Sunday, March 5, 2017

Empire of the East: sword and sorcery meets the Cold War

I recently finished Fred Saberhagen's Empire of the East trilogy.

I was interested in it because I knew it was the precursor for his Swords books and I also knew that it was an influence on the development of Dungeons & Dragons. Plus, you know, Saberhagen.

And, I'll be honest, I really have to wonder how remembered this series would be if it wasn't for those things.


The core idea of the series, the world building, is very cool. It's a sword and sorcery setting that takes place after the end. Okay, not so original. However, magic was introduced to the world prevent a nuclear holocaust and has caused different technological things to gain God-like sentence and power.

In fact, the ultimate battle is between a NORAD computer and a sentient nuclear bomb blast. Tell me that's not cool.

Here's the problem. While there are hints through out the series about true nature of the setting, most of it reads like a slightly above average 70s fantasy. Heck, the existence and the arrival of the big bad Orcus isn't even hinted at until more than halfway through the third book. The end result is that most of the entire trilogy feels like fluff. 

I do realize that the entire trilogy is a metaphor for the Cold War. And Ardnah the super computer and Orcus the living nuclear bomb blast do make powerful symbols of the superpowers. I also understand that the series was quite popular when it came out. I think those two things are linked.

And it makes sense that the individual lives of our actual heroes become rather small and unimportant compared to the clash of world powers. That definitely fits with the metaphor. However, it doesn't necessarily create the most engaging storytelling.

I am glad that I read the trilogy. I did enjoy the Swords trilogy that followed it and I am sure that I will someday read the Lost Swords series as well. However, if it wasn't for the final fight at the end, I doubt I would remember reading this a year from now.

No comments:

Post a Comment