1“In the far future, a young man stands on a barren asteroid. His ship has been stolen, his family kidnapped or worse, and all he has on his side is a semi-intelligent spacesuit. The only member of the crew to escape, Hari has barely been off his ship before. It was his birthplace, his home and his future. He’s going to get it back. “

It certainly sounds like a focused, revenge-fueled romp but, in reality, Evening’s Empires is actually a sweeping, cerebral tale of betrayal, vengeance, and, surprisingly, family.  It’s an ambitious and intelligent novel that is  both hard SF and space opera although, to be perfectly honest, it took a while for the story to really capture my interest.  For the first fifty pages or so, I was utterly baffled, even frustrated, by the overwhelming denseness of the shifting social landscapes and political and religious paradigms.

The book is incredibly rich in its grand scope world galaxy-building and much of the background history, established and developed in the author’s previous books, can be incredibly confusing for the uninitiated.  I had to double (and triple) check that Evening’s Empires was, in fact, a standalone novel that didn’t require any knowledge of McAuley’s other works.  The various backstory elements are eventually explained, a little too often in the form of mass conversational info dumps but, once I finally had a better understanding of its foundations, the novel became a far more enjoyable read.  Still, partway through, when I came across the line “It’s a maze he lost himself in.” I couldn’t help think “There but for the Grace of God went I”.

At the heart of this book is the mystery of “the bright moment”, a simultaneously shared vision, glimpsed by everyone in the solar system, of a man on a bicycle. Our hero, Hari, is raised on a spaceship where his family plays host to a scientist studying “the bright moment”.  Then, one day, their ship is hijacked and Hari is forced to flee – with the scientist’s head and the valuable data it contains.  Hari plots to retake his ship but, to do so, he must connect with people from his past and peel the onion on a multi-layered mystery involving religious fanatics, shifting alliances, and dangerous clones.

It all makes for a head-spinning tour-de-force that, I suspect, will leave many readers thoroughly amazed by the novel’s depth and breadth while, simultaneously, leaving just as many thoroughly bewildered.

As an added bonus for the well-read SF fan, the book is divided into six parts titled: Childhood’s End, Marooned Off Vespa, The Caves of Steel, Pirates of the Asteroids, The Cold Equations, and Downward to the Earth.  I’m not sure if there was more to it than a simple tip of the hat to the golden age classics, but there’s no denying Evening’s Empire has far more in common with the narratively expansive and challenging works of Alastair Reynolds and Iain M. Banks than it does the works of Clarke, Asimov, and Silverberg.

Let’s get the conversation started.  What did you all think of Evening’s Empires?

25 thoughts on “June 2, 2014: Our Book of the Month Club reconvenes to discuss Evening’s Empire by Paul McAuley!

  1. OT: Lou Diamond Phillips’ series, “Longmire”, returned tonight on A&E cable network in USA. Eastern feed is almost over, but it repeats immediately and again tomorrow. Check your local listings, folks.

  2. Where can i find this for an e-reader for Android I’ve tried the kindle app also tried through the google play store any help would be greatly appreciated.

  3. Thanks for the review, Joe. It sounds interesting. I might grab the earlier books in the same universe which are available as audiobooks and maybe by the time I finish them the audiobook of this one will be available.

  4. It all makes for a head-spinning tour-de-force that, I suspect, will leave many readers thoroughly amazed by the novel’s depth and breadth while, simultaneously, leaving just as many thoroughly bewildered. Hmm, I believe I will wait for next month’s BoM.

  5. I completely agree when you said: ” It’s an ambitious and intelligent novel.”, “For the first fifty pages or so, I was utterly baffled, even frustrated, by the overwhelming denseness of the shifting social landscapes and political and religious paradigms.”

    But the denseness accompanies us throughout all the novel. The confusion is normal for the amalgamation of tons of self-explanations of all aspects in the life of this decadent solar system. That as the fall of the Roman empire or all empires, does not happen in an explosive moment but in a degeneration leaving bags of ancient splendor, with pale reflections of something that worked, interspersed with barbarism.

    The brothers thing remember me King Lear´s Edmond & Edgar subplot.
    For me the worst part is the end. McAuly not convinced me, not clarify anything.
    What happens lately, with the ends is that the writers are losing strength with the passage of the chapters? It is a kind of fatigue?

