03 April 2013

Review - Warlords of Utopia

(image from Amazon.com)


by Lance Parkin

The story of 1,000 alternate worlds dominated by an eternal Roman Empire go to war with 1,000 worlds where the Nazis won World War II. It doesn't get much more bad-ass than that. Written in the first person from the point of view of Marcus Americanius Scriptor. He describes how he recovered an item that allowed Roma I to travel to alternate Roman worlds and how the discovery of the Nazi dominated worlds led to war.

That's a lot of territory to cover in 180 pages. Throw in entities and mentions of an even bigger conflict (between the Great Houses and Faction Paradox) and the story becomes truly epic.

From an alternate history perspective there are only the occasional mentions of what some of the thousands of alternate worlds are like and how they diverged. The alternate technology of some of the worlds is interesting but at times unrealistic.

It would have been nice to learn a bit more about some of the other worlds. More descriptions of how they interconnect would also have been something I would have liked (they develop a rather haphazard way of mapping the Romes). Given the scope of the story I can understand why details were glossed over.

Marcus Americanius Scriptor is the main character. The book is written as his memoirs. He is not a nice person.

After murdering an old man for a device that would allow him to travel to alternate worlds he builds up a vast business empire revolving around cross-dimension travel. While there is nothing wrong with enriching himself and civilization with this item, he uses it to gather materials to blackmail political opponents. When one opponent to too noble and incorruptible Marcus just murder him.

Also, after page-after-page about hearing form Marcus about how Roma I was a perfect world and the Roman way of life is superior to everything he turns around and betrays his Emperor and starts a war that nearly led to the destruction of everything he held dear.

He is a selfish, narrow-minded, and disloyal man.

He does, however, have many heroic qualities. His strong will and vision help strengthen his family and does bring wealth through trade to many of the Roman worlds. He is also a great warrior and is able to quickly develop new tactics having to integrate new technologies and weapons into his plans.

He also has that single-minded stubbornness of the pulp heroes of old.

As with many books written from the first person point-of-view I found my self trying to read between the lines and figure out what might have really been going on. Anyone writing their memoirs, especially ones involving wartime, are bound to gloss over and change details that show them in an unfavorable light.

The story is well done. It covers a lot of ground and does it efficiently. Despite some of my complaints about the main character mentioned above he is not a bad one to be the viewpoint character. The first two-thirds of the book are solid. The last third - where the Romans and Nazis are at war - just does not seem believable. Of course what is believable in a story of nearly two-thousand alternate worlds at war? It was more of the swords vs. machine guns scenario. I can see times when the more basic weapons of the Romans would come in handy (and they did have some high-powered crossbows as well as catapults with ranges of a mile or more) but in a normal battle I'd bet on the automatic rifles.

The Nazis would also have adapted to the new type of warfare. They also would have made things much more costly for the Romans by using nuclear weapons on a much broader scale. The war would have lasted a century not the decade described.

I also wonder how the Romans, who have been at peace for centuries on many of their worlds, can be such disciplined and good warriors. Just seems a little odd to me.

I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Faction Paradox is an unofficial spin-off of the Doctor Who Universe. More information can be found at the Faction Paradox Wiki.

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