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Political Sci-Fi of the Possible Future

With far-future science fiction on the rise in film and TV, (see Denis Villeneuve’s Dune (2021) and Foundation (2021) on Apple TV+) we’re looking back and uplifting some of the great science fiction books and series on our list from the last handful of years that delve into the depths of politics and society in a possible future. Check them out here!

by a frog


Place holder  of - 87Terra Ignota series by Ada Palmer

Perhaps the Stars, the highly anticipated conclusion to the Terra Ignota series hit store shelves on 11.2.21, and now is the perfect time to pick up this quartet by Ada Palmer. World Peace is shattered and war spreads across the globe. In this future, the leaders of Hive nations—nations without fixed location—clandestinely committed nefarious deeds in order to maintain an outward semblance of utopian stability. But the facade could only last so long. And the catalyst came in the form of special little boy to ignite half a millennium of repressed chaos.

Image Place holder  of - 59Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine

In the Hugo Award–winning novel, A Memory Called Empire, Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Placeholder of  -69Luna series by Ian McDonald

The Luna series has been called Game of Thrones in space, and the politics between warring space-faring corporations on the Moon stands up to the comparison. Adriana has wrested control of the Moon’s Helium-3 industry from the Mackenzie Metal corporation and fought to earn her family’s new status. Now, at the twilight of her life, Adriana finds if the Corta family is to survive, Adriana’s five children must defend their mother’s empire from her many enemies… and each other.

Poster Placeholder of - 71The Interdependency series by John Scalzi

John Scalzi is known for his science fiction and The Interdependency is his latest completed series with Tor Books. This series is packed with political suspense, action, and all the great reasons we love a Scalzi novel. When the Flow, an extradimensional field available at certain points in space-time begins separating all human worlds from one another, three individuals—a scientist, a starship captain, and the emperox of the Interdependency—must salvage an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

Image Placeholder of - 18Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

While at its heart a romance, Everina Maxwell’s Winter’s Orbit explores the necessities of political alliances by way of marriage among the stars. Prince Kiem, a famously disappointing minor royal and the Emperor’s least favorite grandchild, has been called upon to be useful for once. He’s commanded to fulfill an obligation of marriage to the representative of the Empire’s newest and most rebellious vassal planet. His future husband, Count Jainan, is a widower and murder suspect.

The Caladan Trilogy by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

If you loved the latest film adaptation of Dune, why not consider checking out what more the universe has to offer? Tor is in the midst of publishing a prequel series about House Atreides’ rise to power and just how they made their enemies along the way. Dune: The Duke of Caladan and Dune: The Lady of Caladan are available now and look for Dune: The Heir of Caladan next fall in 2022.

Which book are you reading first? Let us know in the comments! 

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Tor After Dark: April Edition

Tor After Dark: April Edition

Missed Tor After Dark this month? Don’t worry, we’re recapping all the fun times with TJ Klune and John Scalzi right here!


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Klunatics, unite! TJ Klune launched Tor After Dark, our new Instagram Live program, on Tuesday, April 14 with a complete Tor Books Insta-takeover. Kicking things off by showing off his kickass sword, TJ introduced himself and his latest book, The House in the Cerulean Sea, to the hundreds of viewers who tuned in. Klune read a short selection from the book and then moved on with a listing out of things that have made him happy during quarantine, including: the TV show Black Sails (GAY PIRATES), his friends who have taken the time to check in on him, and his adorable pets, who made surprise guest appearances on the live stream.

TJ also answered fan questions submitted through social media earlier in the day-some of our favorites included who his favorite Cerulean Sea character is (answer: Chauncey), if he’s single (wow), and if he’d want Netflix to adapt the book into a movie (answer:YESYESYESYESYES).

Before signing off for the night, TJ thanked his friends, fans, and publisher (*blushes*) while reminding everyone to take their medication and to stay safe during the quarantine. Thanks for joining Tor After Dark, TJ!

Read an excerpt of The House in the Cerulean Sea here!


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Fresh off the wildly successful launch of The Last Emperox, John Scalzi took over the Tor Books Instagram for April 21 for Tor After Dark! In a behind the scenes look, John took viewers on a tour of his home, showing off his extensive book collection, his art pieces (including but not limited to: his own image covered in buttercream frosting, Wil Wheaton on a cat Pegasus, and his daughter’s childhood photos), and his many writing awards.

