Archivist Luc Gabion has finally achieved his life's goal: bringing down Winchell Antonov, head of the Black Lotus terrorist organisation, and the scourge of the Tian Di’s stellar empire for countless years. But instead of feeling victorious, the encounter has left him scarred.
Forcibly implanted with a technology far in advance of anything he's encountered before, Luc sees and hears things he knows he's not supposed to. Worse, the technology is killing him, slowly. So when he finds himself investigating the murder of one of the Tian Di’s ruling clique, the Thousand Emperors, he knows he's in trouble.
This sequel to Gary Gibson's 2011 novel "Final Days" takes the setting forward a few centuries to explore humanity's reaction to Earth's destruction, with a storyline structured around a murder investigation conducted by protagonist, Luc Gabion (whose surname reminds me of the author's own, perhaps deliberately). After a fairly action-filled opening raid, the story then slows down considerably as the investigation/mystery portion of the story proceed, and finally accelerate violently once the villains and victims are established. Aside from FTL wormhole transportation used in a strict government-controlled way, and ubiquitous non-sentient robots, the everyday technologies Gibson writes for Gabion's world is only very cautiously advanced from our own. He reserves the wider SF ideas and ambitions for a second society, called the Coalition, and resembling Iain M. Bank's Culture, glimpsed briefly in the ending chapters.
With a quick opening lesson excerpted from a fictional history text, Gibson explains the division of society into two separate civilizations representing the opposing approaches to Earth's final disaster. On one side is the fearlessly progressive Coalition, which continue to explore and study the alien Founder's Network of wormholes and artifacts that brought about the cataclysm, and which culturally parallels the Western culture of our own society. In self-imposed isolation from these, we find the worlds of the Tian Di, a strict empire which takes a more conservative position by outlawing such investigation, and which suffers from technological and political stagnation. It is within this Tian Di society that our story unfolds, and though the eyes of a Tian Di commoner character that Gibson progressively acquaints us with his wider story universe, allowing the reader to experience the same surprises and discoveries.
The story's conclusion hints at a future installment to the series which will hopefully be set in the Coalition, and will have a more cosmic, space-opera outlook. Unanswered questions regarding some of the characters from 'Final Days' can be addressed, and perhaps a multi-character perspective can break up the narrative again. Even without these elements from the first book, (not to mention the fascinating acrobatics with time paradoxes), I found 'The Thousand Emperors' to be an enjoyable five-star read, which can incidentally be enjoyed as as a standalone story, apart from the earlier novel.
Gary Gibson's story here is a decent one. Its well paced, has enough red herrings and twists in the plot to keep you interested throughout the telling. The problem with the story is, it just doesn't stand out. There are quite a lot of similarities to the excellent 'lord of light', and quiet a few nods towards the 'sprawl' books by William Gibson. In fact the story develops in a formulaic way, not unlike a thousand others in the genre.
That said, the narration is pretty good and if you're new to the genre you could do much worse than this story.
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