Author: Dan Simmons

Harper Torch / 438 pages / September 2003

ISBN: 038082020x

When author Walter Jon Williams starts a new series, there is good reason for excitement. Not only because of his mastery of prose and world-building, but because he is not content to let his readers by submissive robots turning page after page. Williams wants readers to think and, unless they are willfuly ignorant they won’t escape the Big Questions inherent in the very fibre of absolutist ethic, The Praxis. It is a sobering journey to a possible far future where humans are no longer the great power they have always believed themselves to be.

Millennia from now, a powerful race called the Shaa have conquered the entire universe. Through force of will, at the mildest, to outright slaughter, at the furthest extreme, the Shaa have achieved domination of all surviving species. Now the Shaa govern under the “perfect truth” of the Praxis. It is a grim, ironhanded rule over an equally austere domain. But, the last of the Shaa will soon be gone; will the repressive control of the Praxis remain intact?

In the waning days of their long reign, the Shaa look to the subordinates they have trained and trusted to continue their idea of the consummate state. Even as the humans and other races scramble to keep the civilisation they have always known from weakening, another race plots to wrest control of the universe for themselves. Unless one alert terran lieutenant can convince his superiors that a mutiny is in motion the Naxid will snatch the ultimate authority without meeting any resistance.

Regardless of who wins in this silent struggle for power, the question remains: will the conquered be willing to remain conquered? What is the lasting effect of the brutal subjugation that put the Shaa in power?

The Praxis begins the examination of the crumbling of an old regime and the possibilities open to those who have lived so long under oppression. What would the psychological ramifications be for a human assigned to Bombardment of Delhi or Bombardment of Los Angeles? Does christening a ship with such a name serve as a threat, reminder, or source of pride? Certainly, not every being under the tyranny of the Shaa has been brainwashed to the extent that they believe in the perfection of the Praxis. Will a new power sweep in to enjoy the inflexible rule foisted upon the universe? Do some dream of a life not governed by the absolute ideal? Can simple, flawed humans make the decision to break their bonds?

Williams has set an intriguing experiment in motion. Readers will have to wait for The Sundering and the other volumes of this epic far-future (at least, I hope it’s very far-future…) tale to play out.

As always, Williams’ science is complex and credible, but it is the fragile creatures that inhabit his universe who truly hold our interest. And keep us coming back for more, regardless of the outcome.