Review by Ardy Hart
Tales of the Para-Imperium is not so much a book as it is a guide to exploring a fascinating universe. Written by Joel Kreissman, this incredible guide takes the reader on a journey through space, sometimes explaining the rules of the vast empire of Parahumans, and other times going deep into the minds of AI. The thrill of not knowing what to expect kept with every turn of the page kept me intrigued and left me wanting more, even after I put the book down.
Tales of the Para-Imperium is about the world of Parahumans. How they experience it, how they rule it, how they interact with others inside it. With most of the conflict originating from other Parahumans, this world feels very enclosed. Normally, I wouldn’t be into these kinds of stories, but Kreissman diverges from the standard story structure by constantly introducing new perspectives and storylines. They don’t weave together nicely, which, again, would normally result in me putting the book down. However, it’s because things don’t weave together pleasantly that actually make this book quite interesting.
There are two things that keep the book from disintegrating into little pieces: the importance of genetics and passing down the royal family’s genes, and the looming threat of the unknown. Genetics is a big subject in many medieval stories where children from powerful houses marry together to make even more powerful houses (think of “Game of Thrones”). Where the medieval fantasy setting may attract some, Kreissman’s use of combining genetics with cybernetics, long life-spans, and the threat of extinction really give life to this otherwise sterile sci-fi world. The family line known as “Argentum” keeps things in check in this world. They have the power, the influence, and the reputation, but the differing perspectives give so much room for possibilities in this world. I liked this a lot because the story didn’t feel hyper focused on the family line; it just gave enough to make sure the reader knows where the power is.
In regards to extinction, the main threat to any sentient being in this world is some unknown threat with terrifying capabilities. Parahumans came into existence because of humans, but after Earth got bombarded with, essentially, a really big space rock, it was up to Parahumans to continue on in their absence. The threat of some being honing in on radio waves and shooting both the sender and receiver of those radio waves with a giant space rock has forced what little life remains to rethink their entire way of life. In the wake of rethinking, we find our story.
I think what really sold this book for me was the interspersing of guides with short stories. Most of the time, a guide would provide just enough context for me to understand the next short story. However, I don’t think this would have worked if there was an overarching storyline. So kudos to Kreissman for coming up with really creative ways of furthering the worldbuilding without being exhausting.
That being said, this book is heavy sci-fi. I’ll admit I didn’t fully understand everything that was explained, especially when it came to the tech. Then again, I didn’t really feel like I needed to. The vignettes of all these characters did more than just make up for my lack of understanding.
My main concern for this book is that people may not understand it, since there isn’t much of an overarching storyline. At times it did feel like I was reading a wiki page. There was a lot of creativity in these pages, but if stories are what readers are looking for, perhaps opening up this world to other authors and creating an anthology around it would be a good idea. This world has a solid foundation, and I would love to see it expand even further.
This book would appeal to anyone who loves sci-fi and/or worldbuilding. My advice would not to expect a full story, but rather the elements to fuel your imagination and immerse you in a unique world with so much to offer.