Empire's Horizon

by John Brizzolara
Reviewed date: 2006 Jul 1
Rating: 2
320 pages
Awards: Ranked by Locus readers as the 19th best first novel by a new author in 1990.
cover art

Plot: Darkath is a backward planet at the edge of the Empire. Though it is of no commercial or military value, the waning Empire is determined to keep Darkath as a show of its power. The Empirial outpost on Darkath struggles to control the local population by pitting the two native people groups--the Khaj and the Dhirn--against each other.

Things start to heat up on Darkath when a charismatic leader named Hara unites the Khaj and Dhirn against the Empire. Holofax correspondent Martin Cain arrives on Darkath in hopes of reporting the story of the century as it unfolds. Meanwhile, the Empirial outpost itself is fraught with internal dissension: the incompetent Commandant Jimenez is in danger of losing control to the brash, ruthless Colonel Cristobal. Finally, the situation is further complicated by the presence of aliens: a fleet of unknown spaceships is lurking on the far side of Darkath's moon, and nobody knows who they are or what they want.

My take: It's hard to view Empire's Horizon as a real science fiction novel. The natives ride dragons. Not fire-breathing, but they fly. And there seems to be some element of myth if not outright magic--although this is later revealed to be super-science connected with the Andromedan aliens lurking behind Darkath's moon. Brizzolara doesn't offer much originality: his Empire is pretty standard fare, and his Darkhani natives remind me of the inhabitants Frank Herbert's Dune. The book as a whole reminds me of Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Heritage of Hastur.

The story's ending is unsatisfactory too: after a bloody war between the Imperial troops and the Darkhani, the mysterious alien fleet swoops down upon the planet and uses their overwhelming technology to immediately put a stop to the fighting. The aliens claim to be from Andromeda, and reveal that the Darkhani are the product of human-Andromedan interbreeding.

The whole book seems ultimately pointless. It's never explained why the Andromedans care about the Darkhani. It's never explained why the Empire didn't station more than a token number of troops on Darkath. We're never shown enough of Darkhani culture to gain an understanding of their strange religion, so the actions of the natives remain inexplicable.

There are better books to read. I suggest Dune or The Heritage of Hastur or David Brin's second Uplift trilogy. Those books deal with the theme of native resistance against a technologically advanced Empire, but more competently than in Brizzolara's Empire's Horizon.

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