After special guest appearances from his wife, Krissy (HI KRISSY) and Sugar the cat (HI SUGAR), John answered some of your most burning questions, including-how to pronounced Emperox (answer: Emper-OH, but is you prefer Emper-OX, live your best life), what the Scalzi burrito of the day is (answer: meatloaf burrito), and when the next book comes out (answer: GUYS, THE LAST ONE CAME OUT A WEEK AGO).

Thanks for joining Tor After Dark, John!

Read an extended excerpt of The Last Emperox here!

 

Interested in joining us for our next Tor After Dark special? Check out the schedule here!

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Why Are There So Many Space Fascists? John Scalzi Grades SF Civilizations

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Place holder  of - 8Space cultures are all GREAT…right? John Scalzi, author of The Last Emperox, might have to disagree with you there. Check out his full argument below!


By John Scalzi

My book The Last Emperox comes out soon, and with it, the resolution of a story about The Interdependency, a light-years-spanning human empire featuring dozens of star systems connected by a faltering faster-than-light transport system. I’ve had some people say to me that they thought that The Interdependency would be a decent place to live—that is, except for that whole “the way we transport people and goods is disappearing and soon we’ll be stranded and doomed” thing that the books have going.

And, I guess, maybe? As the architect of that particular universe, I know where its flaws are—not even counting the doomsday scenario I put it in—and I know those flaws are significant. Like most empires, its livability is contingent on how close you are to the top of the social pyramid. I think most people think they are indeed going to be somewhere near the top, which is ambitious but isn’t how social pyramids work.

But this did get me thinking about other science-fictional civilizations—empires, federations, and what have you—and how livable they would actually be, if you were the average citizen or subject. How would they do? I’m going to grade a bunch of them now.

The Empire, from Star Wars

The movies and TV shows and all the other media don’t really spend a whole lot of time looking at The Empire from the perspective of the average person—we’re mostly dealing with rebels or bounty hunters or what have you on the fringes of day-to-day life, with a heavy dose of people who have supernatural bugs in their blood waving around laser swords. But what we can see of the workaday empire isn’t all that great: a highly stratified culture with the galactic 1% acting pretty terribly while the rest of the people scrape by in homespun clothes, moisture farming or what have you. Plus there’s always a risk that stormtroopers will use you for target practice, or the Empire will straight up vaporize your planet for abstruse political reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with you. Overall, not a great place, avoid if possible.

Grade: D

The Federation, from Star Trek

On the surface a pretty great place to live for the average citizen: It has fully automated luxury space communism where you can play around in sense-fulfilling virtual rooms and anything you want to eat will be magicked into existence by a computer that you talk to. That’s pretty great! On the flip side, however, the Federation’s very existence is threatened on a depressingly regular basis: If it’s not a civilization of assimilating cyberpunks flying around in cubes made of plumbing supplies, then it’s uplifted 20th-century spacecraft, or angry Romulans, or inscrutable cylinders that will destroy you and everyone you love if they’re not allowed to talk to whales. Honestly, who needs that kind of stress hanging over you all the damn time.

Grade: C-

The Padishah Empire, from Dune

Again, we spend most of our time hanging out with emperors, and rebel leaders who become emperors, and also emperors who become sandworms, and so on, but what we can see of the daily life of the empire is… highly variable, depending on who your local noble is. If you have someone like the Duke Atreides, eh, it’s not so bad! He rules (mostly) justly and is concerned with the welfare of his subjects, soldiers and retinue. If you have someone like the Baron Harkonnen, well, then, it kind of sucks, because he and his family are terrible people doing terrible things terribly. Do you want to roll those dice? Oh, and when Paul-Muad’ib becomes emperor, things don’t get any better, because now there’s a bunch of Freman spilling out of Arrakis to get your ass in line with the new orthodoxy. Have fun with that!

Grade: D.

The Alliance, from Firefly

This civilization is like a bullseye—not so bad for the average person near the center, deeply squidgy the further out you get, and also, the civilized veneer of the Alliance scrapes off pretty readily if you piss it off. Plus! Reavers, i.e., very angry space zombies! Which were made because the Alliance just wanted everyone to calm the hell down, and were willing to try to make that happen pharmaceutically. That’s how you get angry space zombies, people.

