The Empyrean Age

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Last weekend, I finally received the much-hyped Eve novel in the mail, which I had picked up largely because I wanted to know if the plotlines that had started coming to the fore in May were really as poorly thought out as I had suspected.  I admit I was predisposed not to be particularly happy with the book, especially since I had extremely strong feelings about the Caldari storyline being portrayed.  Still, I held out hope that it would end up being better than I expected and that it would help restore some of my confidence that the lapses I had seen were just one-time oversights or different, but valid, interpretations of how things have gone in the past.

If nothing else, I hoped it would be a good distraction and a decent tie-in novel, which are hardly exalted classics of the literary arts.  After all, I read and enjoy plenty of stuff that isn't exactly going to win the Pulitzer (or a Hugo or Nebula), including a number of the Dungeons and Dragons tie-ins, most of the Shadowrun novels (yes, even those not written by Tom Dowd or Nigel Findley), Sue Grafton's mysteries, David Weber's Honor Harrington series (at least the first several), the first several Tom Clancy novels (when he actually wrote books), and dozens of others.  There's nothing wrong with a good, exciting yarn that's the intellectual equivalent of comfort food.

And having read the book, what do I think?

I cannot in good conscience recommend this book to anyone.  It suffers from a number of crippling problems (some of which I've decided to discuss behind the cut to prevent spoilers for people who really are convinced they want to read it), most of which have absolutely nothing to do with the plot problems I thought were going to be my biggest complaints.  I realize that this is Tony Gonzales' first novel, but even compared to other tie-in products, The Empyrean Age is simply lacking in many areas.

