Tor | 2017 (23 March) | 333p | Review copy | Buy the book
Mankind has spread out from Earth, dispersed by the Flow, extra-dimensional pathways that move between planets, connecting worlds. The settlers have no say in which planets will be connected. They are randomly ‘selected’ and at great distances from one another. They are also largely uninhabitable, with humans having to live in sealed habitats underground, relying on other planets along the Flow for resources. As a result, the Interdependency has developed. The Interdependency controls trade between the Flow, the movement of power and wealth, and is ruled by the Emperox, who works in tandem with the other institutions of the empire’s establishment – the Church, the politicians, the guilds and the military. But Earth itself is barely even a memory. The Flow might seem stable and constant but it isn’t. Long ago Earth was lost when the Flow shifted. And now the signs indicate that the Flow might be about to undergo an even more drastic change, a change that could throw each colony along its course into an isolation that would mean its death.
The Interdependency has a new Emperox. Based on the capital planet of Hub, the Emperox is finding her new role difficult, relying on the memories of her ancestors to help her along. Rival noble families are becoming dangerously powerful. One planet, the most dismal of them all, and appropriately named End (it is the furthest planet along the Flow from Hub), is under attack from rebels and is threatened by all-out war. Terrorists, pirates and traitors are everywhere. The Emperox has no idea who to trust. But all of these problems fade away when she learns of the greatest threat facing the Interdependency. She becomes driven by her one goal – to save mankind.
I loved the sound of The Collapsing Empire and was keen to read it as soon as I heard about it but I had no idea just what kind of world I was about to enter. This is one of those rare treats of a book that I fell in love with on the very first page and my love didn’t fade from that page on. The story is absolutely fantastic and fully lives up to its glorious premise. Wormholes, conspiracies, colony planets, angry nobles, battles, pirates, impending apocalypse, sin and rage – all of these are promised and many more and each is delivered. I couldn’t lap it up fast enough.
Quite apart from the story which, as I say, is brilliant and never lets up from first to last page, John Scalzi gives us the best of characters. And I say ‘best’ but actually some of these people are the worst. But their bad behaviour is so well developed, I found I loved to hate them. Most of the baddies have a saving grace or two, even if it’s just how audacious their plotting is, or how extraordinarily deluded they are. But the characters I enjoyed the most are the Emperox and, supremely, the outrageous, foul-mouthed Kiva, the daughter of one of the largest and most powerful families and an absolute joy to accompany through this adventure. While the Emperox has the most to worry about, Kiva undoubtedly gets the best lines.
I love John Scalzi’s writing as much as I love his imagination – the prose is so easy to get along with, so descriptive and perceptive, but, above all, it is so witty! There are some great lines in these pages and they are delivered by some enormous personalities. And so the superb worldbuilding meets its match in the quality of the dialogue. All of this makes me realise that I mustn’t neglect Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series any longer.
The Collapsing Empire is hugely thrilling and very fast. It’s undoubtedly a pageturner. It does have a great ending (matching the superb beginning) but I was so relieved to see ‘Book 1’ written on the novel’s spine (I only spotted this as I finished it). This can only mean there will be a Book 2 and I was crying out for it as this first book came to its exhilarating end. Do not miss this!