Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Long Retreat

Novelette by Robert Reed

Lieutenant Castor is assistant to the Emperor of a country that is so large as to be practically infinite. You could spend all your life going in one direction and never reach the end, one can only assume decay from higher technology with which they built such a huge empire.

The Emperor is at war with another impossibly huge country and doing badly. He and his court are retreating with no plan besides the realization that they can just keep retreating forever. Castor learns from other characters about the history of the world, the war, and the current strategy, which basically comes down to the country being Hotel Infinity, no finite number of invaders can hope to conquer them. The Emperor eventually forces Castor onto a path you can see he was groomed for, but never actually thought about or wanted. It is a little awkward how some of the out-of-the-loop characters help in this grooming so readily, but I suppose it's better that all the relevant conversations happen "on screen" as opposed to being that-thing-this-guy-said-five-years-ago.

You can see the ending coming from half-a-lake away but that doesn't make it less enjoyable. The world and the war it is involved in are well thought out, and fun to think about although the plausibility of maintaining such an empire is left completely alone. Still, I suspect I'll be replacing some of my infinite hotel examples with infinite nations. The big reveal about the Emperor at the end has been done before I'm sure, although no specific examples come to mind. But it makes for a good story to keep you reading while you think about the world and where the authority to rule actually comes from. 4 out of 5 Emperors tragically get stuck ruling finite realms.

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