Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hidden Empire, by Orson Scott Card

Hidden EmpireIf we've ever talked about Card's books, you know that whenever I get my hands on a new title, I pretty much have to set aside a dedicated block of time to read it. Anything Card writes inspires me to power on to the finish, so I can get into big trouble starting one of his books just before bedtime. Once again, he's remained true to form.

I've been trying to figure out what has inspired Card on one aspect of his recent writings; his tendency to include extremely precocious, articulate children in his stories. Think of nearly the entire cast of his Ender's story arc, for example. He's done the same here with the children of Reuben and Cecily Malich. If you've ever raised children, you know that sometime during their teenage years, they suddenly become infinitely smarter than their parents. This condition generally lasts until they move out, get jobs and have children of their own, after which point their parents' IQs increase dramatically. Was Card just taking an assumption to its amusing conclusion? "What if kids actually did become smarter than their parents?" Or did Card end up raising some truly precocious and improbably logical children, thus providing fodder for his books?

Hidden Empire is, of course, the sequel to Empire, in which we saw the rise to power of Averell Torrent, a president of the USA who may or may not have the desire and ability to become a caesar in fact, if not in name, over a world empire ruled by America. The novel centers around an ebola-like plague that originates in Nigeria, which has the potential to wipe out 1/3 to 1/2 of the Earth's population, if it goes unchecked. Torrent's administration gets word of the disease very quickly, and moves boldly to quarantine the entire continent of Africa, as there seems to be no way to stop the spread of the disease past the Nigerian borders.

The quarantine is generally successful, though it is acknowledged that it won't succeed in the long haul, and the disease will eventually spread around the globe. However, a large contingent of ordinary citizens from the United States, moved by compassion, demand to be allowed to go to Africa to care for the victims of the disease. Through their actions, serendipitously (if one can call anything deliberately written in a novel such), much is learned about how to make the disease more survivable, and that fact gives us hope that the plague will not destroy civilization as we know it.

At the beginning of each chapter is what is purported to be an excerpt from a speech by President Torrent. Don't skip these, they are really interesting politico-social commentaries straight from the brain of Card himself. Whether or not he personally believes any of it is a moot point; they're all good grist for the grinder.

I'm looking forward to the next installment in this series with great anticipation.

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