The Celestial Empire is an alternate history in which China rose to world domination in the fifteenth century. In our own history, during the reign of Zhu Di, the Yongle Emperor, the Treasure Fleet under the command of admiral Zheng He, a Muslim eunuch, traveled as far as India and the east coast of Africa, and possibly even reached the west coast of South America. The Yongle Emperor’s successor Zhu Gaozhi, also known as the Hongxi Emperor, ordered the Treasure Fleet destroyed and all seagoing vessels outlawed, under the advice of Confucian officials who felt that the previous emperor’s expansionist policies had robbed them of influence and power. From that point onwards, China turned inward, and lost contact with its newfound trading partners across the seas.

"Roberson's Celestial Empire series has by now become one of the most extensive alternate histories ever."
Lois Tilton, The Internet Review of Science Fiction

The Celestial Empire diverges from our own history when the Yongle Emperor is instead succeeded by Zhu Zhanji, the Xuande Emperor, who not only continues to employ the Treasure Fleet, but expands its scope and mission. Before Christopher Columbus sets out to discover a new route to the east, dragon boats of the Treasure Fleet round the tip of Africa and arrive in Europe.



(listed in internal chronological order, rather than publication order; links to stories available online)

  • Fire in the Lake” – Subterranean Magazine, Fall 2007

  • “Thy Saffron Wings” – Postscripts #15

  • "The Sky is Large and the Earth is Small" - Asimov's Science Fiction (July, 2007) (and in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 2 and The Year's Best Science Fiction, Twenty-Fifth Annual Collection)

  • "O One" - Live Without a Net (Roc, June 2003)

  • “Metal Dragon Year” – Interzone #213

  • "Gold Mountain" - Poscripts #5 (and in The Year's Best Science Fiction, Twenty-Third Annual Collection)

  • "Mirror of Fiery Brightness" - Subterranean Magazine, Fall 2008

  • “The Voyage of Night Shining White” – Novella from PS Publishing (and in Best Short Novels: 2007)

  • “Line of Dichotomy” - The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume 2 (Solaris, 2008; also available as chapbook)

  • "Red Hands, Black Hands" - Asimov's Science Fiction (December, 2004)

  • “All Under Heaven” - Firebirds Soaring (Firebird, 2009)

  • "Dragon King of the Eastern Sea" - We Think, Therefore We Are (DAW, 2009)

"History Repurposed - The Celestial Empire Stories" - an essay about the series that originally appeared in Vector Magazine #254


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