After The Fall – Walter Jon Williams’ Praxis Universe

Walter Jon Williams

Walter Jon Williams

By JJ: As part of my 2016 Hugo reading, I had on my list Impersonations, by Walter Jon Williams. I hadn’t read any of his books up to now (but hey, WJW, thanks for the beautiful color postcard from Worldcon; the synopsis not only convinced me to read the book, but I’m using it as a bookmark). So I first got hold of, and read, the three books in the Dread Empire’s Fall [Praxis] series, to which this short novel is a kind-of-sequel (although it reads well as a standalone, if you haven’t read the trilogy).

Oh, wow. If, like me, you are one of those people who at first loved the Honor Harrington series but became disenchanted with the endless infodumps of ship and weapons designs, missile and laserstrike counts, and political proselytizing… then this is your antidote: fast-paced, tension-filled, fun military hard SF adventure, without all that associated tedious stuff.

(Fair notice: all Amazon links are referrer URLs which benefit non-profit SFF fan website Worlds Without End)

The Praxis (excerpt) (2003)


For millennia, the Shaa have subjugated the universe, forcing the myriad sentient races to bow to their joyless tyranny. But the Shaa will soon be no more. The dread empire is in its rapidly fading twilight, and with its impending fall comes the promise of a new galactic order… and bloody chaos. A young Terran naval officer marked by his lowly birth, Lt. Gareth Martinez is the first to recognize the insidious plot of the Naxid – the powerful, warlike insectoid society that was enslaved before all others – to replace the masters’ despotic rule with their own. Barely escaping a swarming surprise attack, Martinez and Caroline Sula, a pilot whose beautiful face conceals a deadly secret, are now the last hope for freedom for every being who ever languished in Shaa chains – as the interstellar battle begins against a merciless foe whose only perfect truth is annihilation.

The Sundering (excerpt) (2004)


The Dread Empire of the Shaa is no more, following the death of the last oppressor. But freedom remains elusive for the myriad sentient races enslaved for ten centuries, as an even greater terror arises. The Naxids – a powerful insectoid species themselves subjugated until the recent Shaa demise – plan to fill the vacuum with their own bloody domination, and have already won a shattering victory with superior force and unimaginable cruelty. But two heroes survived the carnage at Magaria: Lord Gareth Martinez and the fiery, mysterious gun pilot Lady Caroline Sula, whose courageous exploits are becoming legend in the new history of galactic civil war. Yet their cunning, skill, and bravery may be no match for the overwhelming enemy descending upon the loyalist stronghold of Zanshaa, as the horrific battle looms that will determine the structure of the universe – and who shall live to inhabit it – for millennia to come.

Conventions of War (excerpt) (2005)


The universe has fallen into bloody chaos now that the dread empire of the tyrannical Shaa is no more – at the mercy of the merciless insectoid Naxid, who now hunger for domination. But the far-flung human descendants of Terra have finally tasted liberty, and their warrior heroes will not submit. Separated by light-years, Lord Gareth Martinez and the mysterious guerrilla fighter Caroline Sula each pursue a different road to victory in tomorrow’s ultimate battle — for the new order will be far more terrible than the old… unless one last, desperate stratagem can hold a shattered galaxy together.

Investments (novella) (2004)


Unable to find a meaningful posting due to the hostility of his superiors, Captain Lord Gareth Martinez has accepted a meaningless post as Inspector General of Chee, a newly-settled world. Intending nothing more than a pleasant vacation with his family, he first stumbles across a murderous conspiracy, and then learns he must battle a literal cosmic menace that threatens to wipe out all life on the planet.

(A first cut of this story appeared in Robert Silverberg’s Science Fiction Book Club anthology Between Worlds, but Williams did not get the expected opportunity to revise it before publication – so this standalone e-book is the revised, preferred “director’s cut” version.)

Impersonations (excerpt) (2016), edited by Jonathan Strahan
cover art by Jaime Jones, design by Christine Foltzer


The people of the Imperium think of Captain Caroline Sula as the last remaining heir of an aristocratic line, an ace military pilot, and a brilliant insurgency leader responsible for the retaking of their home planet from a conquering species. They’re right on 2 of those 3 counts – but the truth of the other is a deep, dark secret which torments her in her sleep. And now someone from her past appears who may blow that secret wide open – never mind the fact that someone is setting her up to be sent to prison, and someone else is out to kill her.

The Praxis books are full of clever military strategy and battles – plus some bonus guerrilla warfare strategy in retaking a conquered planet. The worldbuilding is excellent. The character development, for the most part, is devoted mostly to the two main characters, whose stories are told in alternating chapters – and one of those is a flawed, but fantastic, strong female character.

Not only is this on my 2016 Hugo Best Novel shortlist, the series is on my Hugo Best Series shortlist.

Bonus: WJW is an avid scuba diver, and as a diver, I have enjoyed immensely reading the trip reports he posts on his website.

Filer Comments:

  • Mark-kitteh: at c50,000 words it’s a short novel for award purposes not a novella. It features Sula, but he goes to some lengths to work her backstory in to help it standalone. I’m not sure how well that will work, as the theme is heavily influenced by her backstory and it’s one thing to have had a quick explanation and another to have really got into it through a full novel. It’s made me jump back and re-read book 1 though.
  • Rob Thornton: Just started Walter Jon Williams’ “Impersonations: A Novel of the Praxis” and, like the other books in the series, are perfect Retief-meets-Grimes fodder for times like these. To me, the Praxis series is Baen SF for people who don’t like Baen SF.
  • Simon Bisson: My take on the Praxis books is that WJW realised that Drake Majestraal was too optimistic, and decided to explore that scenario in a more realistic mode. (And if you’ve not read WJW’s Majestraal novels, you’re in for a treat).

