The Collapsing Empire is the first in a new space opera series from well-known sci-fi genius John Scalzi, and I’m happy to say that it was a totally fun “first Scalzi” for me!
By the time I got to sit down with The Collapsing Empire, I’d read enough reviews to understand the main points of the worldbuilding—but even if I hadn’t, Scalzi manages a certain breezy, entertaining way of explaining the impossible. He thunks readers into the middle of a mutiny and interrupts it with the even more drastic problem that the rest of the universe will have to face during the novel: the collapse of the only known method of space travel. The mutinous crew has to deal with the issue right then, or die.
Blamo! Sufficient explanation for the next several chapters without any painful info dumps.
That easy understanding is important, since the really absorbing puzzle of the book turns out to be tracking character agendas that will involve all this delicious worldbuilding.
Here’s a quick summary of said worldbuilding:
Space-age humanity has discovered a unique means of travel across huge stretches of the universe: the Flow. The Flow is an extra-dimensional field that transports spacecraft across distances that would otherwise be impossible, without fast-than-light space travel; naturally, humanity took advantage, using the Flow to build up an empire known as “The Interdependency”—interdependent because each settlement along the flow relies on each other’s resources to survive. But what happens to the Interdependency when the Flow begins to collapse, isolating each individual and dependent member of the body from each other?
That’s the question Scalzi’s cast is determined to answer. Several of the power players aim to profit from the misfortune and others just want to save lives. The major players all come from rich noble houses, overseen by a powerful “emperox.” (Yes, with the rise of the Interdependency came also the return of a caste system, and we learn later about its origins. It’s pretty disturbing. [Highlight to view SPOILER: Monopolies corrupted the government who anesthetized the common man with bunk religion and accepted the proceeds of $ and power without a blink. These elements seem a common enough in sci-fi backstories, which is understandable. Big companies, big government and organized religion all hold a lot of control over the common man, so when they get in bed, bad things happen…]) We meet the faces of three of these houses: the emperox of the universe from the most powerful House of Wu; the shipping queen of the entrepreneurial House of Lagos; and the three power-grabbing siblings of competitive House of Nohamapetan.
We enter the story just prior to the death of the current emperox—and just following the death of that emperox’s heir. This unfortunate double-dip of death leaves Cardenia, the emperox’s unprepared second child, in charge of the universe. Cardenia’s scenes largely consist of info dumps which, though humorous and easily digestible, usually left me eager to get back to the other two houses.
In contrast, Lady Kiva Lagos kept me in fits of mirth throughout the book; this mercantile heroine always manages to swing a profit despite House Nohamapetan’s threats to her product. I thoroughly enjoyed her clever machinations during this first power drama of the Flow’s collapse.
House Nohamapetan’s representatives—three siblings of differing personalities, but one overarching goal of enriching and empowering their house—prove no less enterprising. I almost found myself respecting these proactive backstabbers. Almost. There’s so competent, they even keep lady Kiva on her toes.
All of the female characters, excepting slightly the emperox, do seem to have shades of the exact same personality, which is slightly uninteresting. (One character quirk that most reviewers mention is Lady Kiva’s singular and somewhat repetitive talent for transposing the f-bomb to every purpose. Complimenting someone by saying “She’s smart as ****” or telling her mother “I ****ing love you” are some of the less clever examples of said habit Lol.) But every character has strong motivations that keep things moving along quite nicely, and their motivations clearly mark them out from one another.
I really enjoyed The Collapsing Empire. Despite missing the character connections that would make it more meaningful to a character-driven reader like me, I love the political games and the unique setting and I’m totally game for book II. I can’t wait to see how the conflict plays out!
Recommended To :
Although I’m less familiar with sci-fi as some reviewers, I can confidently say that The Collapsing Empire is a rare example of extremely fast-paced and entertaining sci-fi, so I highly recommend it to readers looking for that sort of ride.
The Collapsing Empire is adult sci-fi authored by John Scalzi and published March 21st 2017 by Tor Books. 336 pages. The opinions I share are completely my own and in no way compensated for by publishers or authors.