RogerBW's Blog

The Sundering, Walter Jon Williams 22 March 2018

2004 space opera, second book of Dread Empire's Fall. As the civil war continues, Gareth Martinez and Caroline Sula continue to fight both to keep the Empire going and to save their own careers.

Since I read the first of these books, I've read The Rules of the Game – and I rather think Williams may have too. Certainly the mindset of a fleet that's had a very long period without any real fighting – in which the political types, the button-polishers and the rule-followers have been getting the few available promotions – that's suddenly now faced with a serious war against a peer-level opponent, so that its only chance of success is to find its mavericks, was very familiar. Especially when one of the major sticking points is formation manoeuvres versus independent action.

At the same time, the book takes on many of the characteristics of what some people have used the term "space opera" to mean lately (by analogy with "opera", as distinct from "horse opera" which was the origin of the term): grand settings, huge schemes as the aristocracy sets up various marriage alliances while playing both sides of the war, and great tragedies that flow naturally from who people are: one can see what they're doing wrong, and so can they, but they do it anyway. I was forcibly reminded that Williams also wrote the excellent Drake Maijstral series, and that it's been a while since I read them.

Terza put her arms around him and kissed him. His mind whirled. He couldn't tell whether this paternal impulse was his, or Roland's. He hated the fact that he didn't know, that he himself couldn't tell whether his genes were truly clamoring for offspring or whether he was becoming an unwitting expert at emotional blackmail.

There are space battles, innovative tactics that mostly make sense, betrayals, invasions, and megascale destruction. Yes, all right, perhaps our heroes are just too much the Only Smart People in the Navy, but again that's operatic convention, or perhaps forced by the demands of a narrative containing a relatively small number of characters. It does at times seem remarkably cramped for a multi-world empire, since we keep meeting the same people, but that might be regarded as the result of having an aristocracy at all.

Followed by Conventions of War. Recommended by vatine.

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See also:
The Rules of the Game, Andrew Gordon


  1. Posted by David L. Pulver at 01:43am on 27 March 2018

    I quite liked this one. I suppose the wormhole network itself also contributes thematically to the "cramped" feel of it - you don't go exploring off anywhere, you're limited to stops on the space highway.

    I'm curious what you thought of the Roman Republic parallels with regard to the two lead characters: Martinez has certain character traits and background from Marius (provincial background and accent, new system of tactics, super rich), and Caroline Sula as a gender-swapped Sulla (shady fallen noble background, ruthless, beautiful, etc.). I'm still trying to figure out whether this added to the story or not...

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 08:28am on 27 March 2018

    I'm not familiar with that period of Roman history in any significant detail; I see the names and some similarities, as you point out, but unless Williams actually writes a First Civil War and puts them on opposite sides, it seems so far like incidental colour rather than a major point.

    (Book four of this series is expected to come out this year, so we might yet see that.)

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