About the Author

Walter Jon Williams is the author of thirty volumes of fiction, in addition to works in film, television, comics, and the gaming field. His works have won two Nebulas and a Sidewise Award and have been repeatedly named Finalists for the Philip K. Dick, Sturgeon, Nebula, Prometheus, Sidewise, HOMer, SF Chronicle, Asimov’s and Locus Awards; he’s appeared on bestseller lists, and he’s a world traveler, scuba diver, and a black belt in Kenpo Karate.

Williams began his career by writing the sea-adventure historical fiction series Privateers & Gentlemen. After the market for historicals died, he began a new career as a science fiction writer. His first SFF novel to attract serious public attention was Hardwired. He has written cyberpunk, near-future thrillers, classic space opera, “new” space opera, post-cyberpunk epic fantasy new weird, and the world’s only gothic western science fiction police procedural, and he’s been a short-fiction contributor to George RR Martin’s Wild Cards project.

22 thoughts on “After The Fall – Walter Jon Williams’ Praxis Universe

  1. I think one of my favourite things about WJW is how varied his works are. Along with the Praxis, my other faves might be the sadly-unfinished Metropolitan series, and the Dagmar Shaw series, all very different takes.

    I was wondering what he was actually working on now, so after a bit of digging I found this:

    My very next project is a big secondary-world fantasy series. Which I’ve never done before, and which I hope my readers will find a refreshing change of pace.

    Yep, yet another change of genre and type. I look forward to seeing it.

  2. I am especially fond of WJW’s Aristoi, which is an adventurous space opera with some really really interesting twists. Saying any more would be a spoiler. It is one of my top 10 SF books ever, no lie.

  3. I’ve really enjoyed the Praxis books so far – they’re a lot of fun – so I’m looking forward to this instalment.

    WJW’s back catalogue is well worth exploring for those of you who haven’t done so yet. He seems to have tried his hand at every sub-genre of SF and is consistently successful.

    He’s also put the effort in to make all (or a lot of) his old work available in ebook format which makes it easy for us fans.

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  5. I love this series to bits.

    Impersonations was a strong entry and tied things back to the original series in a nice way.

    To me, it plays with the opera side of space opera to good effect while not neglecting the space part or completely ignoring the science (though WJW did ignore some aspects of relativity). But, it’s a lot of fun and WJW has a rich and deep catalog worth exploring.

    And, yeah, I do see it as the Majestral series played straight. That is a feature, not a bug.

  6. WJW is sadly underrated IMO, everything I’ve read by him has been excellent.

    I think part of the problem is his sheer diversity: booksellers & marketers can’t fit his writing tidily into any one category.

  7. I’ve only just now found WJW, with this series, and I am just squeeing at the idea of getting to tear through his back catalogue.

    I think the last time I felt this enthusiastic sense of discovery was when I read my first Neal Stephenson* book.

    * still not forgiving him for Seveneves

  8. @Soon lee. I think Williams has suggested that on his own blog as a theory as why he hasn’t taken off. He writes very broadly rather than deeply into worlds.

    (he reminds me of Elizabeth Bear a bit that way, who has an oar in every portion of SF/F without a lot of repeating herself. The new Eternal Sky stuff coming might make that world and those series an exception to this)

  9. I read and enjoyed Williams’ cyberpunk books in the 80s, but for some reason that completely escapes my memory right now, I never read anything by him after that. Liked the sample and bought this book. Thanks for the tip JJ and, after looking over his catalogue, looks like I can look forward to some enjoyable ‘catch up’.

    As an aside, I suppose that if someone wanted to nominate this book for a Hugo, they might consider nominating in Best Series?

    [I’ve been a bit MIA recently, which will probably continue for a while. Life is being very uncooperative at present. :-/ ]

  10. @junego

    The Praxis is definitely on my mind for Best Series, although there’s a lot of good contenders.

  11. junego: I suppose that if someone wanted to nominate this book for a Hugo, they might consider nominating in Best Series?

    I’m definitely nominating the Praxis for Best Series. Impersonations is on my Hugo Novel shortlist for now (I still have a lot of reading to do).

  12. I haven’t cottoned to some of his other works, but this sounds like I’d be interested.

  13. lurkertype: I haven’t cottoned to some of his other works, but this sounds like I’d be interested.

    Impersonations is a mystery, as is Investments (the first 2 books are mostly military battles and strategy and the 3rd the same, but with added guerrilla revolution strategy, which I found terribly interesting).

    I love mysteries, and Hard SF, and MilSF — so Impersonations hit smack in my sweet spot.

    I think it probably stands well alone (you may want to request opinions from people who have read it but haven’t read the series), but I’m really glad I read the other 3 books first, because I think it enhanced my appreciation of the new one.

  14. @Mark

    I may have to hurry up and read the series. Am liking the book, at least the first 3 chapters, so far.

  15. @jenego

    I read and enjoyed Williams’ cyberpunk books in the 80s, but for some reason that completely escapes my memory right now, I never read anything by him after that.

    I did the same, I never forgot about him completely though and he was one of the authors like Cherryh that I always checked for in any bookshop. The trouble was they have had relatively poor availability in the UK. I did read the first book of the Praxis when it came out but the other 2 never showed up in Edinburgh’s Waterstones.

    With him releasing a lot of his back catalog in ebook I’m getting to read most of them easily for the first time.

    Cherryh’s availability here is still sporadic and spotty, even in ebook.

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