Grade: C-

The Colonial Union, from Old Man’s War

What, you thought I’d let myself off the hook here? Lol, no, friends. Like the Alliance, if you happen to be in the established colonies, it’s not bad at all. If you’re in a new colony, however? Expect aliens to try to scrape you and your family off that planet as soon as possible, and maybe eat you as well. This is the excuse the CU has for being on a xenophobic war footing 24/7 (and also for being basically fascist, in flavors ranging from mild to, well, not, depending on the day). But could it be that the reason the aliens all hate the CU is that the humans are just plain bigoted paranoids? Could be! Also, if you’re from Earth, they’ve mostly kept society looking like the early 21st century, which, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, is not going all that great for anyone. Maybe skip?

Grade D.

The Culture, from Iain M. Banks’ “Culture Series”

Finally, a light-year-spanning civilization that doesn’t entirely suck to live in! Sure, there are not-great parts, which Banks’ details in his Culture novels, but it’s understood that those really are the exception rather than the rule. Most everyone else actually lives in that fully automated luxury space communism that Star Trek aims for but often misses, schlepping around the stars in vast spacecraft with delightfully obscure names, which seem mostly amused by the humans that live in and among them. If I have to live in a space civilization, this is the one, please and thank you.

Grade: B.

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A Fond Farewell—Series We’re Saying Goodbye to in 2020

A Fond Farewell—Series We’re Saying Goodbye to in 2020

Everything ends eventually, and that is (sadly) true for several Tor series in 2020. This year marks the conclusion of some of our flagship sagas, as well as one epic fantasy that we’re releasing in a four-month sprint (bingebingebinge)! So, if you want to make sure you’re all caught up, here’s a list of everything ending in 2020. But don’t worry, we’ve got plenty of new and ongoing series to take you well into 2020—and beyond!

Image Place holder  of - 91Heart of Black Ice– The Nicci Chronicles –Terry Goodkind 

Taken captive by their enemies, King Grieve, Lila, and Bannon are about to discover the terrifying force that threatens to bring destruction to the Old World. The Norukai, barbarian raiders and slavers, have been gathering an immense fleet among the inhospitably rocky islands that make up their home and are poised to launch their final and most deadly war.

ON SALE NOW!

 

Poster Placeholder of - 51Song of the Risen God– The Coven Series – R.A. Salvatore 

The once forgotten Xoconai empire has declared war upon the humans west of the mountains, and only a small band of heroes stand in the way of the God Emperor’s grasp of power. But not all hope is lost. Far away, an ancient tomb is uncovered with the power to stop the onslaught of coming empire and, possibly, reshape the very world itself.

ON SALE NOW!

 

Place holder  of - 51Servant of the Crown– Dragonslayer Trilogy – Duncan M. Hamilton 

A swordsman and a dragon make an unlikely pair as they team up to defeat the Prince Bishop. This trilogy started just a year ago, so if you haven’t gotten hooked yet, now is the time to dive in. Come for the swordplay and magic, stay for the compelling characters searching for meaning in their lives.

ON SALE: 03/10/2020

 

Placeholder of  -32The Poet King– The Harp and Ring Sequence – Ilana C. Myer 

The nation of Tamryllin has a new ruler, who proclaims himself the first Poet King despite not all in court supporting the regime change. Meanwhile, a civil war rages in a distant land, and former Court Poet Lin Amaristoth gathers allies old and new to return to Tamryllin in time to stop the coronation.

ON SALE: 03/24/2020

 

Image Placeholder of - 63Last Emperox – The Interdependency – John Scalzi 

The collapse of The Flow, the interstellar pathway between the planets of the Interdependency, has accelerated. Entire star systems are becoming cut off from the rest of human civilization. Emperox Grayland II has finally wrested control of her empire from her enemies, but “control” is a slippery thing, and the forces opposing her rule will make a final, desperate push to topple her from her throne.

ON SALE: 04/14/2020

 

Queen – The Sibyl’s War Series  Timothy Zahn

Nicole Hammond was just trying to survive on the streets of Philadelphia, then she and her partner Bungie were abducted by a race of mysterious moth-like aliens and taken to a strange ship called the Fyrantha.

ON SALE: 04/14/2020

 

 

The Cerulean Queen– The Nine Realms Series – Sarah Kozloff 

 The series that starts AND ends in 2020! Perfect for binging, this is an epic fantasy that’s part kick-ass Disney princess and part Game of Thrones. The exiled Princess Cerulia of Weirandale was raised in obscurity. She has no resources, no army, nothing that can help her against her enemies—except their gods.

