Christopher Ruocchio
Friday, Jul. 6, 7 p.m., free
Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh

You may not have heard of the young Raleigh author Christopher Ruocchio yet, but science fiction and fantasy readers around the world now know his name.

Just last year, Ruocchio finished an MFA at N.C. State under the tutelage of John Kessel, whose coterie of speculative fiction students includes award-winners such as Andy Duncan and Kij Johnson. Since then, Ruocchio has worked as an associate editor for publisher Baen Books. This week, his debut novel, Empire of Silence, was published by genre titans DAW Books (in the U.S.) and Gollancz (in the U.K.), launching an epic science-fantasy series, The Sun Eater.

Empire of Silence is inspired by the world-building and technological sensibilities of Dune. It also has a fourth-wall-breaking, memoir-like frame, recalling Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, and uses storytelling as a narrative device like Patrick Rothfuss is doing in The Kingkiller Chronicle, to which Ruocchio’s work is already being compared.

It’s the story of a legendary and controversial figure, Hadrian, in his own words, as he tries to settle the record about the actions that led him to be both hailed as a hero and reviled as a traitor and villain. Of course, the narrator of Ruocchio’s tale knows where his story will end up, but he elects to reveal only what he wants along the way. Ruocchio’s readers must decide how much truth is found in the telling, and whether unreliable-narrator tricks are being played.

I am not the first to suggest Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War as a touchstone here. Hadrian’s history as a soldier sent from far-flung star system to far-flung star system, his growing disillusionment with military and civil leadership, and his alienation from his contemporaries across an elongated lifespan all echo themes from Haldeman’s science fiction classic. But Ruocchio’s novel owes much more to the powerful familial corporation states and quasi-fantasy technology of Dune, and to the author’s interest in ancient Rome.

From a young age, Hadrian learns not just sword and bow but also energy weapons and “courtly decorum,” and though his younger brother surpasses him in both stature and in their father’s estimation, Hadrian will go on to become known as Hadrian Half-Mortal or Hadrian the Deathless, Hadrian the Sun Eater, a myrmidon, a soldier, a slave. His epic journey continues in the second book of the series, currently under revision.