@@@@ (4 out of 5)
It’s not hard to see why John Scalzi has so many fans in the science fiction community. His writing is unusually accessible, frequently profane, and often funny. If anyone is writing expressly for the proverbial 14-year-old sci-fi fan, it’s John Scalzi. And there’s just enough of the 14-year-old still in me to love his work.
If you’re a fan, then you know that Scalzi is extremely prolific and you’re probably familiar with his writing. He’s best known for his six-book Old Man’s War series. Scalzi has been nominated for many awards and has won some, including the Hugo Award for his standalone novel, Redshirts. (I loved the book. My review is here: Diabolically clever, and very, very funny.) He seems to be popular among his peers as well, having served as president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
The Collapsing Empire, published March 2017, is the first book in a John Scalzi series of at least two novels about a distant future empire called the Interdependency. The central character, Cardenia Wu-Patrick, is an illegitimate daughter of the reigning emperox. The emperox is not just the political and ceremonial leader of the thousand-year-old Interdependency but also head of the Church, a member of Parliament, and director of the realm’s predominant trading company (called a “guild”), the House of Wu. As the novel opens, Emperox Attavio VI is on his deathbed. Cardenia is his designated heir—and she’s not especially happy about it. Until recently, her half-brother was slated to succeed as Emperox, but he died in a racing accident. Now she must learn how to command a realm consisting of 47 planetary systems and billions of people.
The 47 planets of the Interdependency are scattered far from each other, often tens of light-years distant. Faster-than-light travel is physically impossible, but more than a millennium ago humans had discovered the Flow, a network of streams or tunnels through space-time resembling what other science fiction authors call wormholes. However, travel through the Flow is not instantaneous. The trip from Hub, the realm’s central planet, to End, the farthest away of the other worlds, takes nine months. Ever since the 26th century, a millennium ago, when the Interdependency was founded, the Flow has been stable. But now the Flow is beginning to collapse—and the Empire will collapse with it. Cardenia is destined to become the last emperox.
The trouble begins shortly after the death of Attavio VI. Midway through the ceremony of her coronation as Grayland II, a powerful bomb explodes at the imperial palace, killing her best friend and adviser and nearly killing Cardenia herself. Meanwhile, on distant End, a rebellion is underway against the reigning Duke. In the midst of the chaos, a Flow physicist is putting the finishing touches on the paper, years in the making, that predicts the collapse of the Flow. Jamies, Count Claremont, then charges his son, Marce, to travel to Hub and inform the emperox, an old friend.
The ensuing action revolves around the lives of Marce and Cardenia. Each faces peril at every turn as they strive to outsmart and evade the machinations of the supremely ambitious House of Nohamapetan.
Don’t think for a minute that everything will turn out all right in the end. The title of this novel is, after all, The Collapsing Empire. Space opera? Of course! But John Scalzi makes it fun from start to finish.
For a list of the sci-fi books I’ve enjoyed the most over the years, go to My 27 favorite science fiction novels and 18 excellent recent sci-fi novels. And if you fancy looking on the dark side, you might like to check out My 6 favorite dystopian novels and 24 compelling dystopian novels in series. And here’s my review of the first book in another John Scalzi series: A sci-fi novel that harkens back to the bad old days of the pulp magazines. I didn’t like that one so much.