ON SALE: 04/21/2020

 

Critical Point – The Cas Russell Series – S.L. Huang 

When a demolitions expert targets math-genius mercenary Cas Russell and her friends, the hidden conspiracy behind her past starts to reappear. The past, present, and future collide in a race to save one of her dearest friends.

ON SALE: 04/28/2020

 

 

 The Shadow Commission – The Dark Arts Trilogy – David Mack

In The Shadow Commission we jump forward almost another decade from the events in the previous Dark Arts novel, The Iron Codex. Now it’s November 1963, and Cade and Anja have been living in hiding, training new mages. But when President Kennedy is assassinated, a series of murders whose victims are all magicians forces Cade and Anja to learn how to fight back against the sinister cabal known as the Shadow Commission.

ON SALE: 06/9/2020

 

The Unconquered City – Chronicles of Ghadid – K.A. Doore 

Seven years after the Siege — a time when the hungry dead had risen — elite assassin Illi Basbowen must find the source of the monstrous guul that travel across the dunes. How much can she sacrifice to protect everything she knows from devastation?

ON SALE: 06/16/2020

 

 

In the Kingdom of All Tomorrows – Eirlandia – Stephen R. Lawhead 

Conor mac Ardan is now clan chief of the Darini. Tara’s Hill has become a haven and refuge for all those who were made homeless by the barbarian Scálda. But when a large fleet of the Scalda’s Black Ships arrives, Conor must join Eirlandia’s lords to defeat the monsters. And so begins a final battle to win the soul of a nation.

ON SALE: 07/14/2020

 

The Last Uncharted Sky – The Risen Kingdoms Series – Curtis Craddock 

Isabelle and Jean-Claude undertake an airship expedition to recover a fabled treasure and claim a hitherto undiscovered craton for l’Empire Celeste, but the ship is sabotaged by an enemy agent and Jean-Claude is separated from the expedition. Meanwhile, a royal conspiracy threatens to undo the entire realm.

ON SALE: 08/11/2020

 

Breath by Breath – Step by Step Series – Morgan Llywelyn 

The residents of Sycamore River emerge from nuclear war caused by the Change and its effects on technology. As they try to rebuild their shattered lives, they discover the Change continues and that for some, the air has become lethally toxic.

ON SALE: 08/25/2020

 


The Hellion – Malus Domestica 
S.A. Hunt 

Robin Martine has destroyed witches all across the country, and now makes her way to the deserts of rural Texas where a dangerous gang leader wields an iron fist over his wife and daughter. Robin vows to protect these Latina women from harm, but may be underestimating how powerful Santiago Valenzuela is… and how his shapeshifting powers may pose a threat to everyone Robin holds dear.

ON SALE: 09/15/2020

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The Collapsing Empire Official .Gif Recap

The Consuming Fire—the second book in Hugo Award-winning and New York
Times bestselling author John Scalzi’s The Interdependency series—is coming
October 16.

Get back into the flow of the thrilling space-opera with this .gif recap of
the first book in the series, The Collapsing Empire.

Our universe is ruled by physics.

Faster than light travel is impossible—

until the discovery of The Flow,

an extradimensional field available at certain points in space-time,

which can take us to other planets around other stars.

Riding The Flow, humanity spreads to innumerable other worlds.

Earth is forgotten.

A new empire arises,

the Interdependency, based on the doctrine that no one human outpost can survive without the others.

It’s a hedge against interstellar war

and, for the empire’s rulers, a system of control.

The Flow is eternal—

but it’s not static.

Just as a river changes course, the Flow changes as well.

In rare cases, entire worlds have been cut off from the rest of humanity.

When it’s discovered that the entire Flow is moving,

possibly separating all human worlds from one another forever,

three individuals—

a scientist,

a starship captain,

rhondaboneys

and the emperox of the Interdependency—

must race against time

to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

Get your copy today!

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Excerpt: The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi

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Poster Placeholder of - 54 The Interdependency, humanity’s interstellar empire, is on the verge of collapse. The Flow, the extra-dimensional conduit that makes travel between the stars possible, is disappearing, leaving entire star systems stranded. When it goes, human civilization may go with it—unless desperate measures can be taken.

Emperox Grayland II, the leader of the Interdependency, is ready to take those measures to help ensure the survival of billions. But nothing is ever that easy. Arrayed before her are those who believe the collapse of the Flow is a myth—or at the very least, an opportunity that can allow them to ascend to power.

