#1 New York Times bestselling author Westerfeld continues one of the first great space operas of this century
Scott Westerfeld, New York Times bestselling author of Uglies, Pretties, and Specials, reached new heights of excitement with The Risen Empire and left readers begging for more. He delivers the dazzling payoff in book two, The Killing of Worlds.
The immortal Emperor can grant a form of eternal life-after-death, creating an elite known as the Risen, and so has ruled the eighty worlds unchallenged for sixteen hundred years. The only thing he fears are the Rix, machine-augmented humans who worship AI compound minds. They are dedicated to replacing his prolonged rule with an eternal cybernetic dynasty of their own.
Brilliant tactician Captain Laurent Zai of the Imperial Frigate Lynx faces a suicide mission: stopping the next thrust of the Rix invasion with just his own vessel. While ship-to-ship combat rages among the stars, Zai's lover, Senator Nara Oxham, is caught in a deadly political fencing match with the Emperor himself. The Emperor has a terrible secret, a secret Nara is in danger of finding out, a secret for which he would countenance the killing of worlds.
About the Author
Scott Westerfeld is a software designer, a composer of music for modern dance, and the author of novels such as The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds. He lives in New York City and Sydney, Australia.
Read an Excerpt
The contrail of a supersonic aircraft blossomed weakly in the thin, dry air, barely marking the sky.
Rana Harter imagined the passengers far above: reclining in sculpted crash-safe chairs, the air they breathed scented with some perfumed disinfectant, perhaps being served some light snack now, midway to their destination. From up there, other contrails would be visible through windows of transparent hypercarbon. Most long-haul air routes on Legis passed over the pole. The continents were clustered in the northern hemisphere, far from the raging equatorial sea and the vast, silent ocean of the south. Air transit routes converged here at the pole like the lines on a dribble-hoop ball, this tundral waste an empty junction, overflown but never visited.
Rana had never traveled on an aircraft before Herd had brought her here. She could only blurrily imagine airborne luxury, the gaps in her vision filled with the sound of wealthy people’s music: soft strings repeating the same slow phrase.
She watched the wind move driftsnow across the plain, and noted the direction and speed of the few scudding clouds. Her brainbug made a prediction. The contrail reached a certain point and Rana said, “Now.”
At that moment, the contrail jagged suddenly, a sharp angle marring its slow curve. A few pieces of detritus caught the sun, flickering with their spin, falling from the supersonic craft with the apparent slow motion of great distance.
The plane quickly recovered, righting its course.
Rana imagined the sudden, sickening lurch inside the cabin. Glasses of champagne flying, trays and hand luggage upset, every object leaping toward the ceiling as the plane lost a thousand meters of altitude in a few seconds. The unexpected opening of the cargo hold would instantly double the plane’s drag profile, sending a shock through the entire craft. Hopefully, the smart seats would hold their passengers in. A few bloodied noses and wrenched shoulders, perhaps a concussion for some unlucky soul on her feet. But by now the plane had righted itself, automatically closing the offending cargo door.
Rana Harter had discovered that her brainbug worked better if she indulged these fancies. As she imagined the sudden jolt above, her eyes tracked the flickering fall of luggage and supplies, and she felt the whirring of her mind as it calculated the location and shape of the debris field. The sharp, determinate math of trajectories and wind smelled like camphor, rang in her ears with vibrato-free, pointillistic notes on a handful of flutes, one for each variable.
The answers came.
She turned to Herd, already dressed in her hooded fur coat. The sable had come from the first luggage drop arranged by Alexander. The stain that had once disguised Herd’s Rix eyes was faded now, and they shone in their true violet, beautiful in the frame of black fur. The hairs of the coat ruffled in the bitter wind, a fluttering motion that made Rana hear the small, shimmering bells worn by wedding dancers on their feet.
Herd awaited her instructions, always respectfully silent when Rana’s ability was in use (though the commando had squeezed her hand as her word now seemed to yank the airplane from its path).
“Seventy-four klicks that way,” Rana said, pointing carefully. Herd’s violet eyes followed the line of the gesture, checking for landmarks. Then she nodded and turned to Rana to kiss her good-bye.