  • Mr. Gonzales desperately needs an editor to tell him "no" on something.  Many of the other problems I'm going to discuss probably could have been fixed if he had someone reading his book with a critical eye and telling him why certain things would or would not work.  In addition to stylistic problems and poor pacing, the book is riddled with shifts between present and past tense (usually involving infodumps -- see below for more on that), inconsistent word choice (in every Eve product not by Mr. Gonzales, the citizens of the Caldari State and Gallente Federation are Caldari and Gallente respectively -- in The Empyrean Age, they are Caldarians and Gallenteans), and other problems that could easily have been fixed by a good editor.  I suspect the fact that this is basically a marketing ploy means that CCP is paying most of the publishing costs, and therefore the publishing company had little reason to care (or even the ability to care) if the book was edited or not -- I know that very few other first-time novelists would have gotten something like this out the door without that kind of oversight.
  • The book has been way overhyped by CCP, with podcasts featuring game designers and writers gushing over how great the book is, and honestly, the way the book has been marketed is completely pretentious for what amounts to a run-of-the-mill tie-in novel.  The back of the book jacket says "These are the times that will test the human spirit," a bit of an overblown statement for what it really is, especially since none of the characters, to me, really felt like they went through a significant character arc.  The book itself is a hardcover (I don't see that a lot with tie-in novels, and it tends to only happen with authors who are already established) and everything about it is set up to raise expectations.  People who buy this book because it looks vaguely interesting and well-produced will probably be disappointed with what they find inside the elegant package.  I do not think I would have been quite as harsh on the book had it been marketed as something neat to pick up on the side, but not the greatest and most innovative new idea since sliced bread.  Tie-in novels are nothing new, even ones tied closely to a major development in an ongoing metaplot.
  • The book falls victim to that most treacherous of pitfalls in many tie-ins and SF novels, the infodump.  The first piece of advice any aspiring writer gets in a writing class or author's workshop is "show, don't tell."  Unfortunately, many authors feel like it's important to drop a bland wall of text in the middle of some other scene.  This can be done well; usually by keeping the information brief, limiting it to only the bare minimum of what the reader needs to know to understand the current situation, and trying to break it up and work it into the action somehow so that it isn't so obviously exposition.  Unfortunately, The Empyrean Age drops what is essentially an encyclopedia entry into the narrative on dozens of occasions (once right in the middle of one of a sex scene, for crying out loud) and brings the action to a grinding halt, often going on for paragraphs or pages about facts that are only tangentially related to what is going on at the time.  Most of this is regurgitated almost verbatim from background information on the Eve website.
  • One of the worst parts of this book for me -- frankly, to a level where I was often simply too disgusted to continue reading and had to take a break -- is that it is riddled with poorly written "sex" scenes, including a number of rather lurid descriptions of pedophilia and other pretty sickening stuff, which serve no purpose but to either titillate or provide some sort of hamfisted emotional manipulation to make you hate a character.  I am hardly a rabid feminist, and I would like to think I'm not a complete prude (despite what some of my coworkers would have you believe), but these sex scenes were repetitive and, to be quite honest, boring, served no purpose with regard to character or plot development, and it literally seemed at times that I could not go more than 20 or 30 pages without one.  There are few if any female characters who are not portrayed as some sort of sex object, something that maybe shouldn't come as a surprise considering the likely audience, but here's a hint: if you are baffled why women don't seem to be interested in a lot of games, it's writing like this that turns them off, folks.  Most of these scenes read like something you'd see from someone in a first or second year writing course who is trying way too hard to be "adult" or "edgy" (and boy, did I sit through a lot of those in college) and ends up coming off as fake and empty.
  • Though the female characters may get the shortest shrift, I didn't find any of the characters to be particularly three dimensional, sympathetic, or even comprehensible in many cases.  Almost every character, whether a Federation combat pilot, Caldari megacorporate CEO, Minmatar ambassador, or Amarr noble, spoke exactly the same way with one or two affectations (the Amarr throw in "my lord" every once in a while, for instance).  People change loyalties and toss away deep seated beliefs in less time than it takes me to wash my hair, apparently have no critical thinking skills, and don't show any sign that they fit in to whatever role they serve in the novel; rather than feeling like real people, the seem like actors called in to improv some lines about characters with power and responsibility they barely comprehend, then get shuffled off as quickly as they arrived.  Surprisingly (at least to me), Tibus Heth is probably one of the characters with the most depth in the novel, but that is damning with faint praise.  Many of the characters come off as "GM PCs" or Mary Sues, something I warned about in my post on metaplot earlier, with godlike abilities that seem completely out of whack with a "gritty scifi setting," as Eve's developers claim it to be.
Many of these problems are compounded by the fact that I don't think The Empyrean Age knows who its audience is.  If it is intended for hardcore Eve players, especially those most interested in the ongoing storyline, they may overlook the parts of the book that are lacking, but most of them aren't going to need the multi-page infodumps that are injected into the text at regular intervals.  If it is intended for a wider audience, people looking for an Honor Harrington-style space opera romp, they might be willing to sit through the infodumps, but the language and the trying-too-hard shock value of a good portion of the book is going to make it inaccessible.  It doesn't even have the boringly by-the-numbers appeal of a cheap romance novel or the two-fisted pulp action tale.  This is another case where an editor could have focused the book into something that would have been far better than the result.

To be fair, the book does improve somewhat in the last section, as the action kicks into high gear describing the events that transpired on 10 June.  Unfortunately, even those events suffer on the plausibility front because of the frailty of the previous 400 pages and the time in which we're expected to believe these things all happen; the complete subjugation of Caldari Prime, for instance, takes only 13 minutes from the moment the Caldari fleet enters Federation space to the minute Heth gives his ultimatum to Foirtain.  It's also riddled with the same sort of cliches and manipulative writing that haunts the rest of the book.  I'm tempted to give it some slack on this issue, as the day-long transition from peace to war was somewhat of a game requirement; still, I think that with proper planning, that could have been done at a much different and more natural pace if some more care had been taken in designing the storyline.

I have plenty of more specific notes, but I've kept them behind the cut.  If you're curious what else I have to say, proceed on....
Okay, I'm going to take some time to address some of the major plotlines and what I see as serious problems with them.  I'm planning to write another article on the novel to address how it falls short with its world-building later, so I'm going to try not to go off on too many tangents here.

