Title: The Collapsing Empire
Author: John Scalzi
Series: The Interdependency #1
In the far future, humanity has left Earth to create a glorious empire. Now this interstellar network of worlds faces disaster – but can three individuals save their people?
The empire’s outposts are utterly dependent on each other for resources, a safeguard against war, and a way its rulers can exert control. This relies on extra-dimensional pathways between the stars, connecting worlds. But ‘The Flow’ is changing course, which could plunge every colony into fatal isolation.
A scientist will risk his life to inform the empire’s ruler. A scion of a Merchant House stumbles upon conspirators seeking power. And the new Empress of the Interdependency must battle lies, rebellion and treason. Yet as they work to save a civilisation on the brink of collapse, others have very different plans . . .
I have made no secret of the fact I am a huge fan of Scalzi’s work. He is firmly on my auto-buy authors list and the start of this brand new Space Opera has done nothing to knock him from the position of my favourite Sci-fi writers.
In the Collapsing Empire, Scalzi builds a believable future for the human race, and populates it with realistic, flawed and emotional characters. The universe combines plausible, yet digestible, well researched, science with fantastical future thinking to create an almost Old west feel to Interdependency. The Interdependecy itself is a collection of human colonies spread out across the universe that are dependent on each other for the products that are produced by the other planets. It is deemed an Empire, and is ruled over by an Emperox but it is really the merchant guilds that hold true power.
There is no FTL travel in this universe, instead humans have expanded out into the galaxy using “The Flow”, a naturally occurring set of currents that when entered allow spacecraft to reach suitable speeds to traverse between the various colonies. Though initially unbeknown to our protagonists these highways through space are starting to rearrange themselves, as this starts to reveal itself we follow our main characters as they start to plan for the unthinkable, some on how to save the people that will become isolated, others on how to politically manoeuvre their way up to totem pole.
It is most definitely a world-building novel. Scalzi is secure in a contract and knows that the next book is already sold to the publisher so therefore this book focuses on drawing us in, giving us the information we need and giving us time to get to know the characters (all the things that usually cause the 2nd book slump in unsecured series, as you want that same level of action and resolve that you got in the first book). This really worked for me, as while it still maintains the fast pace and action packed scenes I expect from a Scalzi novel we also got a real introduction to the Interdependency without detracting from the action. Though sometimes it did info dump in a very obvious way, that could have been interwoven into the narration better.
The book itself has three main narrators (if we discount the interlude), two of which are strong relatable women! I have spoke before that he has included scenes that make his female characters feel real, they act like normal people, for example one grinds their teeth through period pain to get on with ruling the galaxy, or sneaking five minutes of piece for herself as she is using the bathroom. There is no feeling of tokenism to them or these scenes, the are just interwoven into the mass of complex emotions and thoughts these characters have as we follow their aspects of the story. They just don’t seem forced to be “strong independent women” they just are. One of the reasons I enjoy Scalzi’s work so much is I have known people exactly like these characters.
I feel this is mostly because of Scalzi’s writing style which this book has a firm grounding in. It is most defiantly NOT literary fiction! It is not meant to whisk you away with lyrical prose or bog you down in detail. It is fun, funny, a little whimsical, very sweary (if you don’t like the use of swearing then he isn’t the writer for you) and dialogue heavy writing. His dialogues are great, they are very natural conversations that effortlessly flow back and fourth between the characters. I just enjoy his use of language, the nonchalant way huge plot twists are just thrown onto the page to just slap the reader, his sense of humour and his application of the choice swearing and insults e.g. my favourite
The names of the Spaceships are fantastic, that and a bit of a cruel move on Scalzi’s part filling his readers with the dreaded earworms as they read. Some names include the “Tell Me Another One” and the “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” (I found myself singing that one for days after finishing reading, in fact i am humming it now! Damn you Scalzi!).
For me it was another Scalzi hit and I will happily keep reading this series.