By Chet Yarbrough
Kevin Anderson’s “Hidden Empire” presumes earth’s civilization survives natural and man-made cataclysm noted in today’s news rooms. Anderson infers civilization survives global warming and does not disappear from natural disaster. Anderson projects a future of other-world colonization, sentient robots, and inter-species communication. However, in his first book of “The Saga of Seven Suns” sentient beings continue to place life at the threshold of extinction.
Science fiction stretches today’s scientific truths and uncovers interesting necessities when surmising a future for human civilization. Traveling to outer space to colonize other worlds demands discovery in the laws of science that are presumed unlikely or impossible today. “Hidden Empire” suggests the speed of light will be exceeded, artificial intelligence will become its own life form, and human senses will evolve to accommodate instantaneous communication between distant planets. (Hmmm–see Ray Kurzweil.)
Anderson creates organic and inorganic civilizations that populate the universe. In the beginning of Anderson’s story, the dominant civilization is the Terran Hanseatic League (Hansa). It appears as the most dominant, if not the most intelligent, civilization. It is made up of human beings. It has the trappings of colonial Great Britain, with a titular King and a controlling agent, titled Chairman. The King’s puppet master is Chairman Basil Wenceslas. Wenceslas is like a King’s Rasputin (the man behind the 19th century Russian Romanovs).
In humans first forays into the spiral arm (the Milky Way), they meet a civilization of aliens called the Ildirans. The Ildirans are an older civilization. They have already explored habitable worlds; they become a guide to the human’ newcomers. The leader of the Ildirans is Mage-Imperator, a leader that is neurologically linked to his followers and is viewed as a divine leader by his people. This divine leader lives many generations longer than human beings. The Ildiran culture is akin to Plato’s “Republic” in that everyone is born into a caste and raised to fulfill their virtue, the life role they are most suited to fulfill. A qualitative difference is that genetics, an unknown science in Plato’s time, is relied upon by the Mage-Imperator.
There are two civilizations that evolve from human beings. One is called the Roamers, a nomadic tribe of geological miners that roam the galaxy to mine fuel to sell to other civilizations. The second is a civilization of telepathic green priests that communicate with trees planted throughout the universe. The green priests are coveted by all civilizations because of their ability to instantaneously communicate to all worlds in the universe that have living trees.
The Roamers and green priests are common denominators for the Hansa, and Ildirans. The four cultures are interdependent. The Roamers provide fuel and the green priests provide instant communication between civilizations that live light years apart. All cultures in the universe have interplanetary travel capability but they need fuel and a communication network that can connect distant outposts to central governments.
Later in the novel, Anderson introduces a fourth civilization called the Klikiss. They are AI robots that are a sentient species of life of unknown origin. They increase the mystery of Anderson’s story.
The table is set for life-form’ hubris and error that threatens all civilizations; the Hansa choose to play God. Two Hansa’ archeologists discover a powerful Klikis’ invention that will turn a gaseous planet into a sun that will create habitable solar systems. Hansa’ hubris, extreme pride, leads them to create livable worlds when there is a galaxy of worlds available for habitation. This hubris results in the accidental murder of millions of an unknown civilization, the Hydrogues, who inhabit the gaseous planet that is chosen for the explosive change.
It is a foolish accident of the humans but it is a declaration of war to the inhabitants of the gaseous planet. As bad luck would have it, the Hydrogues are a more technologically advanced civilization that can destroy all that the Hansa, Ildirans, Roamers, and green priests have created.
“Hidden Empire” is the beginning of a multi-volume story that reminds listeners of the nature of human beings; i.e. most act instinctively rather than scientifically. The consequence is often disastrous; particularly when science is linked with political power. Human civilization seems destined to be on the edge of extinction; not from science or natural disaster, but from human nature.