Chances are the phrase ‘galactic empire’ conjures one of two images. The first being an evil despot in possession of a planet-busting space station, while the second is that of a benign conglomeration of planets seeking new civilisations to join their group. Obviously, there’s much more to the concept than that, which is something editor Neil Clarke seeks to address in this collection of stories.
All have seen print before, in various magazines and websites, ranging as far back as 2003. Clarke has assembled a wide range of authors – from old masters like Robert Silverberg to more recent talents such as Aliette De Bodard – each offering a different take on the central premise. The stories range in length from sixteen to fifty pages and, while some contain vast amounts of description and techno speak, others leave some work for the reader. There isn’t a bad piece amongst them, although some are denser than others, and less patient readers may feel like they've had to wade through treacle to get to the final payoff.
That said, Clarke has ensured that there’s something for everyone. Yet, the true success of the collection is in showing that, however high the concept, it's the effect on the characters that truly drives a good story; it’s all very well having a great idea, but it's those who live within that idea that really matter. While it’s hard to pick out a ‘best’, a personal favourite would be The Muse Of Empires Lost by Paul Berger, which drip feeds information to the reader as the story progresses, climaxing in an ending that is unpredictable, yet entirely character-driven, and succeeds in making the strange entirely plausible.
Perhaps this collection’s only weakness is that some of the stories feel like they expect some prior knowledge of an author’s work to fully understand the setting. Readers who are discovering these authors for the first time may be missing an in-joke, or find themselves wondering if the characters have appeared anywhere before, and are being offered a contrasting perspective. The opposite effect of this is that it encourages readers to seek out those works and dive into the worlds they themselves have just discovered; given that there are twenty-two stories in this hefty tome, the Galaxy really is there for the taking.
GALACTIC EMPIRES / EDITOR: NEIL CLARKE: PUBLISHER: NIGHT
SHADE BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 17TH