Jamyl Sarum and Falek Grange

The book opens with this plotline, and in many ways I think it was the least offensive to my sensibilities.  Jamyl Sarum's clone has evidently recently reawakened, after some sort of bizarre rewriting of her synapses that took three years.  For some reason, she is hiding out in Delve, stronghold of the Blood Raiders, who she is completely opposed to.  I'm a little baffled as to why she chose there to hide her secret clone, and why the Blood Raiders never figured out that she was hiding there, but it's not something that I spent too much time worrying about.

Her time in this coma was evidently precipitated by some sort of mental parasite that has invaded her brain; either that, or an "evil spirit," or she's simply gone completely insane (I tend towards one of the first two).  Her original personality appears to have been subsumed by the parasite, who is hell bent on the most aggressive and oppressive of the Amarr religious policy (I refrain from referring to "good Jamyl" and "evil Jamyl," despite the fact that that is often how they are portrayed).  This has also given her telepathy capable of working at interstellar distances and on at least dozens of people at once.

Here's the problem with this bit: it's largely unnecessary.  Why does Jamyl need this?  The telepathy makes almost no difference to the story, it's completely unprecedented in Eve, and I have to admit it feels a lot like a slightly obscured Palpatine ripoff.  Were I the editor, I would have told the author to simply go back and pull it out, giving the characters under her internal conflicts over their loyalties, rather than simply fear that the Emperor is going to sense they are disloyal and shoot them in the head.  Personally, I find that kind of human drama far more interesting than introducing supernatural forces into something where they haven't existed previously.

Jamyl is trying to consolidate her power and can evidently use her telepathic powers (or perhaps it's previous knowledge of whatever is inhabiting her brain) to pinpoint the location of Terran artifacts, including a superweapon near the Eve Gate, where the Jovians have evidently cloaked a bunch of derelict Terran ships, and a mining operation for the weapon's fuel source.  This is the weapon she will eventually use against the Minmatar during the Battle of Mekhios.

I am not a huge fan of superweapons anyway (this is why I steer clear of most of the Expanded Universe claptrap), but in and of itself it's not a huge problem.  However, this brings up other questions that don't seem to be given any answers.  If the Jovians knew there were all these old Terran ships lying around the Eve Gate, why didn't they recover them during the thousands of years they had a head start on the other human races?  Why just cloak them and leave them there, where the "children" will be able to find them and use them?  Why not simply destroy them, if you don't think you can trust yourselves either?  Jamyl Sarum's scientists evidently reverse engineer this technology in a matter of hours, as well, something that strains credibility; this is another thing that could have been easily addressed during the writing of the book.  If she had found this weapon shortly before her "death," I could certainly see it as a reason she would not give up so easily; then she and her trusted people spend 3 years reverse engineering it, only to finish just in time to thwart the Minmatar invasion.  Instead, everything happens on a time scale that is a bit incredible (a problem that plagues many of the events of the book), and then it gets used at least once before the supposedly impossible-to-manufacture fuel source is recovered from a secret Terran depot (though I grant that the recovered weapon may have had some fuel left).  All of this is done with something that has spent several thousand years floating derelict in space after what surely must have been the violent event that collapsed the wormhole.  If reverse-engineering is this easy, it's a wonder why no one else has done this in the hundreds or thousands of years prior to this.

Then we have the plotline where amnesiac Falek Grange is rescued by the rough-and-tumble crew of the Retford, including a disabled Minmatar child who is also a rescued slave.  As soon as you begin to see that Grange is "learning to love again" from this kid, Gear, you might as well stamped "dead meat" on the poor kid's forehead.  This particular character arc was so saccharine and cliche that I thought for a moment that someone's Lifetime Original Movie script had gotten mixed in with the writing proofs.  This could have been done in an interesting way, but this plotline is so by the numbers it might as well be a Mad Lib.

