Empire of the East Critical Essays

Fred Saberhagen


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Empire of the East is based on some of Fred Saberhagens earliest works. He wrote the first part (The Broken Lands) in 1967 before becoming an assistant editor for Encyclopaedia Britannica. Saberhagen continued editing for six years, then returned to writing, eventually combining The Broken Lands, The Black Mountains, and Changeling Earth into a single novel in 1979. He has gone on to write better-known works, such as his Dracula series (1975-1990) and the ongoing Berserker books, a series begun in 1967 with a story collection.

Empire of the East, as a post-holocaust story, deals with the themes of war and disaster. These always have been popular avenues for writers, but they reached a peak after World War II and throughout the Cold War because of the real threat of nuclear holocaust. Empire of the East belongs to the later years of this trend, when the Soviets were still regarded with suspicion. Although obvious Cold War references such as nuclear war and Eastern dominance (pointing to the Soviet Union) changed with the times, the themes still provide fertile ground for writers.

A growing trend away from Cold War ideology is evident in such stories as David Brin’s The Postman (1985). It was written several years before the Soviet Union fell, but there is no mention of an Eastern menace, let alone the Soviet Union. The Postman shares a postnuclear scenario and hopeful conclusion with Empire of the East. In Saberhagen’s novel, hope surfaces only after the Empire is crushed and the survivors begin rebuilding their world. Most of the characters are static, but Charmian and Chup display personal growth, another hopeful sign.

Saberhagen, in describing a post-apocalyptic Earth, brings in the popular idea of a created world. With most vestiges of technology gone, he includes new life-forms, such as enormous talking predatory birds. Their role is minor, but they ally themselves with the West and work as messengers.

Contemporary novelists and critics praised Empire of the East. Larry Niven thought it was better than J. R. R. Tolkiens Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954-1955). Lester del Rey admired the settings, remarking that Saberhagen has proved himself to be one of the best writers in the genre. Roger Zelazny wrote a prologue for the novel and praised Saberhagens bright imagery.