The Rixwoman’s lips were always cold now, her body temperature adapted to its environment. Her saliva tasted vaguely of rust, like the iron tang of blood, but sweeter. Her sweat contained no salt, its mineral content making it taste like water from a quarry town. As Herd dashed toward the flyer, the oversized coat lifting into sable wings, the synesthetic smell of the commando’s avian/lemongrass movements mingled with the flavor left in Rana’s mouth. The joy of watching Herd never lessened.
Rana turned back toward the cave entrance before the recon flyer whined to life, however. Every second here in the cold was taking something out of her.
Inside, it was above freezing.
Rana Harter wore two layers of real silk, a hat of red fox, and her own fur coat, vat-grown chinchilla lined with blue whale from the ubiquitous herds of the southern ocean. But she was still cold.
The walls of the cave were hung with centuries-old tapestries earmarked for the Museum of Antiquities in Pollax. A vast collection of toiletries and clothing, the bounty of fallen personal luggage, lined the icy shelves Herd had carved into the walls. Rana and Herd slept on the pelt of a large ursoid creature that neither of them recognized—a customs stamp confirmed its off-world origins. The floors were covered with soft linings ripped from luggage, a pile of undergarments forming an insulating layer underneath.
The small, efficient machines of travel were everywhere. Handheld games and coffee pots, flashlights and sex toys, all for Herd to dissect and rebuild into new devices. For sustenance, they had only prestige foods. Rich meats from young animals, fruits scandalously out of season, caviar and exotic nuts, candied insects and edible flowers. It all came in morsel sizes, suitable for luxury airplane meals: canned, self-heating and freeze-dried, bagged and coldboxed, to be washed down with liquor in plastic bottles dwarfish enough to have survived the long fall. They drank from two crystal glasses that someone thought valuable enough to pack in thirty centimeters of smartfoam. Oddly, the glasses had been labeled as coffee beans on their packaging. A mistake, or perhaps they were smuggled antiques.
All this bounty from only three aircraft holds, Rana wondered. She had never seen such wealth before. She lifted a smartplastic tennis racket, its rim no wider than the strings it suspended, and wondered at the instrument’s elegant, almost Rixian lines.
This fourth luggage “accident” would be their last haul. The background rate of such events had already been wildly exceeded, and Alexander’s false clues explaining the cargo-door defect had begun to wear thin. But she and Herd had all they needed until the compound mind called them to action.
Until then, they would live in luxury. And they had each other.
Rana Harter sat and rested from the freezing minutes outside. She lifted up a travel handheld to read, and that simple exertion tired her. She slept longer each night, dreaming lucidly but abstractly in the strange symbols of her brainbug. Her happiness never wavered, though. The dopamine regulators saw to that.
The infection in Rana’s wound was gone, disappearing in a single fevered night after an ampoule of nanos from Herd’s medical kit. But the weight in Rana’s chest was still there, building and building. Her breath grew shorter by the day.
She activated the travel handheld; its screen lit up, bookmarked to its medical compendium. Rana flicked it off again. She had read this section enough times, and knew that her one good lung was slowly going. Fluids were slowly building up in the wall between ribcage and lung, squeezing the breath from her like a tightening fist. Only an operation could save her. However resourceful her Rix lover might be, surgery was beyond their means here in this icy cave.
Rana Harter’s mind had never possessed a sharp sense of irony. The mean circumstances of her life had never required one. But she saw the joke here: She was surrounded by everything she had ever desired. Every petty luxury and marker of wealth. An invisible god that she positively knew to exist. Free use of her brainbug in a safe retreat at the literal end of the earth. And a lover of alien beauty, a fierce and lethal protector, whose physical grace, novel mind, and violet eyes offered whole new worlds of fascination.
And the punch line: Rana, in the next few days, would almost certainly die.
She turned from these thoughts the way a child ignores a light rain. They did nothing to reduce her joy. Whatever occurred, she—one of the few among humanity’s trillions—had chanced blindly into happiness.
Death must have found me, Rana Harter decided.
She was already in heaven.