While Grayland prepares for disaster, others are preparing for a civil war, a war that will take place in the halls of power, the markets of business and the altars of worship as much as it will take place between spaceships and battlefields. The Emperox and her allies are smart and resourceful, but then so are her enemies. Nothing about this power struggle will be simple or easy… and all of humanity will be caught in its widening gyre.

The Consuming Fire is the sequel to the 2018 Hugo Award Best Novel finalist and 2018 Locus Award-winning The Collapsing Empire—an epic space-opera novel in the bestselling Interdependency series, from the Hugo Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author John Scalzi. Please enjoy this excerpt.

Chapter 1

In the beginning was the lie.

The lie was that the Prophet Rachela, the founder of the Holy Empire of Interdependent States and Mercantile Guilds, had mystical visions. These visions prophesied both the creation and the necessity of that far-reaching empire of human settlements, strung out across light-years of space, connected only by the Flow, the metacosmological structure that humans compared to a river. They thought of it as a river mostly because human brains, originally designed for hauling their asses across the African savannah and not much upgraded since then, literally could not comprehend what it actually was, so, fine, “river” it was.

There was no mystical element involved in the so-called prophecies of Rachela at all. The Wu family ginned them up. The Wus, who owned and ran a consortium of businesses, some that built starships and others that hired out mercenaries, looked at the then-current political climate and decided the time was right to make a play for control of the Flow shoals, the places where humanly understandable space-time connected with the Flow and allowed spaceships to enter and exit that metaphorical river between the stars. The Wus understood well that creating tolls and monopolizing their extraction was a much more stable business model than building things, or blowing them up, depending on which of the Wus’ businesses one contracted. All they needed to do was to create a reasonable justification to make themselves the toll collectors.

In the meetings of the Wus, the prophecies were proposed, accepted, written, structured, A/B tested and honed before they were attached to Rachela Wu, a young scion of the family who was already well-known as the public charitable face of the Wu family and who also had a razor-sharp mind for marketing and publicity. The prophecies were a family project (well, the project of certain important members of the family—you wouldn’t just let anyone in on it, too many of the cousins were indiscreet and good only for drinking and being regional executives), but it was Rachela who sold them.

Sold them to whom? To the public at large, who needed to be convinced of the concept of the far-flung and disparate human settlements coming together under a single, unified governmental umbrella, incidentally to be headed by the Wus, who as it happened would collect levies on interstellar travel.

Not just Rachela, to be sure. In each star system, the Wus hired and bribed local politicians and publicly acceptable intelligentsia to promote the idea from a political and social point of view, to the sort of people who would like to imagine they needed a cogent and logical reason to toss away local sovereignty and control to a nascent political union that was already being constructed on imperial lines. But for the ones who either weren’t that intellectually vain, or simply preferred to get the idea of an interdependent union from an attractive young woman whose nonthreatening message of unity and peace just made them feel good, well, here was the newly dubbed Prophet Rachela.

(The Wus didn’t bother selling the mystical idea of the Interdependency to the other families and large corporations that they and their conglomerate moved among. For those they took another tack instead: Support the Wus’ plan for rent-seeking disguised as an altruistic exercise for nation-building and in return get a monopoly on a specific, durable good or service—in effect, trade their current businesses, with their annoyingly spikey boom-and-bust cycles, for a stable, predictable and ceaseless income stream, for all time. Plus a discount on the tolls the Wus were about to enact on Flow travel. In point of fact these weren’t discounts at all, because the Wus were planning to charge for a thing that used to be without cost to anyone. But the Wus assumed correctly that these families and companies would be so dazzled by the offer of an unassailable monopoly that they wouldn’t kick. Which turned out to be mostly correct.)

In the end it took the Wus less time than they expected to pull off their Interdependency scheme—within ten years the other families and companies were in line with their monopolies and promised noble titles, the paid-for politicians and intellectuals made their case, and the Prophet Rachela and her rapidly expanding Interdependent Church mopped up most of the rest of the public. There were holdouts and stragglers and rebellions that would go on for decades, but by and large the Wus had correctly picked their time, their moment, and their goal. And for the troublemakers, they had already decided that the planet called End, the human outpost in the newly imagined Interdependency that took the longest to get to, and to get back from, and had only a single Flow shoal in and out, would be the official dumping ground for anyone who got in their way.

