God-Emperor Kairominas is lord of all he surveys. He has defeated all foes, has united the entire world beneath his rule, and has mastered the arcane arts. He spends his time sparring with his nemesis, who keeps trying to invade Kai’s world.
Except for today. Today, Kai has to go on a date.
Forces have conspired to require him to meet with his equal—a woman from another world who has achieved just as much as he has. What happens when the most important man in the world is forced to have dinner with the most important woman in the world?
Perfect State is a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Novella.
And, frankly, I doubt I would have picked it up if it wasn’t. I’m a Sanderson fan, but that guy writes faster than I can read. So under normal circumstances I would have passed on a book with a hook that didn’t hook me while I wait for the next book in The Stormlight Archive. Thank God I did, because Perfect State is much more than it seems from the copy.
It’s a Sanderson book. The prose is clear, the story well structured, the magic and worldbuilding inventive, the plot includes the obligatory twist that is clever but doesn’t floor me. There is almost sex! In a Brandon Sanderson book! But no, still no sex.
What sets Perfect State apart and finally fully sucked me into the story is the worldbuilding. I can see why they left the good stuff off the copy, because there is simply no way I can talk about it without major SPOILERS, so read on at your own risk.
Kai is indeed God-Emperor of an entire world. It’s a high-magic fantasy world, with plate-armored soldiers, huge cities, flying platforms, and a variety of magic called Lancing practiced by Kai. It’s also entirely fake. Human technology has advanced to the point that it has become indistinguishable from magic. Humans like Kai are just brains in soup who are plugged into simulations crafted to allow them the fullest achievement allowed and demanded by their personality (apparently Kai’s nemesis really needs to build giant robots). Even the date and accompanying required mating are for show—reproduction is done the new fashioned way. Kai’s billions of subjects are just bits and bytes. Only his nemesis and his date and the others like them are “real.” And that really did it for me. I love squeezing fantasy into science fiction (see: Arena). Some of the better argued and better integrated philosophical debates were icing on the cake.