At Empire's Edge by William C. Dietz | Book Review

Built in a Day
Michael C. Riedlinger

The problem with modern science fiction is that it often tries too had to draw attention to the cool science fiction bits that land it within that genre. The best science fiction plays it closer to the chest and lets us slide into the suspension of disbelief that our minds so want to fight against when we start reading about laser pistols and faster-than-light travel. We want to believe, but in order for us to do that, an author must believe in his world as much as he wants his audience to believe it. William C. Dietz accomplishes that very well with his latest novel, At Empire’s Edge.

Forget that Jak Cato is a member of the Xeno Corps stranded on a planet in the furthest reaches of a space empire. Forget that Usurlus is a diplomat of that Roman-style empire trying to uncover corruption. Especially forget that Verafti is a shape shifting, flesh-eating sentient lizard. This book, at it’s core, is about a cop, a killer, and an assassination plot. The sci-fi elements serve the story, and Dietz is a long time vet of the genre, so it comes easily to him.

From the get go, the book is like Dirty Harry in space. Cato is a renegade cop who sometimes steps over the line, though usually for the right reasons. When his prisoner escapes on the planet of Dantha, he does what all renegade cops do in that situation: whatever he has to in order to set things right. He doesn’t care about politics, but we do, because Dietz keeps it interesting by showing us how deeply corrupt this world is. From the top down, all of the power players are dirtier than movie versions of the L.A.P.D. The pieces of the plot come together surprisingly well, but only because Dietz keeps it simple.

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Some writers are masters of political intrigue, but Dietz isn’t one of them. It is fortuitous then that he uses the political moments to simply move his plot forward. Yes, many of the players are all shallow caricatures – the corrupt police chief, the brutal majordomo, and the politician plotting to be a tyrant – but the story dominates the landscape so well, you hardly care. The xenobiological landscape of the novel is richer, with winged Lir competing for face time with human-like Umans and a villainous Sagatha shape-shifter. Any avid reader of science fiction should feel right at home in Dietz’s world, but the story isn’t so far fetched as to be inaccessible to new readers.

While not a modern classic, At Empire’s Edge is still a good read. The political bits, decorated in Roman nuances, left me wanting more, but the action and intrigue were interesting enough on their own. It should also be noted that this is the first of a two book series, and that I’m looking forward to Dietz fleshing out some of his characters in the next installment. The more Dietz concentrates on his own ideas, instead of properties like the Halo series, the better he will get. In the meantime, the bad-ass cop genre works well in sci-fi, even if the accompanying politics are flimsier than a toga.

Final Verdict (out of 5):