The rest of the crew of this ship is so screwed up you have to wonder how they have survived this long without killing each other (or at least getting each other killed).  No one on the crew seems to like anyone else, nor do they seem to have any particular loyalty to the captain or each other.  It comes across as someone who saw Firefly, and then said "how can I make this more Dark and Edgy(tm)?  I know, I'll have them all be complete assholes!"  I couldn't understand why they were together at all, why they trusted their lives to a drunken lout prone to tantrums and blowing their cash on hookers.

The Republic and the Elders

The Republic plotline is where the book really starts to have trouble to me.  We're told that the Federation has been sending foreign aid to the Republic since its founding, a set percentage of the federal budget that has only been going up as the Federation economy has been expanding.  So far, so good; while it doesn't make much sense that this is how it is set up, it's hardly difficult to believe the Federation is giving a considerable sum to their greatest strategic allies.

However, what we're told is that all of these funds have been shifted to building a secret military force large enough to cripple CONCORD and launch a full-scale invasion of the Amarr Empire without the assistance of the Minmatar Navy.  Even assuming it was possible for such a force to be built in secret, without anyone wondering where billions of ISK worth of parts and equipment was going, or without anyone finding the shipyards and training facilities for this force, we're supposed to believe that no one in the Federation wondered where all this money was going to at any point in the last century.  That no one in the Republic who hadn't been cut in on the deal (which appears to be almost everyone in government) never wondered where all this financial aid was going while the economic situation in the Republic went to hell in a handbasket.

The level of corruption this entails boggles the mind, especially because it assumes that everyone who is corrupt is united in backing this singular effort.  In reality, it seems far more likely that someone would look into this and either spill the beans or demand their own cut.  The chances that a conspiracy involving what must be literally millions of people and trillions of ISK could remain a secret for more than a century is so unlikely as to be a virtual impossibility.

Once again, the crime here is that there's no reason for this kind of an outlandish explanation for the beginning of hostilities between the Republic and the Amarr.  The tensions between the two are a well-established fact, and it's also well-established that the Republic has made naval parity with the Amarr a high priority; these are perfect ingredients to a crisis that could have been much more interesting and frightening than something that appears to have been pulled from the most outlandish of any pulp novel.

This is the greatest of the problems with this section, but there are others.  Karin Midular suffers horribly in the novel; her method of "leadership" appears to consist of throwing tantrums at other government leaders when they don't do what she wants (which seems to be all the time).  How someone like that would rise to the highest levels in government is baffling to me.  Compare her to any major political figure in the modern world, and ask yourself how many of them you can see throwing a temper tantrum, even behind closed doors, to their opponents?  It makes her seem horribly weak and ineffective, two things even her own political faction surely wouldn't want their leader to be.  Ironically, the only refreshing part of her story is that she, unlike every other Minmatar in the book, does not suddenly go along with the idea that starting a war with the Amarr is a great plan, regardless how many secret fleets of ships you have.

This is compounded by the assertion in the novel that the Amarr have completely infiltrated the highest levels of Midular's government, as well as her personal security force.  I found this extremely hard to swallow, and it's a common problem that resurfaces in the Caldari/Gallente sections later; the book seems to assume that this kind of infiltration is relatively easy, and that no precautions are ever taken to prevent these sorts of problems.  Not only is this unbelievable, but it also strikes me as a lazy way to cause dramatic plot developments.

I want to add a special note about the rape scene late in the novel where one of these compromised guards attacks Midular.  I don't have a problem with such scenes if they make a significant impact on the plot or characters; unfortunately, this scene does not seem to do much except provide a convenient way of getting Midular to go along with Shakor.  I just don't feel like this was taken as seriously as it should have been; it, like the other scenes of sex and abuse in the novel, is simply thrown in as a convenient way to elicit a cheap emotional response.  As someone who has friends who have suffered that kind of abuse, I found it pretty disgusting (and nonsensical) that it is treated in such a casual manner.