    Following the fashion of our “week of lateral thinking.” I will draw some conclusions out of the pot, that perhaps are not far from reality:

    All this book is a “PRIVATE JOKE”.
    some indications:
    -The book is divided into chapters with names related to clasic SF: Childhood’s End, Marooned Off Vespa, The Caves of Steel, Pirates of the Asteroids, The Cold Equations, and Downward to the Earth. In better or worse way, this is reflected in the passage of the action or at the background.
    -Memory Hole ( the place where Hari have his implants) is a UK fanzine collection.
    – Some names are there as jocular reference for connoisseurs:

    Gajananvihari Pilot. Pabuji’s Gift. Kabadiwallahs. The iconography of the Bright Moment. Microscopic jitter. Tick-tock philosophers. Head doctors. Dacoits. Discorporate tankies. Ascetic minstrels. Skull feeders. Spire builders. The Free People. 207061 Themba. The forests of Vesta. Chandelier cities. Ophir, the world-city, Free People. Fei Shen, the Flying Mountain. Monoliths. Tannhauser Gate. The Republic of Arden. The ten thousand collectives of Europa. The Commonwealth of Sugar Mountain. The Memory Whole. Seraphs. Waypoints. The Great Expansion. The True Empire. Vacuum organisms. Pirates of the asteroids.

    Of these I just explain my exegesis of “The iconography of the Bright Moment.”
    In the novel the bright moment is explained like: the vision of a man on a bicycle turning to look at the viewer as he glided away into a flare of light.

    This is a escapist metaphor based on a UK TV series McAuley liked.The closing theme of “The Prisoner” Slightly retouched. The image of the bicycle frame fades out to leave only the wheels. The wheels then begin to spin faster and faster transforming into the Earth and the Universe. The Earth, spinning on its axis, flies toward the camera and explodes.


    I cant bet on this, but some of ther other are related to clasic SF TV & Books.

  6. @Shane Calhoun – Moon+Reader is a great reading app for androids

    As far as the book goes, well, I’m torn actually. Like Joe, I found it very dense and more than a little confusing. The shifting landscapes he mentioned were intriguing, yet made it difficult for me to really follow the thread of the story. Unlike Joe, my frustration and puzzlement only increased the deeper I got into the book. There was too many twists, turns, characters, and developments that with the unexplained backstory and odd vocab, for me to NOT get frustrated.
    In the end two things kept going through my mind : “What is he talking about?” and “Is this relevant to the story at all or is it just detail thrown in for the sake of extra detail?”.

    I see how the book is a standalone novel as (presumably) the characters of this universe are introduced for the first time in this book. But because I am somewhat analytical (stupid science degree) I found myself getting annoyed with the author for not including (at the very least) a list of definitions or even better, a short prologue that explains some of the relevant events that form the background of this story.

    Overall I enjoyed the grandeur and the idea that this is a journey of self-discovery for a young man who has to solve some pretty serious mysteries while trying to rescue/revenge his family. But without a framework with which to hang the many central events/characters, I just can’t justify recommending this book to anyone who hasn’t read any of the earlier books in this universe.

    One criticism my profs always had for my research papers was that it was essential to define a term before using it. Granted, this is a SF novel, not a research paper, and the novel contains (apparently) many inside references. Still. This book would have been much more enjoyable if the author had taken into consideration that not everyone reading this novel is familiar with the universe and so had put more effort into familiarizing newcomers with past events and terminology.

  7. I was a little sad thinking no one in the future will need to protect the contents of my head, unless future-people need my encyclopedic knowledge of X-Files and Superman.

  8. This book was a tough slog. So many words I didn’t understand and references to events I had no information on. Some concepts, like the Bright Moment, were explained immediately upon introduction, but others, like what exactly a “tanky” is, were left until page 231 of a 374-page book.

    Maybe it’s just my lack of experience with hard SF, but I also had to basically learn along the way what an eidolon was, what a dacoit was, what a djinn was. It was like going to a foreign country and trying to learn the slang without benefit of a phrasebook. I was constantly going to the dictionary and looking up these words and trying to reconcile their modern definitions with how they were being used in a universe set at least 1500 years in the future. How hard would it have been to throw the uninitiated reader a bone: a brief description of each thing as it appeared in the book? Having read the entire novel, I still have no clear idea of how the author was using the word “seraph”, and seraphs were kind of important to the plot. If you’re going to write a “stand-alone” book, you should not assume anyone has read your previous novels or has any familiarity with the universe in which you’re setting your story.

    In addition to the techy jargon, there were also a gross number of unnecessarily esoteric vocabulary words that also required the use of a dictionary: things like hieratics; apostasy; eschatology; anatomized; chthonic; soliton; entoptics (which wasn’t in the dictionary!); sagittiform… and others I didn’t bother looking up. Was Paul McAuley helping his kid study for the SAT at the time he was writing this? I used the teach the SAT (I was such an SAT expert, in fact, that I trained new teachers to teach it), and these words are so obscure that even the SAT writers don’t use them! The constant barrage of intellectual ostentation was obnoxious, to say the least.

