Fast Forward Book Review for April 2012
The Crucible of Empire
Eric Flint and K.D. Wentworth
by Colleen R. Cahill
In most science fiction where aliens attack the Earth, there are two basic outcomes: one where humanity is enslaved or destroyed and one where humans fight back and kick the invading scum out. Eric Flint and K. D. Wentworth show us a third option in The Crucible of Empire from Baen Books. When aliens and humans join forces, the universe better watch out!
The book opens about twenty years after Earth is conquered by the Jao, a militant space-faring race. When the former masters of the Jao, the Ekhat, show up bent on wiping out all life on the planet, the humans and their conquerors join forces, so now Jao and human are closer to peers. The alliance is put to its first test when news reaches Earth that the Jao were attacked at a distant Nebula. Mysteriously, it is decided that an innovative ship with a joint human and Jao crew will investigate. One clue to this might be that Caitlan Kralik, who is best known for her abilities as a diplomat, is being included on the mission, but she is not given any information as to why. This begins an adventure of exploration, first contact and battle that will have huge impact on both the Jao and humans.
One of the biggest issues many have with aliens in a science fiction story is, are they truly alien? This is not easy because there is a balance needed of not too much like us but also not so strange that they cannot be understood at all. Flint and Wentworth have trod that fine line very well. The Jao, who I first thought of as space otters because they have fur, whiskers, and are fond of spending time swimming in pools, are anything but playful and in many ways are totally unlike humans. One of the big differences is how each group deals with time. Humans measure out time in minutes, hours, days and such; the Jao sense time through “the flow”, an ability to know that something is going to happen. This is almost mystical to humans, while the Jao hate how their allies cannot wait until the time it right. Another difference is the Jao do not have much respect for Ollnat or “things-that-never-were”, which covers imagination and innovations, something at which we humans excel. These differences prove to be strengths when the two groups can find a way to work together.
I have only skimmed over the characters and plot of this book, both of which are very rich and complex, because I don’t want to spoil any of the twists and surprises, even the little ones. For intriguing aliens, well-drawn characters and a fascinating plot, I recommend The Crucible of Empire.