Fred Saberhagen’s always been on my radar, but I’ve read very little. At some point, I read a few of his Berserker stories, and those were cool. Someone recommended Empire of the East to me, and I bought a copy…like 30 years ago. It’s been sitting in my stacks ever since. After almost picking it up a bunch of times in the last year or so, I finally did, and I’m super glad. It’s a perfect book for me right now as I’ve been digging a lot of weird Fantasy/Science Fiction lately, and this fits the bill handily.
Empire of the East is a collection of three books written from 1968 to 1973. I kept thinking of the Ralph Bakshi film Wizards. It’s a post-apocalyptic Science Fiction setting where reality has shifted to allow magic to work. A young guy loses his family and has his adopted sister kidnapped by evil minions of a sinister invading empire. He teams up with rebels who are planning to fight back. Fairly standard set-up. Things get weirder as the first book, The Broken Lands, progresses, building to a crazy climax. As the book goes on, we’re introduced to a lot of colorful characters, some of whom won’t make it, some of whom will become major players as the story continues. In the second book, The Black Mountains, the stakes are raised, and the weirdness is dialed up several notches. The magic gets more outlandish, our young hero’s aptitude with technology comes into play, and one of the story’s most complicated character gets a lot more screen time. Finally in Ardneh’s World the truth of things is revealed, the fate of the world and its future is fought for, and when it’s finished, nothing will be the same.
I like how Saberhagen cranks the story right along. The whole of Empire of the East is only 558 pages long, and that’s three novels collected into one volume. He tells a lot of story with a lot of interesting characters in a relatively short amount of time. Rolf, our overall hero, is maybe not the most interesting guy ever. I’ve certainly seen worse, but he’s not super memorable. But Chup? Charmian? Wood? Saberhagen takes them to some surprising places.
If you’re a fan of weird Fantasy, or of stuff like Gamma World or Mutant Crawl Classics, this is pretty much mandatory reading. And if you just like a good, entertaining yarn, check it out.