    Another annoyance was that I had a very hard time picturing a lot of the scenes. This was particularly noticeable in the opening section of the book, when Hari is stranded on Themba, in the ruins of a defunct civilization. While waiting for the hijackers to track him down, he sets a series of traps in one of the buildings. I couldn’t picture the interior space well at all, and become very disoriented trying to understand what was happening and how his traps were supposed to work. This is just one example of this problem, which persisted throughout the book. Another example is the inner surface of the cylinder of Tannhauser Gate. I really have no idea what that space looked like, how people lived there, or how Rav was able to fly through a ton of open space at one point. I felt that the description of such spaces was too vague, and my consequent inability to picture what was happening constantly took me out of the narrative.

    As for the plot, when things finally got moving, about halfway through the book, I was interested in the deepening conspiracy and learning what was hidden inside the encrypted files of Dr. Gagarian’s head, which everyone seemed so intent on possessing. On the back of the book, we’re told “[Hari] Pilot’s journey may decide the answer to the most pressing question facing humanity.” But Hari wasn’t interested in answering that question. He was only ever interested in decrypting Gagarian’s files so that he could use the information to barter for the return of his ship and whatever remained of his family, and to lead him to the hijackers so he could have his revenge. He didn’t care what the research meant for life, the universe, and everything. Once he possessed a copy of the files, he distributed it throughout the galaxy and never bothered to follow up on Dr. Gagarian’s research himself. He left that to Rav’s son and Riiya, but Hari didn’t really remain close to them or keep abreast of their progress. In this way, he was ironically no better than his father, who only wanted the information so that he could sell it to the highest bidder.

    So everything the book was leading towards, the “forbidden knowledge” sought after by Dr. Gagarian and his colleagues, the knowledge that got them all killed, that ruined Hari’s life, that was coveted by cults like the Saints and by the seraphs, remained unknown — both to Hari and to the reader. It all just seems like a pointless journey in the end. A long, dense, abstrusely written, pointless journey.

    In the denouement, when Hari visits the Memory Whole, the author subjects us to a rant about the dangers of communism which seems to come out of nowhere. Suddenly we’re being lectured to about how communism, even in its purest form, is a terrible thing — so terrible that we should be wary of the seeds of it being sown in our present, lest we be subjected to its quiet yet oppressive tyranny at some point in our deep future. Perhaps this was intended to be a call to action, to spur Hari to become more interested in continuing Dr. Gagarian’s research with the one colleague still left living. But it didn’t really work for me. It just seemed like the author’s personal rant awkwardly stuffed into the story and detracting from it.

    1. So everything the book was leading towards, the “forbidden knowledge” sought after by Dr. Gagarian and his colleagues, the knowledge that got them all killed, that ruined Hari’s life, that was coveted by cults like the Saints and by the seraphs, remained unknown — both to Hari and to the reader. It all just seems like a pointless journey in the end. A long, dense, abstrusely written, pointless journey.

      I concur absolutely. What was the question, anyways? Trying figure out what the Bright Moment was apart from the “vastening” of a person left me stumped, as did trying to understand what it had to do with angelic beings or even the religious war that occurred later on with these beings.

      Unless this entire novel is some sort of religious metaphor for a war against heaven?? Maybe???

      There were a lot of minor subplots that caught my interest but they were never fully explored. Honestly, half the novel could have been chopped and it would have been a much better read. Or conversely, Paul McAuley could have fleshed these out more and turned this stand alone novel into a trilogy.

      I’m still irked by the fact that after everything Hari went through, he failed to follow up on the information in Dr. Gagarian’s head. He went through all this drama with the killer clones, the religous cult, the tanky, everything! Then simply walked away.

      Maybe there are plans to add on more books later on? One can only hope.

  9. Oops, I lost the end-italics tag in there somewhere. Curse you, lack of edit feature!

  10. @ Katydid: I, too, wanted a glossary of terms while reading this. I even looked online for exactly such a thing, thinking that if I wanted an Evening’s Empire glossary, someone else must have too, and maybe they created one and put it out there for all to use. Alas, I didn’t find one.

  11. I’m so behind on the book this month. *hangs head in shame*

    It’s eons better than the last one though.

  12. @whoviantrish: Don’t feel bad, I haven’t even tried to buy it! Will now, though, along with the sequels to STRAY. Joe, I recommend the latter as a contender for BotM.