Rachela, already the public and spiritual face of the Interdependency, was selected by (carefully orchestrated) acclamation as the first “emperox.” This new gender-neutral title had been chosen because market testing showed that it appealed to nearly all market segments as a fresh, new, and friendly spin on “emperor.”

This compact and highly elided history of the formation of the Interdependency may make it appear as if no one questioned the lie—that billions of people uncritically swallowed the fiction of Rachela’s prophecies. This was not at all accurate. People did question the lie, to the same amount as they would question any bit of pop spirituality marching toward an actual religion, and became alarmed as it gained acceptance, and followers, and respectability. Nor were observers of the time blind to the machinations of the Wu family as it made its play for imperial power. It was the focus of many handwringing editorials, news shows and occasionally attempted legislative action.

What the Wu family had over them was organization, and money, and allies in the form of the other now-noble families. The formation of the Holy Empire of the Interdependent States and Mercantile Guilds was a charging musk ox, and the skeptical observers were a cloud of gnats. Neither did much damage to the other, and at the end there was an empire.

One other reason the lie worked is that once the Interdependency formed, the Prophet-Emperox Rachela declared her visions and prophecies had largely come to an end, for now. She devolved all functional power in the administration of the Interdependent Church to the archbishop of Xi’an and a committee of bishops, who knew a good deal when they saw one. They rapidly built an organization that shoved the explicitly spiritual aspect of the church to the side, to be the spice of the new religion, not its main course.

In other words, neither Rachela nor the church overplayed its spiritual hand in the critical early years of the Interdependency, when the empire was necessarily at its most fragile. Rachela’s imperial successors, none of whom added the “prophet” part of the title to their address, largely followed her example, staying out of church business except for the most ceremonial parts, both to the relief, and then as the centuries passed, to the expectation, of the church itself.

The lie of Rachela’s visions and prophecy was never acknowledged by the church, of course. Why should it have been? To begin, neither Rachela nor the Wu family ever explicitly said outside of family conferences that the spiritual side of the Interdependent Church was wholly concocted. One could not expect Rachela’s successors, either as emperox or in the church, to own up to it, or even to publicly air their own suspicions and undermine their own authority. After that it was simply a matter of waiting until the visions and prophecy became doctrine.

For another thing, Rachela’s visions and prophecies largely came true. This was a testament to the fact that the “prophecy” of the Interdependency, while expansive, was also practically achievable, if one had ambition, money, and a certain amount of ruthlessness, all of which the Wu family had, in bulk. Rachela’s prophecies did not ask people to change the way they lived, in the small-bore, every day sense. It just asked them to swap out their system of governance, so that those at the very very top could have even more power, control and money than they had before. As it turned out, this was not too much to ask.

Finally, as it happened, the Wu family wasn’t wrong. Humanity was widely dispersed, and of all the star systems that the Flow was known to touch, only one of them had a planet capable of sustaining human life in the open: End. All the humans in all the other systems lived in habitats on planets, moons, or floating in space, all monstrously vulnerable in their isolation, none of them entirely able to produce the raw materials needed for their existence or to manufacture all they would need to survive. Humanity needed interdependence to survive.

Whether it needed the Interdependency as the political, social and religious structure to implement that interdependence was highly questionable but, a millennium on, a moot point. The Wu family had envisioned a path to long-term, sustainable political and social power for itself and took it, using a lie as a tool to get everybody else to go along. Incidentally, the Wus also created a system under which most humans could have a comfortable life without the existential fear of isolation, entropy, the inevitable horrifying collapse of society and the death of everyone and everything they hold dear hanging over their heads every moment of every day.

The lie worked out for everyone, more or less. It was awesome for the Wus, pretty great for the rest of the noble class, and generally perfectly okay for most other folks. When a lie has negative consequences, people dislike it. But otherwise? They move on, and eventually the lie as a lie is forgotten, or in this case, codified as the foundation of religious practice and buffed and sanded into something prettier and more congenial.

The visions and prophecies of Rachela were a lie, which functioned exactly as intended. Which meant that visions and prophecy remained a doctrinal cornerstone of the Interdependent Church—from a prophet, mind you. There had been one, who had become the first emperox. There was nothing in church doctrine barring another emperox from claiming the power of vision or prophecy. Indeed, church doctrine deeply suggested that, as the head of the Interdependent Church, the visionary power of prophecy was the birthright of the emperoxs, all eighty-eight of whom to date could trace their lineage back to the Prophet-Emperox Rachela herself—who aside from being the mother of the Interdependency, was also the mother of seven children, including triplets.