As far as the Elders themselves, I'm still unclear if they are actual people or some sort of "spirit"; the latter seems extremely out of character with the rest of Eve's background (at least until the Jamyl Sarum "possession"), while the former seems unlikely since they have supposedly been around since the end of the Rebellion, which would make them all extremely old (and I suspect they did not have the best medical care for much of their lives).  Still, this is ambiguous enough that it's not really worthy of complaint when there are so many other issues here.

The last element of this plotline that I had an issue with was the attack on the CONCORD station.  The Minmatar ambassador threatens CONCORD with an attack, apparently backed up by a huge, unaccountable military force.  Yet thirty days later, it appears CONCORD has taken no security measures to make sure that an attack on the CONCORD station in Yulai is impossible (or at least, considerably more difficult).  Presumably, CONCORD has their own capital ships, and access to Jovian defensive technologies; why didn't they do anything to boost their defenses against a Minmatar force that was large, but not exactly biggest fleet anyone's seen; the stated strength is a titan, 15 dreadnoughts, and a large number of support ships, smaller than many of the fleets wielded by sizable capsuleer alliances.

The Broker and the Rewriting of the State

Now we come to the part of the book that I feared the worst, and that you were no doubt expecting me to wail about at the top of my lungs.  Well, if I said that I was hopeful about the way this particular plot thread rolled out, I admit I would be lying, but I am going to try to be as objective as possible and discuss my problems with this section as calmly as I possibly can.  If I indulge in a little hyperbole, I hope that you will understand and not roll your eyes too much.  I will freely admit that my criticism may be overly harsh in this section, and I do encourage you to take all of this with a grain of salt.

Let's begin with the Broker, quite possibly the worst of the "GM PCs" in this novel and a man who basically is a walking plot device.  The Broker is a man who, we are told, has a personal fortune rivaling any megacorporation, who can impersonate any person at will through some sort of supercloning ability, who has technology beyond anything known to the four nations (including a nanobot swarm and can instantly vaporize a person, used on a number of occasions), and who has an information network that rivals God in terms of omniscience.  He apparently has no limits, except that he has somehow been infected with a form of vitoc that follows him from clone to clone.  How this works is not really explained, nor does it seem to make any sense with how clones supposedly work in Eve (but that will wait for my world-building critique), but this is his driving motivation in the novel.

The Broker is trying to blackmail Otro Gariushi to get the secret of manufacturing insorum, the antidote for vitoc.  Those of you well-versed in Eve history will remember that this chemical was developed by Ishukone subsidiary Zainou Biotech and then the doctor responsible was killed while trying to give the formula to the Minmatar.  The only remaining samples were in the hands of (presumably) Zainou and Ishukone, and the Ushra'Khan alliance.  Gariushi does not want to give up the formula, presumably because he is not particularly fond of the Broker, so the Broker plans to cause a political crisis in the State in order to force Gariushi to cough it up before things go to hell.  Only Otro has knowledge of the secret insorum manufacturing facility.

So what does he do?  Well, he provokes a political crisis in the State, and then murders the only person that he knows has knowledge of how to get insorum, thus ensuring that Ishukone will never give him the formula.  Then he succeeds in starting a war with the Federation for -- well, we're never really given any idea why he does it, perhaps he's just really vindictive.  His impossibly awesome intelligence network seems to miss the fact that the Minmatar are just going to be dousing planets in the Mandate with the stuff not long from now, nor does he apparently try to make a deal with Maleatu Shakor, who Otro's sister does sell the insorum to (to be fair, Shakor does promise not to resell it, but you'd think one dose would be easy to misplace).

