"In Evil Times" is a 2018 science-fiction novel by Melinda Snodgrass. It is Part II of "The Imperials Saga", a 5 part space opera, with currently 4 parts released. The book is an intermediate-future story, detailing the lives of two officers in an imperial space navy. One is the daughter of the reigning empire, while the other is a poor young man who is trying to succeed based on ability, not social background. This book is the second in the series, with the first focusing on how the two characters, Mercedes and Tracy, met at the military academy.
The first paragraph of the above review might make this book seem like it fits into the category of "Cheesy, but entertaining". In fact, I bought this book at The Dollar Tree for that very reason, because I thought it would be fun reading. About one hundred pages into it, I was curious enough about it that I looked up a biography of the author. Melinda Snodgrass was a writer and story editor for Star Trek: The Next Generation, where she wrote one of the most memorable episodes, "The Measure of a Man". She is also the co-editor with George RR Martin of the Wild Cards series. So about one hundred pages into this book, informed of Snodgrass' credibility in the world of science-fiction, I started taking it more seriously.
The central conflict and theme of this book is the characters coming to terms with the corruption and injustice of the stellar empire they live in. What is most interesting about this is that it is not an Evil Empire, but merely a corrupt and socially stratified one. The ruling hierarchy are called the "FFH", which is short for Fortune Five Hundred, and most of the imperial military and bureaucracy are composed of hereditary nobility who are usually arrogant and short sighted. Despite this, the empire is still functional and manages to provide for the welfare of its people. Much of the book's drama is the main characters' conflict between whether to support the utilitarian goals of supporting the empire, versus anger at the empire's many injustices. There are also alien races, who were defeated by the empire in previous wars, and who are now oppressed by the xenophobic and reactionary empire. One of the things I liked best about this book is that it managed to combine old-fashioned "space opera" plots with space battles and imperial intrigue with a strong, but not overdone social commentary about the politics and society of the world---and of our own, of course.
There were two things I took away from this book, other than wanting to read more and see where the story goes. The first is how much our knowledge of the author changes how we read. I was mostly into this book before I learned that the author was a respected name in science-fiction whose work I was already familiar with. And that changed how I read. Sometimes I know a lot about authors before I read, sometimes I read in a naive manner. And in this case, it was a mixture, because it was halfway through that I learned who the author was. Secondly, and most importantly, and perhaps a controversial opinion: the broad genre of "space opera" is still the core of what science-fiction is. Nations, armies and politics that more or less mirror our contemporary world? Ships in space, run along military or pseudo-military lines? Alien races that are physically non-human, but still human in government and society? A few swashbuckling characters that change the fate of hundreds of worlds? Space travel that involves faster than light travel, explained very briefly? All of these are present in this book, and they are the things that people expect in science-fiction. Forty years after the first cyberpunk novels, and after the most relevant technologies that change our lives are information technology and genetic engineering, the core of science-fiction is still about space exploration, hundreds of years in the future. This is the first review I am writing for science-fiction quest, and I wanted to start it at this basic starting point, before branching off into different forms of the genre.