Genre: Science Fiction
Series: The Collapsing Empire #1
Publisher: Tor (March 21, 2016)
Length: 336 pages
My Rating: 4 stars
The Collapsing Empire is the opening salvo in a new science fiction series by John Scalzi. And if you enjoy space, cool ideas, political machinations, jaded characters, and the ever present Scalzi’s dry wit and sarcasm, then this novel will deliver exactly the reading experience you have been waiting for.
The setting for this space epic is an interstellar empire called the Interdependecy. Humanity having spread among the stars, not due to faster-than-light interstellar starships however but by the Flow: a mysterious force which creates inter-dimensional corridors that humanity uses to travel toward other worlds.
Until now, humanity had considered the Flow to be eternal and immutable. (Yes, there has been an isolated incident of the Flow becoming destabilized, but that was a rare fluctuation, one never theorized to ever occur again.) At least, that is what everyone believed until it isn’t true anymore. The science now nearly irrefutable that the Flow is steadily destabilizing, changing its currents away from the human colonies, threatening to permanently cut off and destroy the entire Interdependency!
This news causes massive upheaval in the Empire’s society. Everyone falling into separate groups aligned along their response to the Flow’s disappearance. Naturally, many ignore it. Others embrace the fact, seeing great opportunities for power and wealth in the upheaval. While a few wish to discover a solution to the problem, hoping to convince their fellows to do what is necessary to save humanity from a bleak future. The conflict from these competing groups driving the narrative forward.
It probably goes without saying that Scalzi is a writer whom you either like or don’t like. His writing style one you either warm up to or don’t. Personally, I find his concise, unadorned style to my liking. No matter its faults, Scalzi’s bare-bones storytelling approach effortlessly conveys the story without resorting to excessive words or endless description. Instead of ominous walls of words, he masterfully uses realistic dialogue to organically reveal background information, create action, and subtly build characters. All this while interjecting his trademark humor and wit into series situations, reveling in pointing out his views on the human condition.
With this novel, however, Scalzi has attempted to broaden his writing horizons, so to speak, respond to his critics, if you will. First, he has placed a greater emphasize on lead female characters. Second, he has attempted to break with heteronormativity. And, overall, he has been successful in accomplishing both these goals. The Collapsing Empire’s most important characters are indeed women, starting with Cardenia Wu-Patrick, the newly elected emperox of the Interdependency, and not ending with her counterpart Lady Nadashe of House Nohamapetan (not a “royal” house like Herbert’s Dune, but rather a house of commerce and trade.) Each of these powerful individuals a full realized character, who resonant as completely realistic. And the break away from heteronormativity is, at least, paid lip service to, if not explored in great detail.
Writing style aside though, it all comes down to the story itself. Whether the concept is cool. Whether the characters work. Whether the plot takes on a life of its own and sweeps a reader up in that growth. Those are the elements which separate the books I can’t put down from the ones I can’t force myself to keep reading. And The Collapsing Empire is definitely the former, because – even though it does a lot of setting up for the series – it drew me in, made me think, caused me to wonder how I would react in situations, and forced me to pick sides in the societal debate.
Even with that being said, this isn’t a perfect book in my eyes. There were elements I did not enjoy, would have preferred be tweaked, changed, or omitted altogether. The main ones being the lack of introspection among the lead characters and the minimal scientific explanation of things. Neither of which ruined my enjoyment of the book, yet both of which I would have liked to have seen been a greater part of the narrative. And the minor quibble being the excessive profanity of one of the characters, whose foul mouthed language became tedious after a short time.
Honestly, there are not a lot of science fiction writers whom I follow. (Those who know me realize I’m more of a fantasy fan.) Among the handful of scifi authors whom I do consistently read, Scalzi is near the top though; his books generally entertaining and thought provoking. And The Collapsing Empire is another success for him. This new series one which I will be eagerly following, because it has already captured my imagination.
I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.