crews of spaceships tend to be broken down along species lines in the name of efficiency. Communication between species is still an inexact science, though practical means to do so are available. Spaceships follow known physics and orbital mechanics, with strategy and warfare both being dictated by this. Interstellar traffic is via wormholes, with fairly fixed destinations. These facts will become crucial to the plot, and to the course of the empire.
Drop into this environment a skilled and ambitious young lord of a wealthy but very minor family, and the disrespectful last scion of a disgraced family, and the elements of the space opera are complete. What will young Lord Martinez do, when his patronage is lost with the death of the last Shaa? How will young Lady Sula, bereft of patronage from the start and possessed of an irreverent attitude, make her way in this new, unsettled universe? What plots are afoot, and what do they mean to the future of the empire, now that the Shaa are no more? What intrigues will take place, and where will personal ambition and species interest take the empire? *I'm* not telling, but finding out is a GOOD read.
The parts of the Galaxy linked by an extensive wormhole network are ruled, as the story opens, by the long-lived aliens called Shaa. They control several other spacegoing species -- the lizardlike Naxids, humans, the birdlike Lai-Own, the furry Torminel, etc. The subordinate species seems essentially equal, sharing government and military posts, though there seem to be worlds, even sectors, dominated by one or another species.
Now the very last of the Shaa has decided to die. This impacts the future of Lord Gareth Martinez, an up and coming Naval officer. His main patron has been chosen to die along with the Shaa, and Martinez, a provincial, is left without a sponsor. But he gains some fame when he coordinates a daring rescue attempt. The rescue attempt is piloted by Lady Caroline Sula, the only remaining member of a formerly powerful family that has fallen into disgrace. The two are both decorated, and when they meet each other, sparks fly. But Sula has some deep personal issues which make her skittish about relationships.
Martinez ends up posted to a ship run by a football-mad Captain. Martinez and a few others including his trusty old batman (yes, a cliché) run the ship while the Captain deals with the football. The ship makes its way to a Naxid dominated system, and Martinez notices some very suspicious Naxid behaviour. He concludes correctly that they are planning to take advantage of the power vacuum left by the death of the last Shaa and try to assert their status as the first race conquered by the Shaa and take the Shaa position at the top of the heap. Martinez's perspicacity and his brilliant tactics keep the Naxid operation from being a complete success. Meanwhile back on the capitol planet the Naxid coup is also less than successful, and Sula in again in place to demonstrate heroism.
And so come the opening battles of what looks likely to be an extended war. The book ends pretty much on a note of "to be continued". Cleary Martinez and Sula are destined for each other one way or another, though Williams has managed to make their future ambiguous -- Sula's past could come back to haunt her, and Martinez' conceit and overweening ambition could ruin things as well. I'll be eagerly looking forward to future volumes, and I'm sure there will be plenty more space battles, alien political intrigue, and an involving personal pair of stories for our two heroes.