The Broker is supporting the rise of Tibus Heth, previously a lowly forklift operator for Caldari Constructions, who stages strike on Piak; this is his route to destabilizing the State.  The problem with the events that place Heth in control of Caldari Constructions is that they simply make absolutely no sense at all.  We're told, in the book, that Kaalakiota owns 65% of Caldari Constructions stock (thus making it a subsidiary corporation).  The Broker uses the strike to scoop up 25% of the stock, leaving 10% held by the company's current officers.  He then threatens to release information that the entire board, evidently, is a bunch of sexual deviants, and says that Kaalakiota's CEO has decided to just hand over KK's stock in the company if he can get the board to cough up theirs because she wants to distance herself from the buffoons in charge (one can hardly blame her).  Horribly embarrassed, they agree, fork over the shares, and commit suicide.

Here's the problem -- the Broker couldn't have been the only person buying shares in Caldari Constructions when it started crashing, so it's extremely unlikely he would actually get that 25% in the first place.  Second, why would Kaalakiota feel the need to sell off their shares in order to distance themselves from the corporate leadership?  If they own 65% of the company, they can fire the entire leadership on their own (let the Broker release whatever he wants about them -- it just proves how smart KK's decision was), slap a "new and improved!" sticker on all the merchandise, and get back to business as usual.  The Broker's 25% share of the company is essentially meaningless, except that he can drive down the stock price by dumping it -- of course, that doesn't really make Kaalakiota any worse off than they were at the start of the day.

But let's take a closer look at that strike itself.  Tibus Heth and a few co-conspirators hijack the car of a plant manager who evidently has the power to shut down the entire planet's production, while sitting right under the nose of security guards who have crappy night vision gear.  Then they provoke a response by the Home Guard and Tibus Heth becomes heroic because he sends some poor schmoe out to die posing as him, and then drags him back inside after he's been shot.  Everyone in the plant suddenly thinks he's a great guy (and that fervor spreads throughout the State in a jiffy).

First of all, why is someone with that kind of power on the planet traveling completely unguarded?  Even normal companies these days don't send executives around in hostile areas without protection, let alone faceless megacorporations that have evidently been squeezing the workers for every penny.  Then we have the Home Guard response -- Kaalakiota says they can't send in the guard without the Constructions CEO's say so; the problem is, he can be replaced at a whim, so really, that's not true.  Then the Home Guard troops are put under the command of the CEO, something that seems highly unlikely in this sort of situation; in such a delicate operation, it seems hard to believe that Home Guard commanders are not given full authority by the KK CEO, which would have stopped the next particular nonsense -- the fact that the CC CEO is completely fooled by what is almost an obvious trap, and ends up creating a martyr (something trained law enforcement personnel would surely avoid if at all possible).

But really, the fact that saving one man like that makes Heth a hero is completely baffling.  Only about a year ago, a corporate-supported response killed sixty-five thousand agitators for workers rights in cold blood, and yet the corporate media machine managed to keep Melarius Torvil from becoming a folk hero.  Second, in the Caldari State, the people who control every means of mass communication are, you guessed it, the very corporations that find Heth's strike completely appalling.  How in the world does word of his "courageous" exploits get anywhere offworld?  Certainly Caldari Constructions doesn't want it to get out, and Kaalakiota doesn't; and without that, the Broker never contacts Heth and this whole chain of events never gets set in motion.

So Heth gets placed in control of Caldari Constructions, and he makes his bombastic speech and blames everything on the Gallente.  Otro Gariushi wants to say something to counteract this, but evidently the Broker (him again) is in control of the one stargate that controls broadcasts to the rest of the State, thus foiling one of the nine most powerful men in the entire nation.  Why doesn't Otro simply storm the gate and take control of it immediately, telling the rest of the CEP that someone is attempting to sabotage their communications links?  He does storm it eventually, but why wait?  There's no one to tell him he can't, and presumably the rest of the CEP will back his move in this case.  To me, this communicates a basic misunderstanding of the State on the part of the author (which I'll go into in my world-building article -- yes, I know this sounds presumptuous, but please be patient).