Every emperox was doctrinally capable of having visions and making prophecies. It’s just that, excepting Rachela herself, none of them ever did.

None, that is, until now.

In the anteroom of the Chamber of the Executive Committee, the room given over at the imperial palace to the group of the same name, and of which she was the chair, Archbishop Gunda Korbijn abruptly paused, surprising her assistant, and bowed her head.

“Your Eminence?” her assistant, a young priest named Ubes Ici, said.

Korbijn held up her hand to quell the question, and stood there for a moment, collecting her thoughts.

“This used to be easier,” she said, under her breath.

Then she smiled ruefully. She had intended to offer up a small prayer, one for patience and calm and serenity in the face of what was likely to be a long day, and month, and possibly rest of her career. But what came out was something else entirely.

Well, and that was about par for the course these days, wasn’t it.

“Did you say something, Your Eminence?” Ici asked.

“Only to myself, Ubes,” Korbijn said.

The young priest nodded to this, and then pointed to the door of the chamber. “The other members of the executive committee are already here. Minus the emperox, of course. She’ll be arriving at the agreed time.”

“Thank you,” Korbijn said, looking at the door.

“Everything all right?” Ici asked, following his boss’s gaze. Ici was deferential but he wasn’t stupid, Korbijn knew. He was well aware of recent events. He couldn’t have missed them. No one could have. They had rocked the church.

“I’m fine,” Korbijn assured him. She moved toward the door and Ici moved with her, but Korbijn held up her hand again. “No one in this meeting but committee members,” she said, and then caught the unasked question on Ici’s face. “This meeting is likely to have a frank exchange of views, and it’s best those are kept in the chamber.”

“A frank exchange of views,” Ici repeated skeptically.

“Yes,” Korbijn said. “That’s the euphemism I’m going with at the moment.”

Ici frowned, then bowed and stepped aside.

Korbijn looked up, offered a prayer, for real this time, and then pushed through the doors into the chamber.

The chamber was large and excessively ornate in a way that only a room in an imperial palace could be, filled with the cruft of centuries of artistic gifts, patronage, and acquisitions by emperoxs with more money than taste. Along the far wall of the chamber a mural flowed, representing some of the great historical figures that had been part of the executive committee over the centuries. It was painted by the artist Lambert, who had painted the background in the style of the Italian Renaissance and the figures themselves in early Interdependency realism. From her earliest days on the committee, Korbijn had found the mural both an appalling mishmash, and its heroic representation of figures an almost hilarious over-representation of the importance of the executive committee, and what it did on a day-to-day basis.

No one’s going to put this committee in a mural, Korbijn thought, approaching the long table that featured ten ornate chairs. Eight of those chairs were already filled with the two other representatives of the church, three members of parliament, and three members representing the guilds and the nobility who controlled them. One of the remaining chairs, at one end of the table, was for her, as head of the committee. The other was for the emperox, currently Grayland II, the source of Korbijn’s current headache.

As she was reminded the very second she sat down in her seat.

“What the fuck is this about the emperox having visions?” said Teran Assan, scion of the House of Assan, and the newest member of the committee. He was a hasty (probably too-hasty, in Korbijn’s estimation) replacement for Nadashe Nohamapetan, who was currently in imperial custody for murder, treason and the attempted assassination of the emperox.

Korbijn missed her relatively polite presence. Nadashe may have been a traitor, but she had decent manners. Assan’s current outburst was, alas, standard operating procedure for him. He was one of those people who believed social graces were for the weak.

Korbijn looked around the table to see the other reactions to this outburst, which ranged from disgust to weary recognition that Assan’s behavior probably was setting new, low benchmarks for bad behavior.

“And a good morning to you, too, Lord Teran,” Korbijn said. “How good of you to start our meeting off with a round of pleasantries.”

“You want pleasantries while our emperox announces that she’s having religious delusions about the end of the Interdependency and the destruction of the guild system,” Assan said. “May I suggest, Your Eminence, that your sense of priorities is out of whack.”

“Insulting the other members of the committee is not a very effective way to work, Lord Teran,” said Upeksha Ranatunga, the ranking parliamentarian on the committee. Assan had been rubbing Ranatunga the wrong way from the moment he joined the committee. This took some effort, Korbijn knew. Ranatunga was the very model of the practical politician. She made it her business to get along with everybody, especially the people she loathed.

