Hidden Empire by Orson Scott Card
When I read the first book of this series, Empire, I was frankly a little disappointed. It somehow didn't "scratch the itch" for an Orson Scott Card story. The premise suffered from some believability issues in my estimation, and... well, something just seemed to be missing. Couldn't put my finger on it and couldn't figure out exactly why. I thought maybe Card's own politics were getting in the way.
To a certain extent that may have been true, but after reading Hidden Empire and enjoying a true return to form, I have come to believe differently. Empire suffered, I think, because it was based on a premise that did not originally come from Card's imagination. He was brought into the project by video game makers who wanted to create an entertainment franchise surrounding a game about a near future American civil war. I believe now that's what was missing, a concept of Card's own creation.
Hidden Empire contains just as much of what we can presume are Card's political opinions, but it has the same essence of story and characters that I have come to expect from Card's fiction, and was sorely missing from Empire. His starting concept of a plague hitting the African continent is much more subtle and believable than the American civil war he spins in Empire and as a result Card is able to do much more interesting things with it.
He challenges his characters to make moral and ethical decisions while facing this new crisis and challenges his readers to imagine what we might do in their place. There is action for certain, intricate political machinations, but the most compelling part of this story, as with any of Card's stories, is emotion. We as readers care what is at stake for the characters while we are fascinated by the twists and turns the story takes.
While Card does reveal many of his conservative viewpoints, along with more than a few plugs for Fox News, his perspective on politics, history and the future, and the way it all gets woven into the story, is fascinating and educational. Some of his views (if we presume most of the views expressed are his, to some extent) aren't traditionally conservative, at least not fully, such as requiring all land vehicles to be electric so to conserve fossil fuels for jet and rocket engines.
This series gets a bad rap for Card's conservatism. The first book deserved a bad rap, but not for the politics, rather the ho hum story execution. Hidden Empire is a return to everything I love about Card. If I get Card in top form, then I have no problem taking the conservative politics right along with him.