Copyright © 2003 by Scott Westerfeld
Table of Contents
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As I mentioned in my review of The Risen Empire, this isn't really a sequel -- it's merely the second half of the story, which was broken up for publishing reasons. Unfortunately, it suffers more from this break-up than most novels do, because as far as I can tell Westerfeld did nothing to make the transition more seamless -- the epilogue of The Risen Empire is the prologue of The Killing of Worlds and otherwise the story just jumps right back into the action where it left off. Were the books in one volume (like, say the omnibus edition the Science Fiction Book Club put out) I doubt I would have even noticed when one stopped and the other started. However, I was reading the mass market Tor editions, and even though I picked up The Killing of Worlds the very next day, I was already a little out of the rhythm of the story. Everyone's decisions felt too weighted, too fraught with dire import for what my subconscious brain insisted (based on the evidence in my hands) was the start of a plot arc. The Risen Empire started with a plot-bang, a frenetic action sequence, and that worked wonderfully because my subconscious likes that sort of opening to a story; The Killing of Worlds started with an emotional-bang, a horrified Nara Oxham realizing the extent to which the Emperor will go to eliminate an embarassment and protect a secret, and that just doesn't work for my subconscious because at the beginning of a story that sort of hand-wringing doesn't feel deserved. Clearly, it is deserved because of all that went on in The Risen Empire, but the physical mechanics of turning the pages when so few were in my left hand and so many were in my right just threw me out of things. Once past that initial adjustment phase, however, The Killing of Worlds is exactly as good as The Risen Empire. The stakes spiral ever higher, complications arise, and no seeming victory is ever safe. The heart of the story is still the snippets from ten years earlier (Imperial Absolute); I particularly loved the section where Nara and Laurent went sledding. The pacing is sure and the climax wonderful, as all the disparate elements come back into play forging a resolution that fits just right, no matter how deeply you press it looking for holes. This is a near-perfect story, one I am sure I will return to again and again.
This is the second book in the Succession series, and it lives up to the promise of the first, The Risen Empire. I recall seeing someplace that Scott Westerfeld only made this a series at the behest of the US publisher, which probably explains how thoroughly tied together the two novels are. In The Killing of Worlds, we start immediately where The Risen Empire ended. Captain Laurent Zai and his crew aboard the Lynx are engaging with a Rix battlecruiser in the Legis system, and the expectation of not only the Zai and the crew but also the Emperor and the War Council back on the planet Home is that it is a suicide mission. Westerfeld has a delightful way of writing quite technical descriptions while maintaining a sense of movement forward, and he does this time and again. The novel itself shifts from view point to view point. Sometimes you are with Zai. Others with Executive Officer Katherie Hobbes. Or Rix commando Herd. The Rix compound mind Alexander. And so on. The novel's ultimate plot line is simple: Battle, results. Another battle. Results. Secret revealed. But the simplicity of the plot in no way minimizes the success the novel. In fact, it probably assisted it, for the characters are wonderfully constructed, even the machine characters of the drones that fight the first wave of the battle. We get to bask in a richly constructed world whose full depths lay behind and as foundations to the novel. I consider this a good thing in a science fiction book when the history, the cultures, etc., live off the page and we, the reader, get only partial information. Westerfeld has definitely done that. And while the secret is revealed and proves cataclysmic, a theme of love emerges across the story. In all the science fiction, in all the wonderfully described scenes of technology and action and politics, much of the motivation of Zai and Senator Oxham is driven by love. And we got that in the first novel, but this is then given fresh life by the development of another love story that works against the expectations set in The Risen Empire. My one complaint (spoiler in this paragraph) is that the ships heading towards the Lynx at the end seemed unwrapped up. Granted, they are two years out and much about this story remains open at the end, I felt, for some reason, that those ships needed some "closing." But this is but a minor complain. To get the most out of The Killing of Worlds, one must read The Risen Empire. Westerfeld wrote these two books as one, and readers should approach it that way. Wonderfully written and engaging.
No words for how AWESOME this is. I honestly think that the Risen Empire and The Killing of Words are THE BEST books I've ever read! The story is so original, the Characters so vivid, the plot so mind grabbing and the Pace is just superb! not slow at all, but not so fast fast that questions go unanswered. If you read the Risen Empire, you MUST get the Killing of words bc, in my opinion, they one ONE book. Now I use these books to measure all other sic-fi books!
I luved this book even though the 1st one is much better I recommend it 2 fans of Scott westerfeld.