“Let me offer a rebuttal,” Assan said. “In the past month our beloved emperox has announced that she believes the Flow—our way to travel between stars—is collapsing, and trotted out some backwater scientist no one’s heard of to bolster her claim. This claim is fueling economic and social unrest, even as other scientists dispute the assertion. And now, in response to that, the emperox is claiming mystical communications.

“But Her Eminence here”—Assan waved at Korbijn—“wants to exchange pleasantries. Fine. Hello, Your Eminence. You are looking very well. Also, wasting time on pleasantries is stupid and unnecessary, and incidentally, in case you haven’t heard, the leader of the empire is having fucking visions, so maybe we should dispense with the pleasantries and focus on that, what do you say.”

“And what is your objection to these visions, Lord Teran?” Korbijn said, as pleasantly as possible, folding her hands together.

“Are you kidding?” Assan leaned forward in his chair. “One, it’s obvious that the emperox’s claiming visions because she’s getting pushback on the idea that the Flow is shutting down. She’s trying to do an end run around parliament and the guilds, which are resisting her. Two, so far, the church—your end of things, Your Eminence—is giving her cover to do just that. Three, if she is having visions and isn’t just using them as a convenient lever, then our young new emperox is in fact delusional, and that just might be a pressing issue. All of these need to be addressed, now.”

“The church isn’t giving the emperox cover,” said Bishop Shant Bordleon, who as the second-most junior member of the committee sat across from Assan.

“Really?” Assan shot back. “I haven’t heard a peep out of the church about it since Grayland gave her little speech in the cathedral two days ago. That’s just a few news cycles. You surely could have said something about it by now. A rebuttal, perhaps.”

“The emperox is head of the church,” Bordleon said, in a tone that suggested he was instructing a particularly stubborn child. “This isn’t some minor priest going rogue in a far-flung mining habitat who we can tell to get in line.”

“So it’s different for emperoxs,” Assan cracked, sarcastically.

“In fact, it is,” Korbijn said. “The emperox addressed the bishops formally, speaking ex cathedra, not in her capacity as the secular head of the empire but in her ecclesiastical person as the successor to the prophet. We can’t dismiss what she said in that context. Nor can we rebut it. The most we in the church can do is work with it. Interpret it.”

“Interpret delusions.”

“Interpret visions.” Korbijn looked around the table. “The Interdependent Church was founded through the visions of the Prophet Rachela, who also became the first emperox of the Interdependency. The roles have been intertwined since the founding of the empire.” She focused on Assan. “Doctrinally speaking, Grayland is doing nothing controversial. The church, whatever its current nature, was founded on visions of a spiritual nature. Our doctrine accepts that the cardinal of Xi’an and Hub, as the head of the church, may have visions of a spiritual nature, just as Rachela did. And that these visions may be revelatory, and may affect doctrine.”

“And you expect us to go along with that,” Assan said.

“Who is the ‘us’ you are referring to?” Korbijn asked.

“The guilds, for one.” Assan pointed to Ranatunga. “Parliament, for another.”

“There are still laws for blasphemy,” Bordleon noted. “They’re even occasionally enforced.”

“Well, isn’t that convenient,” Assan said.

“Lord Teran has a point,” Ranatunga said, and Korbijn, for one, respected Ranatunga for being able to say that without stroking out. “Doctrinally correct or not, no emperox in memory has so actively laid claim to the religious mantle of head of the church. Certainly none have claimed visions.”

“You believe the timing is suspicious,” Korbijn said to Ranatunga.

“‘Suspicious’ is not the word I would use,” Ranatunga replied, politic as ever. “But I’m not blind to Grayland’s political situation, either. Lord Teran is correct. She’s disrupted the function of the government with her claims about the Flow. She’s panicking people. The answer to this is not to appeal to prophecy, but to science and reason.”

Korbijn frowned slightly at this. Ranatunga caught it and held out a placating hand. “This is not a criticism of the church or its doctrines,” she said. “But, Gunda, you have to admit it. This is not what emperoxs do. We need at the very least to ask her about it. Directly.”

A notification on Korbijn’s tablet pinged. She read it, and stood, prompting the others to stand as well. “You’re about to have your chance, Up. She’s here.”

 

Copyright © 2018 by John Scalzi

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