2017; 329 pages. Book One of a yet-to-be-named series. New Author? : No. Genre : Epic Science Fiction; Intrigue. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
It’s all about the Flows.
The Flows are a galactic “stream” (for lack of a better term) that allow interstellar travel. They’re not a wormhole, nor are they magic. You don’t instantly transport to some way-out-there corner of the galaxy. But a trip that would normally take thousands of years now can be done in weeks, months, or just a year or two, all by entering a Flow at one of its portals.
If the exit portal of a Flow is close to a planetary system, then galactic exploration and settlement are possible. Of course, most planets do not sustain life, so “settlement” usually entails building and living in a complex underground. To date, only one planet beside a Flow, a far-flung place called “The End” sustains terrestrial life. But all the Flows have a portal close to one planet, appropriately dubbed the “Hub”. Alas, it is uninhabitable, so an orbiting space station, Xi’an, has been constructed above it, in addition to the underground metropolis.
Once in a great while the Flows “shift”. The Flow to Earth did just that, quite some time ago, cutting our mother planet off completely from the rest of the colonies. Its civilization collapsed in short order. Since then one other colony has also lost its Flow.
But now there is an astrophysicist who's doctoral thesis claims the rate and degree of shifting is about to speed up. Her calculations indicate that poor old, out-of-the-way End will soon be the new Hub for all the Flows. A sobering hypothesis.
Maybe someone should peer-review that thesis.
What’s To Like...
The Collapsing Empire is the start of a new series by John Scalzi, which will at least be a trilogy. There’s a lot of worlds-building to be done, and a lot of characters to meet and greet. In a nutshell, there are three main protagonists – Kiva, Cardenia, and Marce, and three main antagonists – the Nohamapetan siblings – Ghreni, Nadashe, and Amit.
The overarching storyline concerns how the collapse of the Flows is going to affect civilization. The hypothesis presented about this is that everyone is interdependent for survival. Indeed, the confederation of all the colonies is called the Interdependency. The character development is superb, as is the storytelling. If you’ve read other books by Scalzi, you’ll expect this of him, and he does not disappoint. The baddies are just as resourceful as the good guys. Well, some of them are, and if you’re one of the less-resourceful ones, at least make sure you can follow instructions.
There’s a nice balance of Action and Intrigue, and the Science Fiction is, for the most part, “Hard”. There are no extraterrestrials (at least, so far), and the only exotic fauna/flora I recall is haverfruit.
I liked the “network seed implantations”, which allow the reigning emperox to communicate with computer projections of all the past rulers. This same sort of concept was used in Harvest Of Stars, which I read recently and is reviewed here. The names of the spaceships were also really kewl: “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby”, “No, Sir, Don’t Mean Maybe”, “Some Nerve!”, et.al. And the importance of Peer Review is rarely seen in sci-fi stories; its appearance here was a nice touch.
The Collapsing Empire is a quick and easy read, despite having a complex plotline. There’s a new cosmos with lots of new people to get acquainted with, and John Scalzi kept my interest from beginning to end. There’s also quite a bit of sex, mostly initiated by one character, but I found that to be amusing, not objectionable.
Kewlest New Word. . .
Squick (v.) : to cause (someone) to feel intense disgust; to cause psychological discomfort. (the word has only been around since the 1990’s.)
Others : Heuristic (adj.);Assonant (adj.); Cockwomble (n.; a Britishism).
“You’re traveling light.”
“My other bag got boosted.”
Ndan nodded. “Sucks. When you get squared away go to the quartermaster and get a new kit. You’ll be charged extortionate rates but that’s your problem. You got marks?”
“If you’re short, come find me. I can lend.”
“That’s very kind.”
“No it’s not. It’s business. My interest rates are also extortionate.” (pg. 177)
”You want to risk a lot on a doctoral thesis, sis.”
Nadashe shrugged. “Worst-case scenario, we’re wrong about the shift. The result is you’re the Duke of End and I’m the Imperial consort.”
“Actually the worst-case scenario is you don’t marry Rennered and Ghreni is arrested for treason, and the shift happens anyway,” Amit pointed out.
“You’re not helping,” Ghreni said, to his brother. (pg. 226)
I am emperox of all humanity, and my life sucks. (pg. 258)
There are some negatives. There is an abundance of cussing, mostly from the mouth of Kiva. I wasn’t offended, but it did feel overdone. Also, the publisher is Tor Books, and that seems to always mean a poor job of editing. Here, a character’s name “Jansen” becomes “Jensen” a mere eleven pages later. And pluralizing “emperox” becomes “emperoxs”, not “emperoxes”. These are sloppy things, but minor.
A more serious issue is one raised by a number of reviewers at Amazon: that there isn’t really an ending, just a pause in the storyline.
Well, that’s a valid criticism, but to be fair, the book does end at a logical point. The Collapsing Empire is not a standalone novel, but at least it doesn’t close with a cliffhanger scenario. It kind of reminded me of the way The Fellowship of The Ring, Book 1 of LOTR, finishes. Phase 1 is done; read the next book for Phase 2. I suppose if Tolkien can get away with it, so can Scalzi. But it is disappointing.
8 Stars. Subtract 1 star if you can’t stand novels that aren’t standalones. My advice is: wait three or four years until the series is complete, then borrow the books from your local library.