I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Series: The Collapsing Empire #1
Published by Tor Books on March 21 2017
Genres: Adult, Science fiction
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The nitty-gritty: Biting humor and politics collide in Scalzi’s latest, a fast-paced trip through space.
Within two days, Kiva was within five million marks of going into the black for the trip. “I’m a fucking financial genius,” she said, to Captain Blinnikka, back on the Yes, Sir.
“Or you’re war profiteering,” Blinnikka said.
“I’m not selling anything to the combatants,” Kiva said, taken aback, but then trying to shrug it off with some light snark. “I’m offering a service to those who wish to leave the theater of combat. That makes me a humanitarian, actually. I’m saving people.”
I have lots of backlist Scalzi to catch up with (most notably his Old Man’s War series), and so I was excited to read The Collapsing Empire, the first in a new space opera series. Scalzi’s trademark political acumen is hard at work in this story, where an empire of star systems, connected by a mysterious conduit called the Flow, is threatened by eventual extinction as the Flow appears to be breaking down. What this means for the citizens of the Interdependency is that once the pathways between these systems are gone, whoever is left on a particular planet will be stuck there forever, or at least until the planet runs out of resources. With no means to trade or buy those resources—the Flow enabled commerce on a large scale—the millions of people who live in the Interdependency will eventually die out.
Scalzi sets the stage for his trilogy by introducing us to the idea of the Flow, a means of getting from one planet to another—planets that are light years apart from one another—in a relatively short period of time, by entering the Flow, which speeds up the travel time. Hub is the literal center of the system, the home of the emperox, and the place where most of the Flow streams begin and end. Thus Hub is exactly what its name implies: a hub of activity, as people come and go from other star systems. At the far end of this galaxy is End, another well-chosen name. End is nine months’ travel through the Flow to Hub, and although that sounds like a long time, in fact it’s a fairly quick trip for space travel. When the story begins, a physicist named Jamies Claremont has just discovered that the Flow has begun to collapse, and that the streams are disappearing one by one. He decides to send his son Marce to Hub to warn the emperox about the impending collapse, and Marce, who is also an expert in the Flow, realizes that he may never return to End again.
Meanwhile on Hub, the emperox is dying, and his daughter Cardenia is set to take over as the new emperox upon his death. On the space ship Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby, Kiva Lagos and her crew are about to discover that their cargo of haverfruit has been infected with a virus and their trade agreement on End sabotaged by the Duke of End and his advisor, a greedy man named Ghreni Nohamapetan. All three storylines converge as the political implications of the Flow collapse, the coronation of a new emperox, and the cunning maneuvering of the Nohamapetan family bring the Interdependency closer and closer to danger.
If you’re familiar with Scalzi’s blog Whatever, then you know that he’s no slouch when it comes to the ins and outs of politics. The Collapsing Empire is full of intricately plotted plans and schemes, most of them underhanded. The culprits of the story, the Nohamapetans, are deliciously evil in a bumbling sort of way. There’s a whole back story about how Ghreni’s sister Nadashe was supposed to marry Cardenia’s brother Rennered, positioning the Nohamapetan clan to ascend to royalty when Rennered became emperox. But after he’s killed in an accident, the focus is now on Cardenia, who is being pressured into marrying the other Nohamapetan brother, Amit. It’s all very convoluted and I enjoyed the political aspects of the story immensely.
But even more than that, I loved Scalzi’s female characters. Kiva Lagos was my favorite, despite her use of the word “fuck” in just about every sentence she utters. She’s brash and bold and doesn’t really give a shit about anything except money and sex. I usually like my characters well-rounded, not only strong but emotionally approachable. Kiva doesn’t have much emotional depth—at least in this installment—but I sure had a hell of a lot of fun with her.
Cardenia was another favorite character. After she reluctantly takes on the mantle of emperox, she discovers a secret place in the palace called the Memory Room, where she can digitally call up all the previous emperoxes and ask them questions. I loved this idea, especially when she’s able to “talk” to her recently deceased father.
The only thing I really had issues with was the way Scalzi named things. The character names are a little strange, and my brain continued to stumble over some of them as the story went along. They seemed more suited for a fantasy tale, in my opinion. And as for the names of the ships? Hmmm, I’m curious to see what other readers think. Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby and No Sir, I Don’t Mean Maybe. Or Tell Me Another One. Race horse names, maybe, but ships? Not so much. It almost felt like parody at times, but I don’t think that was the author’s intention.
The Collapsing Empire is fairly short, and I almost wish it had been longer. There was a moment when we seem to leap ahead in time, when Marce finally arrives on Hub after a supposedly nine month journey. The time shift was a little jarring, since everything else seems to take place within a matter of weeks.
But this is a great start to the series, and I’m really looking forward to the next installment. Scalzi drops some interesting hints at the end of what’s to come, and with no firm release date in sight for the next book, it’s going to be at least a year before my questions are answered.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.