Many reviewers of EMPIRE OF SILENCE have remarked on the analogies with DUNE so I want to spell out those with BOOK OF THE NEW SUN.

Note: This is in no way to call into question the originality of the book, but to trace out some of its aspects of intertextuality, homage, or what Christopher Ruocchio calls his “evangelism”. Gene Wolfe’s saga itself borrows key elements from LORD OF THE RINGS).

1) The Chantry/the torturers’ guild,

2) Hadrian kills a Sun to win the war/ Severian kills a Sun to bring the New Sun,

3) First person self-justifying unreliable narrator Hadrian/Severian,

4) Bildungsroman of protagonist fleeing a future career as a torturer

5) Highmatter sword gifted to Hadrian/the sword Terminus Est gifted to Severian,

6) Tallness of palatine ruling class/Tallness of exultant ruling class

7) Energy lances

8) Shadow of the executioner/Shadow of the torturer

The count’s shadow might as well have been that of the executioner” (EMPIRE OF SILENCE page 289)

9) Lictors

10) Hadrian’s ring heavy around his neck/Severian’s Claw heavy around his neck

11) Hadrian’s mission at the end is conciliator/Severian becomes the Conciliator

Ligeia glanced a moment at Lord Balian, who only shook his head. Her voice now carrying a fraction of its earlier forcefulness, she said, “What, then? Conciliation? Surrender?” “No one is saying anything about surrender, ma’am,” said old Sir William Crossflane from his place beside the tribune” (EMPIRE OF SILENCE, 568).

12) Both books are only approximately translated from a not yet existing future language

13) Apostrophe to the reader at the end. Compare:

If what I have done disturbs you, Reader, I do not blame you. If you would read no further, I understand. You have the luxury of foresight. You know where this ends. I shall go on alone” (EMPIRE OF SILENCE, 578).


Here I pause. If you wish to walk no farther with me, reader, I cannot blame you. It is no easy road” (THE SHADOW OF THE TORTURER, 210).

14) Meditation on symbols as our masters:

 “We think ourselves the masters of such symbols, but they are our masters” (EMPIRE OF SILENCE, 437).


We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges” (THE SHADOW OF THE TORTURER, 14).

To repeat I must emphasise that I am talking primarily about a matter of parallels and intertextuality, not derivation and originality. Science fiction is a vast mega-text, a meta-game to which many contribute by catching the ball and then passing it on to someone else.


EMPIRE OF SILENCE: Memoirs of Hadrian Xenocide and Sun Killer

Christopher Ruocchio’s début science fiction epic is a very ambitious work and I have mixed feelings about it. I would give it a baseline 3,5/5 stars, upped to 4 for his handling of linguistic and cultural estrangement. I agree with many readers that the novel is very intertextual, containing many elements that parallel key features of its influences and predecessors. If in some respects it is derivative at least it is ambitiously multi-derivative, combining such great models as DUNE, THE SHADOW OF THE TORTURER (and BOOK OF THE NEW SUN in general), ENDER’S GAME, and HYPERION CANTOS.

Some structural features of the world-building may seem hard to swallow, such as the realistic possibility of a coherent empire despite the decades needed to travel between stars. This “time debt” concept is equally integral to Simmons’ saga without plunging the political structure into incoherence, and Ruocchio compensates this by positing the great longevity of the palatine ruling cast.

The first part of the book may seem long-winded and our narrator Hadrian Marlowe is self-indulgent, but there is no Chekov’s Gun Syndrome, as everything that is featured in this first part is taken up again effectively in the last third of the book and contributes integrally to the unfolding of the story.

Similarly, beginning with the end, in the melodramatic depiction of himself as Xenocide and sun murderer, does not spoil the plot for me, but awakens an interest in what begins as a fairly dull family intrigue. We want to follow the Bildungsroman to see how Hadrian moves from oedipal patheticness to cosmic pathos.

The attempt to make us feel empathy for the Cielcin while underlining their alienness is original and well handled, as were the presentations of the various existential-political “cages” in which the narrator was confined.

The mystery of the alien “Quiet” (their mysterious black habitats are another callback to HYPERION) and the desire to see more of Hadrian’s interactions with the alien Cielcin are enough to make me want to read the sequels, despite my mixed feelings about the trope-filled underlying framework and the only half-likeable protagonist.

This is fusion speculative fiction, with the emphasis sometimes falling more on “fusion” than on the speculation, but often enough it is the speculative element that dominates.

Some interesting reviews:

Empire of silence – Christopher Ruocchio