Humanity has moved out into the universe, lost Earth and formed the Interdependency. We now live mostly on space habitats and lifeless planets, scattered across space and joined only by the Flow – the bit of science that allows space travel to happen in weeks and months instead of decades and centuries. The theory behind the Interdependency is that all pockets of humanity survive by relying upon one another, and so various guilds hold monopolies on different products like, say, citrus fruits, a particular breed of animal and all its associated products, or weapons manufacture, just to give three examples mentioned in passing in this first book.
But now the Flow is collapsing and the Interdependency faces failure as, one by one, the worlds will be cut off from one another and from available resources and left to fend for themselves. Add to this mix that the newly crowned Emperox of the Interdependency, Cardenia Wu-Patrick, wasn’t ever expecting to inherit what should have been her half-brother’s position and is, on top of that, a nice person, and Scalzi has thrown all the ingredients for disaster into the pot.
Fasten your seatbelts. This book moves fast.
In this first volume of the trilogy alone there is a breakneck barrage of political manoeuvrings and assassination attempts as various wealthy members of the guilds act upon information received in order to reap maximum profit. Although not everyone has the same information, of course. Most notably, the dastardly House of Nohamapetan (moustache-twiddlers the lot of ‘em) proves itself dangerous to our new Emperox and anyone else who gets in the way and it’s their shenanigans that take up the most page space in The Collapsing Empire.
All of the characters are awesome, whether incidental or main players (and it’s very satisfying to see women everywhere). In everything I’ve read of Scalzi’s the dialogue has always been great, and I love the snarky back and forth that dominates here, dragging the reader along with it even when we’d maybe prefer to have sat with a character or piece of world-building for just a little while longer. Everyone is sassy and everything is done on the run. In another book, by another author, this story would’ve been two hundred plus pages longer and have unfolded at a more sedate pace. This is both a complaint and a joy. On the one hand, I prefer to be given the time to care about the world, the events and the people I’m reading about. On the other, I quite like being thrown into stunningly choreographed encounters without warning. There’s maybe just a smidge too little thinking time given to the reader here.
Because by the last few pages I found myself questioning whether what House Nohamapetan was doing was really so bad, or even so very different from what anyone else was doing. Cardenia had discovered Things (spoiler averted), and I wasn’t at all sure that there were really ‘good’ or ‘bad’ people in this book. It seems like ridiculous, unfathomable wealth and power is the only real motivator for nearly every character, with the possible exceptions of Cardenia, now Emperox Grayland II, who I think really does want to save humanity; Marce Claremont, who seems to be equally altruistic; and Kiva Lagos whose main aim appears to be to have sex with as many people as possible before the end of the trilogy. Certainly Scalzi’s future humans are divided into those who deny there’s a problem, those who want to profit from the problem, and a tiny, tiny minority who see that everything has to change if humanity is going to survive. If there’d been more time, I might have found this quite bleak.
This book is like the scifi action movie that sits on the shelf (in its dvd case, because yes, dagnabbit, we still have those) alongside the thinky scifi movie and the scary scifi movie and is the one you go to when you don’t want to have to fully engage with something and really just want to be entertained for a couple of hours. Actually, this book is the last half hour of that scifi action movie, in which the shit simultaneously hits the fan and is sorted out with the liberal application of badassery and pithy one-liners. Great fun for when you don’t want to have to care too much.
That said, stop trying to kill Cardenia, would you? Sheesh.
Thanks a bunch for taking away my lovely little workaround that enabled me to put together and edit my posts so easily, and for forcing me to confront your horrid block editor once again. I hate it.