Bringing the light of consciousness

The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld could be one of Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels. One of the better ones. In Banks’s socialist utopia, computer minds and humans live in happy symbiosis. AI runs society, people play. Here, AI is more ambigous: The Rix cult believes that humans must create their own gods, by bringing consciousness to entire planets. They seed computer networks with AI, then worship them as gods. Humans are to these compound minds as bacteria are to a human: Necessary for the whole to function, but valueless as individuals. Against the Rix stands an ossified empire ruled by a class of living dead. They don’t value individuals much either. The Risen Empire is concept-heavy space opera, but it still has a soul – a nerdy soul. There’s a touching love story based on relativistic time dilation (yes!) One side character is a self-built house that has rebelled against its own architects. Much of the fighting takes place among microscopic military crafts controlled by remote. You get the idea. Not great, but strange and likeable, and tightly focused. I’ll continue with the second book in the series, and I’ve heard people rave about the Young Adult novels Westerfeld turned to writing when he discovered that it pays better and that teenagers send more fan mail.

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