Addictive Bubblegum Space Opera: John Scalzi – The Collapsing Empire

The Best Series Hugo be praised or I would probably never have picked up this John Scalzi trilogy and that would have been a damn shame. As of now, I am still totally undecided how I will rank the Best Series finalists this year but wherever The Interdependency ends up, I’m glad Hugo nominators made me read it because this was so much fun, you guys!

collapsing empireTHE COLLAPSING EMPIRE
by John Scalzi

Published: Tor, 2017
eBook: 336 pages
Series: The Interdependency #1
My rating: 7/10

Opening line: The mutineers would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for the collapse of the Flow.

Does the biggest threat lie within?

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 civilization on the brink of collapse, others have very different plans . . .

The Collapsing Empire is an exciting space opera from John Scalzi

I sometimes feel like voracious SFF readers are trained to expect certain things by now. Whether it’s the super slow burn political intrigue, the long set up for epic things to come later in a series, the unresolved tensions that are kept unresolved for volume upon volume – I am definitely guilty of having certain expectations. When those expectations are shattered, it can go either way. In the case of John Scalzi’s Interdependency, it worked brilliantly. Because although this is the first book in a trilogy, it starts at the end. With a bang.

The Interdependecy is a group of systems connected by the Flow, a wrinkle in space/time that lets ships travel faster between places than would otherwise be possible without FTL travel. It still takes several months from the central world Hub to the planet End (literally at the End of the Flow streams), but hey, trade between these places is possible and thriving. The planets, space stations, etc. connected by the Flow are all interdependent (ha!) which makes the central premise of this book a big problem. That premise is the very probable collapse of the empire and all that that entails. Entry and exit points to and from the Flow are getting whacky and the emperox – quasi-leader of the Interdependency – is dying with only his unprepared bastard daughter as heir because the original heir got himself killed in an accident. So to sum up: Things are pretty much fucked!

We see this drama unravel through several viewpoint characters, one of which curses a lot. I mean, a lot! Kiva Lagos doesn’t let a sentence escape her mouth if it doesn’t contain the word “fuck” at least once so if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, beware. I found it hilarious, especially as we get to know her better. The cursing just goes with her no-bullshit attitude. She’s coldblooded, profit-hungry, and a little ruthless, but her heart’s in the right spot. I guess. It may only be a small heart, but it’s there and I kind of grew to like her over the course of this novel.
Much more sympathetic and easier to like is Cardelia, soon-to-be emperox and totally overwhelmed with it all. She’s mostly just a vessel to give us readers more information about the Interdependency, how everything works, how political factions interact and how ridiculous life in a palace can be. Either way, I liked her and I appreciated learning certain truths about the world alongside her.
Marce Claremont lives on End – the only planet where people can live on the surface, even though there’s not much there to get excited about. End is having one of its uprisings against the current Duke (there’s one or two rebellions every decade) but Marce, his sister, and their father are there for a different reason. Ostensibly, Lord Claremont controls taxes for the Empire or something, but in reality, he is a scientist with a mission. And if he’s right, his findings need to be taken to Hub immediately. The empire and humanity’s future is at stake!

There’s also the Space-Lannisters of this tale, the Nohamapetan family, which is one of the monopoly-holding families who make up the nobility of the Interdependency. What wealth they have is apparently not enough because they are scheming for more money and more power. They’re almost caricatures of villains, so they’re easy to hate until one of them shows signs of being human after all. Not big signs, mind you, but at least they’re not completely one-dimensional. Although it gets a little over the top at times, there’s something to be said for a villain you can just love to hate. Ghreni Nohamapetan is an adviser to the Duke on End, his sister Nadashe was supposed to marry the heir to the emperox (the one who died), so now their brother Amit is making advances on the entirely uninterested Cardenia.

That said, don’t except too much depth when it comes to the characters. Scalzi doesn’t spend much time making his characters multi-faceted or deep, but he does write a damn good story based on intriguing science-fictional ideas. The Flow was enough to get me hooked, the imminent collapse of this galactic empire sealed the deal for me. Add to that the political machinations, intrigues and trade agreements, uprisings and assassination attempts, and you’ve got a book that’s really hard to put down. I read it very quickly because I simply had to know what happnened next and if the assholes would get what they deserved. I also really, really enjoy reading about intelligent characters and The Collapsing Empire has several rather clever ones. It’s just such a delightful feeling when a bad guy thinks they won only to find out that they got outsmarted by the good guys. Cue my evil laugh! 🙂

I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t think I would like this book. I am, after all, a character-focused reader and all my favorite books have either phenomenal characters, beautiful language, or a combination of both. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy plot-driven narratives once in a while, especially when they have things to say about humanity. The language may not be pretty – as in using shiny polysyllabic words simply because they sound good – but it is super engaging. The chracters may only have one or two traits each but they’re easy to root for and fun to follow. And the story is just really good! Will I be thinking about Kiva Lagos or Marce Claremont in a year? Probably not. Do I want to pick up the next book with them inside? Hell yeah!

I was also pleasantly surprised by how satisfying the ending was. Don’t get me wrong, this is clearly the setup novel for a bigger story but enough plot lines were resolved to make me close the book happily. It doesn’t feel like you’re just left hanging there, mid-sentence (even though that would’t be bad as the trilogy is finished and you can jump right into the next volume), but rather gives you a story with beginning, middle and end. It just so happens that this story is set in a world that I want to explore some more because now the real problems are about to start!

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

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