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June 8th, 2003

Kevin J. Anderson may be best known for his Star Wars and X-Files works, but he's actually been writing SF for years - producing interesting works in collaboration with Doug Beason, and excellent solo works like Blindfold and <i>Climbing Olympus</i>. He's also been working on the prequels to Dune.

Hidden Empire is the first part of a new space opera series, The Saga Of The Seven Suns. Human generation ships took the slow road to the stars, and were met by the old Ildarian civilisation. Returning with the Ildarian stardrive they sparked a new renaissance, as humanity began to colonise the available worlds. While archaeologists are stuggling to understand the disappearance of the Klikiss, a race that one ruled the galaxy, others are using their artifacts to expand the human hegemony - turning gas giants into stars.

Anderson gives a multi-stranded story, mixing the story of an archaelogical expedition on a remote world with the political struggles of the telephathic green priests, the conspiracies behind the royal rule of human space, the struggles to survive of the free space living roamers, and the trials of the decadent and fading Ildarians. It's a stroy driven by disaster and conflict, as the experimental ignition of a new star instead ignites a conflict with the hydrogues, the races that live in the hearts of the gas giants.

This is a big book. Anderson's Hidden Empire promises much, but ultimately delivers little. Too many plot strands mean that its hard to engage with the characters, and the sudden scene shifts can be awkward. Suddenly we're pulled away from matters of politics and dropped into the minutiae of the life of a jobbing star trader. It's a technique that Anderson hasn't quite perfected, and it jars. It's a pity. We're left running from plot fragment to plot fragment, missing the overall story...

This could have been an excellent work, one that joins in with Reynolds and Schroeder and Flynn and Stross to drive space opera forwards. Instead, we're left with a novel that looks back more to the SF of the 60s and 70s, instead of pulling us into the 21st century.

Still, I'll see what volume 2, A Forest Of Stars, brings...
tamaranth's questions and answers are as always, behind the cut... Apologies for the delay in answering, but that's food poisoning for you...

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With all the building work we've been having, there have been a lot of strange smells in the house. Glues, new woods, plaster, filler, dust - you name it, it's smelt odd. But there was one little smell, a pungent little odor that got worse, while everything else faded away.

I decided to have a look for its source this evening.

It seemed to be coming from somewhere near the door to the lounge, so I began moving things around. First everything in the hall. No sign of a source there, which meant it wasn't anything to do with the building work. My heart sank. I now had a pretty good idea of what I was looking for, and a couple of places where it might be.

Nothing showed up when I moved the sofa. Perhaps I was wrong.

Back to the lounge door. A pile of comic boxes was next to be moved. I'd reached the bottom, when I saw it.

I was right.

A dead rodent of some description, probably a young rat. Gently decaying on top of a couple of books at the bottom of the bookcase.

One night, probably a week or so ago, the cats brought in a little friend for, err, games and dinner. However the games were a little too succesful, and dinner was postponed. Their little friend must have crawled behind the boxes and into the bookcase, and then expired.

It's now far away, wrapped in several plastic bags (unfortunately along with the books). The bookcase has been soundly disinfected, and the carpet thoroughly cleaned. There's also plenty of deoderant powder on the floor.

I think I need a big bar of chocolate.

And next time I wake up in the middle of the night, and wonder if the cats are chasing mice in the hall when something goes "squeak", someone remind me to go check, not roll over and go back to sleep. Things will be so much more pleasant in the long run...

Putting the solar system on the ground...

They've built a scale model of the solar system in Maine...

It's taken 4 years, and a lot of volunteer work, but the final planet goes in place on Friday.

(Found on CNN's site while doing a news browse)