So then we come to Malkalen.  The Broker murders Alexander Noir, takes his place, and then murders the one man with the power to cure him (if you ignore Ushra'Khan, and the book seems to ignore all capsuleers aside from vaguely acknowledging their existence while saying they are immensely important without showing how).  This seems a tad bit shortsighted, but aside from the fact that Otro is evidently stupid enough to keep his clone in the Ishukone headquarters where he spends 90% of his time as opposed to, say, a secure Ishukone military stronghold somewhere inaccessible, there's nothing really horribly wrong with this part (aside from the Broker's already especially magic impersonation powers).

Heth uses this to propel even more anger towards the Gallente, and then somehow seizes control of Kaalakiota.  How?  By convincing the board that evidently he's a cool guy because....well, I'm not sure why, really, aside from the fact that he doesn't like Gallente.  As far as I can tell, he offers nothing that the board would actually be interested in, such as a plan to, well, make them more money, which is what most shareholders are interested in.  Then he manages to infiltrate the personal guards of the Kaalakiota CEO and basically force her to sign over the company to him at gunpoint.  There's a few problems with this -- first of all, if the board unanimously wanted to replace her, they don't need her permission -- they can simply appoint Heth the CEO, unless she owns 51% of the stock, which seems unlikely (also, it would make it extremely unlikely she would simply hand over her shares to Heth).  We also run into the problem that evidently infiltrating high-trained and loyal security corps and getting them to abandon their job is easy, when presumably that would be kind of a job ending vulnerability.  This isn't some sort of mysterious art -- security has been an important industry for ages, and bad security doesn't tend to get hired very often.  If it was so easy to bribe or intimidate the CEO's guards, one presumes that Heth would not have been the first person to do so, unless we assume that all the megacorp CEOs don't do it because it wouldn't be gentlemanly.  One presumes that this is not the case when the Caldari are described as cutthroat ultracapitalists, however.

Heth then goes about convincing all of the megacorporations to give him a "controlling share" in their corporations.  How this is accomplished is unclear, but evidently they do that....because.  I'm not sure.  Evidently everyone just really likes him, despite the fact that he has no business sense whatsoever (he admits this himself) and no plans evidently other than beating up on Gallente.  While this might be very inspiring, it does not do anything for corporate profits, which is usually what shareholders and corporate boards are interested in.  Most corporations don't just "give away" stock to rivals either, nor do they even need to -- if they want to go along with Heth's plans, they can just go along with them through some sort of legal cooperative agreement, giving them the option of pulling out at any time.  The other possibility is that the Broker is capable of blackmailing the corporate boards of every single megacorporation, which seems highly unlikely, especially because the only people who can actually enforce any of the State's laws are -- you guessed it -- those very people they are trying to blackmail.  Not a very effective strategy.  We're also not told why these megacorporate CEOs, who we're told are essentially nearly as powerful as the Broker (certainly, were they to act in concert, they would have as many resources at their disposal), do not fight back in any way, and just sit there and take it.

The Navy, meanwhile, goes along with a plan cooked up by Heth (and his terrorist organization buddies, terrorists that the State and Federation have both been trying to hunt down for over a century) to invade Caldari Prime.  The entire invasion is contingent upon CONCORD being disabled (something Heth has no idea how to accomplish, evidently, and he knows nothing of the Minmatar plan) and upon the Federation being completely unable to respond in any way.  While the magic powers of the Broker can evidently make at least part of this happen, one wonders how Heth explains how any of this is possible to the fleet admiral, and how she even thinks this is a halfway good idea considering it means exposing the entire State to a counterattack.  Heth isn't a dictator (well, at least according to the actual way the State was said to be set up previous to this), so why doesn't she tell someone else on the CEP what kind of crazy plans he's cooking up?  Is there no one who even raises the idea that this may be the craziest thing since someone thought invading Russia was a surefire plan?