    ” on June 2, 2014 at 10:57 am baterista9
    Off topic: Good YA (?) novel that I HATE to put down, even to write this post.

    https:// sites.google.com / a/ andreakhost.com/ touchstone/ home/ stray

    http:// http://www.amazon.com/ Stray-Touchstone-ebook/ dp/ B004T3A518

    (Broke URLs with spaces due WordPress posting failure)

    First of four volumes, Kindle freebie. Other volumes are $5.00 or $0.99 (USD) on Kindle. Not far enough along on STRAY, a good read in itself, to recommend the others.”

  13. @ Katydid: But would you want to read more books by this author? I don’t think I’d be up to it. It was such slow going through this one.

    Yes, what is “vastening”? I assumed it was something like ascension, in the Stargate sense of the word, but I’m just guessing. There really was no explanation of what McAuley meant by that.

    1. Kath if we read the earlier books from this series, maybe we could figure out the background for this one. In theory. Actually I am sort of reading another one by him now, Pasquale’s Angel. So far it’s much easier going but not nearly as interesting. Is that the right word?

      I assumed that “vastening” was similar to ascension. What was the STTNG episode where Picard decides to merge with some sort of nebulous space creature only to change his mind after transporting himself into outer space?
      Like that.

      Did you ever figure out what eidolon and dacoit meant? It sounded like his space suit had a consciousness and could astrally project itself? Or something?

  14. Exactly. An eidolon is a projection — in this case, a projection of the AI built into the P-suit, visible only to the person occupying the suit.

    A dacoit is just a type of space pirate.

    Are you, I, Joe,and skua the only ones who read this book??? I feel like we martyred ourselves so that others might be spared.

    1. In fairness to the rest of the group, it was a bit dicey trying to find a hard copy of the book. There were only a few copies at the library and they were out. ahem Kathode
      Also the author gave us these definitions :
      Seraphs – quantum (artificial) intelligences that have become like unto gods. Vastening: becoming like unto a god.
      Which kind of confuses me more than ever. But I’m not rereading the book to see how this new information helps the story. Nosirree!

  15. Im not martyred. I vastened myshelf in a bright moment of vastening clutter while listening the laughter of vasten Dr Gagarian escaping on his bike in the direction of the Destiny…. 😈

    1. DOh. Lack of edit function. I mean, we didn’t see your Bright Moment. And how are the Seraphs? Wait, are the djinn like a lesser Seraph?

  16. Well, it seems I won’t be reading EVENING’S EMPIRES after all. No Kindle version and not available through San Antonio Public Library or Barnes & Noble, according to websites.

  17. Is anyone else (WordPress members) being told “comment cannot be posted” on the first try? Been having this problem past two days.

  18. Well, if anyone in the Vancouver area needs my copy, it’s going back to the library today. 🙂

  19. I did finish the novel by the second of this month. However, I have been trying to digest what I read. I am rather new to the SF novel scene so I feel I am missing some nuance. I have also waited to read what others have had to say and as I expected them to be more articulate expositions than of mine. I must say in my meandering path of confusion I tried to find things I could associate with. In this novel I felt there were images from “Fire Fly” and “Farscape” But I think that is where the author went too but of a totally different foundation. I must say I agree with many of the issues others found with the book. How does the title fold into the book? The one empire mentioned was past evening.
    I do admire the way the author attempted to build an existence that was outside my earthly foundation. And yes, language is change. The writings of Alexander Hamilton are almost as foreign to today’s reader as the author’s inventive lexicon.
    I had not only were the explanations lengthy but I found many times confusing and long winded Kathode listed many examples. But he also went on to change a common term into a complicated jargon, i.e his term of fuel, propellent, volatiles oxidizing agent. Or his term for speed, delta v. Actually that would be incorrect because delta indicates change. Or the use of kenotic energy weapons. Reivers (FireFly) I also thought it odd that the spacecraft used such primitive drive features and the use of gravitation maneuvers (Farscape).
    I was also frustrated by the ever changes in threats and quick resolutions then new challenge. With the introduction of the attacking mannequins I had images of Austin Powers.
    Oh one more thing. Rav’s son did not have a name almost until the end. I almost missed it. I jokingly wonder if the Author was being paid by the character or word?

    Personally, I did not see the anti communism theme, I saw not Fountainhead or Atlas shrugs, but there was an anti religious theme.

    As part of the overall feel of the book the last part, the epilogue, was so anti climatic that it was almost impossible for me to finish it.

    In regards to getting a copy, it was more difficult than I expected. In searching on Amazon, the first fenders were in the UK. I did get a copy from a more local vender. However I would have like to have gotten an ebook version, but the price break just didn’t make too much sense.

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