This month I re-read The Empyrion Saga, by Steven R. Lawhead for the first time since High School. I first encountered Lawhead when I was a Junior at Lancaster Mennonite High School, newly awakened by Christ and eager grow in the faith. After my conversion experience, however, I held on to one nagging worry about my commitment to the faith. Would I still be free to imagine.
Lawhead’s novels answered that question in the affirmative and, while I’ve not read many of his works since the Excellent Song of Albion trilogy, I’ve always been grateful to him. He helped shape the way I understand the interplay between faith and culture.
Empyrion itself reads as a high science-fiction series, marked by remarkable world-building and a fascinating mythos. The only series I find it compares to are Larry Niven’s Ringworld novels. I find in both the same focus on creating an old world, ripe with it’s own legends and cultures and tragedies. The series is worth reading just to explore the setting in which it takes place.
As sometimes happens in epic world-building science fiction, however, Empyrion’s plot seems to take the passenger seat. There are a number of cardboard characters which take up space in the story, both good and evil, and the side of light does seem almost too good to be true. Though, this is something even the main characters remark on so this part didn’t bother me very much. The main characters do display some depth, and have various character arcs, but the personal growth experienced by them often 1 seems tangential to the primary plot. Still, I did find their stories compelling enough that I wanted to see how they turned out.
My biggest complaint about the two book series is how quickly things wrap up after the climax. The books resolve nicely, but then take on a “retrospective” feel following the resolution. In some ways this helps aid Empyrion’s efforts to see itself as merely a chapter in an ancient story, but the end result is a bit too neat for my liking.
Still, if you are interested in some epic science fiction with some decent philosophical and theological overtones, this is not a bad way to spend a couple of days. It has certainly aged well.
- Not always. ↩