AGENT OF THE IMPERIUM Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace joins the Travellers.
Games can lead to great novels. I’ve read several good StarCraft novels, and I know that many hold the books based on World of Warcraft to be highly regarded. In the realm of tabletop games, the forebears of video games, just about any Barnes & Noble I’ve seen has had a whole shelf dedicated to novels based on Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000. Here, we shall discuss a book based off of another role-playing game, one I admittedly have never played. That is Marc Miller’s 2020 novel Agent of Imperium, published by Baen Books, based on the Traveller role-playing game that he himself developed (with others, of course) in the 1970s.

Agent of the Imperium is a book perfectly comprehensible without having played the game or being familiar with its lore. There is a lot of worldbuilding in this book, generally delivered in concise enough a manner that it does not become plodding; indeed, Miller’s prose is crisp and very readable. It wears its parentage on its sleeve, however, when both preceding and following the main narrative there are many, many appendices describing various aspects of the world, going from history all the way down to explaining their system of dates.

The novel follows Jonathan Bland, a bureaucrat in imperial service that is chosen to have his consciousness preserved after death in order to serve as virtual counsel in military and political affairs centuries after his living service has come to an end. He is brought back to life by generals and admirals needing crucial advice for their doings; multiple times, the fate of the Imperium is decided by a man centuries out of time.

The result is what could be considered a strange but enjoyable cross between Warhammer 40,000 and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series; I’m now convinced that Traveller must have been an influence on the former and drew influence from the latter. You have an Imperium, ruled by a series of emperors, that spans much of the galaxy, a galaxy with many alien species. Here, though, there is a degree of tolerance to other species, as opposed to 40k’s imperial policy of genocide. From Foundation, on the other hand, you have the long view of events from a character with a better understanding of the course of human events than anyone else.

The end result is a strange detachment from events that ends up focusing the narrative upon two interrelated things: the character of Jonathan Bland, and the dynamics of imperial power. The people Bland knows go in and out of his life quickly, as he wakes up again and again and again in new incarnations of the Imperium. He becomes, then, what many history buffs wish they could be, observing how high politics play out over millennia. It is a setup that leaves other characters a bit flat, but this is made up for by the richness of Jonathan Bland.

Agent of the Imperium is the sort of book that could only be written as science fiction. It combines the world-building and sheer scope of which the genre is capable with the deep probing of character, and creates a worthy heir to the Foundation series. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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