Series: Imperium (#1)
Genre: Space Opera
Publication Date: 2011
Thomas Innes Loche Kinago has everything. Wealth, good looks, education, and noble breeding. Which is why, as a mere ensign, he is given his own command. But can even the might Thomas Kinago stand against a villain who can manipulate worlds with a smile . . ?
View from the Imperium has one of the greatest book covers I have ever seen. I mean, look at it. It’s hard to decide which bit I like the most? Is it the shocked dinosaur looking at the pile of his dead comrades? Is it the Flashman-esque Thomas Kinago with his great big grin? Or is it the karate-handed man at his side, with enough facial tattoos to put Voyager’s Chakotay to shame? As with so many Baen covers, the answer is all of the above. Any one of these elements could have drawn me in alone. Smash them all together and you have a cover that would catch anyone’s eye. But it’s also a cover that raises an inevitable question: Can the contents of the book be as madcap as the cover?
The answer is yes. With Baen’s track record of military SF, I was expecting something in a similar vein. What I was not prepared for was how fun View from the Imperium is. There are some moments that had me chuckling to myself, and it’s consistently amusing throughout. It’s not a pure comedy, but it does take a walk on the wry side. And that is why it works. Humour is very hard to pull of in prose form, and having a proper story to hang the jokes on gives this book a backbone that a lot of others lack. The comedy here comes in two forms. One is the gentle satire of politics, as the action of Kinago’s life is interrupted at regular intervals by cuts to the Castaway Cluster, where debates go on endlessly and nothing is ever achieved. Then we have Kinago himself, who is a self-aggrandising yet oddly likeable man in the same vein as Warhammer Ciaphas Cain. he’s irrepressible, and it’s his ongoing efforts to win over members of his crew that provide most of book’s best moments.
That cutting between plots I mention above is also the book’s biggest weakness. Most, but all, of Kinago’s scenes are narrated in the first person by the man himself, and it’s his internal monologue that keeps the book racing along. Nye nails the voice of an affable narcissist perfectly, capturing the cult of personality that grows around such individuals. Indeed, there’s an interesting thread picking up on that later on in the book, delving into hypothetical relations between genetics and social power. It’s a little bit ridiculous, but then so is the whole book.
But when we’re not focused on Kinago, we fall back into the third person, and it’s the constant changing between perspectives that kept pulling me out of the book. Juggling viewpoints is hard at the best of times, and while the change in perspective does make it clear which thread we’re following, every time we’re in the third person, I just wanted to have Kinago’s narration back. Those sections we spend with the protagonist have such a strong voice that, no matter how interesting the story, the other chapters feel like a distraction from the main story.
This my first Jody Lynn Nye novel. Indeed, I hadn’t even heard of her until I saw it on the shelf in Oxfam. And while I think it has a few structural issues, it was one of the most enjoyable books of the year for me. It doesn’t tax the brain, and that is perfectly fine. It’s light and fun, and proof that taking risks is worth it. Baen is a publisher I’m always happy to gamble on second-hand copies of, and View from the Imperium vindicates that choice. Definitely a series I’ll be keeping an eye out for. And with covers like these, they should be easy to spot.