The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Interdependency is the group of far-flung habitats that humanity has established throughout space. They are connected by the Flow, an anomaly of physics somewhat similar to a river, that allows faster than light transport along its currents. Those currents have been known to shift- once, long ago, when Earth was cut off from the rest of humankind, and once more, when another planet was lost to contact forever. But those were isolated incidents, spanning thousands of years. In main, the Flow is constant. Except that it isn’t. It is shifting again, and this time, it looks as though the entire system is changing, threatening to cut off all of the Interdependency from each other. Which is bad news for an empire that bases its existence on the fact that no one outpost can survive without the rest.
As usual, Scalzi delivers a clever, enjoyable, quite readable story. The idea of the Interdependency, where all the members rely on each other for various necessities of survival, and the rise of individual Houses, each controlling one aspect of those interrelated needs, creating a kind of hierarchy and nobility among the ruling class is, if not exactly new, given a shiny new coat of paint. And the Flow is a nifty concept- sort of like the idea of hyperspace, but not quite. It isn’t well understood, even by those experts who study it, making the possible disruption more pressing as an over-arcing storyline. Future books in the series are set up, and this one leaves you with a number of ideas on where the next books could go. There is resolution to the inner conflicts of this single story. It does remain to be seen whether those knots stay neatly tied up, without being unsatisfying to this book.
There are some issues. Pacing gets a bit dragged down in the middle section of the book. There’s a lot of talking, which serves the necessary building of the foundation for this and future books, but it does seem as if the action all but grinds to a halt for a bit. Luckily, Scalzi has a knack for clever and quickly moving dialogue that offsets the lack of action to good effect. His rather quirky sense of humor is evident throughout the book, from the ships’ names (Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby and No, Sir, I Don’t Mean Maybe , for example), to the many one-liners and cutting rejoinders from all of the major characters. There is a lot of cursing, particularly the f-word, but that’s not unusual in this sort of story these days. Just be aware if that sort of thing bothers you.
Another thing that stopped this from being 5 stars for me was that all the characters seemed a lot the same. Oh, they had their differences, sure, but they all seemed to be sarcastic, quick-witted, without a lot of patience, and suspicious of everyone around them. It made too many of them seem cut from the exact same mold, and then painted differently. It didn’t kill the characters as far as liking (or disliking, as the case may be), since they are also fun to read. But a bit more depth here and there would have been nice.
At the end, the flaws here are minor, and didn’t make me stop and worry about them while reading. The book is well-written, has enough action, especially once things get really rolling, and a very healthy dose of laugh out loud humor, all wrapped around an intriguing premise and storyline that leaves me eager to see where this new series will go.
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