Simply put, the book disregards almost everything we've been told about the State in favor of creating a rough analogue to Nazi Germany, for reasons I can't fathom.  Once again, the tensions between the Caldari and Gallente are already well-established, and this seems like a really long way to go in stretching credulity just in order to get them fighting.

The Impotent Federation

But to be fair, the State isn't the nation whose image suffers the worst in this book; no, that dubious honor goes to the Federation, which comes out of this book looking like a bunch of complete chumps.  Not only is the Republic using their humanitarian relief to finance a giant secret navy while it's people starve in squalor and they remain oblivious, but they are portrayed as possibly the stupidest government in the cluster.

For one, the highest ranking officer in their Navy is bought and paid for by the Broker.  One would think that sometime during his career this might have at least been suspected and held up his promotions, but no, evidently the Federation does not really believe in background checks.  Perhaps they (and audits) are simply too rude.

Second, their Tripwire system, essentially the equivalent of the NATO's SOSUS early warning sonar network and the early warning satellites, designed to keep an eye on the Caldari border, can be completely disabled by one enlisted man who goes bad (or is impersonated by -- there he is again -- the Broker).  They also don't even consider the idea that stationing a ship or two on the other side of the Caldari border (the Eve equivalent of a Russian "fishing trawler") might be a good idea.

They've also been unable to root out a terrorist organization with evidently thousands of members who have evidently infiltrated every part of the Caldari Prime defense network, and can create havoc on a planetwide scale as soon as they get the word go.  To be fair, part of this blame falls upon the Caldari State, but it does make them look about an order of magnitude more incompetent than the Bush administration, and they don't even have the excuse that their country is run by a complete moron (at least, we're told Foirtain is a shrewd politician and he's certainly been portrayed that way for the last five years).

There's not a lot done from the Federation's point of view in this book, save the Federation pilot who just happens to be a close personal friend of both Alexander Noir and the renegade Minmatar ambassador to CONCORD (*sigh*), so there's not a whole lot to go into here; but the fact that they are completely caught off guard by a hastily planned invasion when the man seizing power across the border has been threatening to do it as long as he's had access to a mic makes them look like complete idiots.

In summation, I don't think any of the book's major plot arcs make much sense; they strike me as simply a checklist of things the author went through, with a bare minimum of effort being expended to go from one stop to the next, rather than a natural progression of events.  I found I had a hard time identifying with any of the major characters and I often felt like the author was trying to manipulate me into feeling one way or another, giving the whole thing a feeling of inauthenticity.  For a book that seems like its intention was to create a strong feeling of verisimilitude and give the game world more depth, that is a serious failure.  I'll be touching a little more on that in a follow-up article, where I'll focus more on the world-building aspect here and how it failed, which should be posted sometime in the coming weeks.

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I realize that I haven't been blogging as much as I really should lately, and I suspect that the promised second part of my Empyrean Age review is not going to happen (I think at this point I've dealt with... Read More

I am a horrible person. from Things You Don't Care About on August 16, 2008 9:20 AM

At least, I sure feel like it sometimes.  I know I've been promising to blog more about GenCon but that last few days have been pretty busy for me.  I have been taking pictures though, so I expect that Sunday... Read More

It's been over a year since CCP introduced factional warfare to Eve Online, and over a year since my corporation began its participation, and we've seen some sweeping changes to the way the game is played as a result, not... Read More

"When everything is possible, nothing is interesting."  -- HG WellsThat quote from H.G. Wells is from a review of the last BSG episode, linked from a detailed analysis of said episode by EFF Director Brad Templeton, who says that the... Read More

Getting more Eves in Eve Online from Things You Don't Care About on April 25, 2010 8:27 PM

CrazyKinux's latest Eve Blog Banter is on a topic of some interest to me, as one of the relatively small percentage of Eve players that happens to be female.  Admittedly, I'm not necessarily the typical female player of Eve (or... Read More

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This page contains a single entry by Chas Blackwell published on July 25, 2008 8:32 PM.

"This is a Fender Roads moment!" was the previous entry in this blog.

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