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by Timothy Zahn
Tor Books, 2001
Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.ca: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.co.uk: hardcover, paperback
Recommended by: Greg Slade
Zahn posits two political groupings of human-inhabited systems, the Pax and the Empyrean. The Pax, being larger, having more resources, and a stronger military, see the Empyrean as a threat. (This might seem, on the face of it, to be more than a little absurd. Why should a larger, stronger power regard a smaller power as a threat? Sadly, that has all too often happened throughout history.) Besides simply not being part of the Pax already, the Empyrean has two fatal flaws which incur the enmity of the Pax. First, they have developed the "net", a system for capturing an approaching space ship and catapulting it out to another star system, which seems to be the perfect defence. Second, and more disturbingly, within Empyrean space there is a quantum black hole which spews unusual particles called "angels." The angels seem to have a beneficial effect on the morals and efficiency of people who are in proximity to them, so the Empyrean has passed laws forcing all of its senior political and military officials to wear "angel" pendants as an anti-corruption measure.
But not everybody is quite so excited about these "angels." The Pax fear that they work through some form of mind control, and see them as a form of alien invasion. Even within the Empyrean, there are those who fear the "angels", not necessarily because they prefer a life of crime, but because they fear for their freedom of choice.
And it is precisely there that the power in this book lies. I mean, sure, Zahn is a good writer (widely acclaimed as the best of the writers who have written in the "Star Wars" franchise), and his science (except for a couple of flubs) is believable. But what makes this work interesting is the way Zahn explores the issues of good and evil, freedom of choice, fear and trust, and so on. In other words, he uses this setup to explore ethical, if not exactly religious, questions. In fact, the simple assertion that there are such things as "good" and "evil" sets this work apart in this post-modern world in which so many people reject the very idea of absolutes. But Zahn doesn't come right out and give answers. Instead, he asks the questions, and uses different characters to explore different approaches to them. For that reason, those who are only interested in their own answers may find it frustrating. Personally, I applaud any author who even dares to ask the big questions.
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