The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency Series book 1) by John Scalzi (book review).

November 23, 2020 | By | Reply More

For a thousand years, the Emperox has ruled over the Interdependency, a network of space stations, domed lunar cities and one planet stretching across 48 star systems. Connecting these far flung outposts is a spatial phenomenon known as the Flow, a series of vaguely understood streams that allow ships to cross the depths of space in months rather than decades or centuries.

Cardenia is not ready to become Emperox. She managed to have an almost normal life as an acknowledged but accidental royal child raised far away from her father and politics. With the sudden death of her older brother, just as her father begins his final illness, Cardenia must come to terms with her new crown quickly if she is to save any remnant of humanity from the greatest threat the Interdependency has ever known. The Flow is collapsing.

Travelling between star systems takes weeks at best, even with the Flow. Without faster than light travel or communication, the sprawling trading culture of the Interdependency has many points of weakness for the merchant nobility to increase profits and hurt their rivals. With each outpost dependent on the supplies from the others, the trading houses wield a great deal of influence. The merchant nobility has been second only to the Emperox for a thousand years and do not want to consider the collapse of the Flow as it will be the ruin of their fiefdoms. Ships might be held up for any number of reasons that are more reasonable than the failure of a phenomenon that has existed for a thousand years.

Space, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, is mind-bogglingly big and Scalzi really brings that sense of the vastness of space home in ‘The Collapsing Empire’. Space travel isn’t just a long cruise or a nap in a cryo-pod in the Interdependency. Unlike a wormhole, the Flow isn’t a door in space providing instant transport to some far flung star system. It’s more of a white water rafting experience which, while spitting you out relatively quickly at your far away destination, if you fall out of that water you’re stranded without a paddle decades from anything, not to mention the risk of having a tributary dry up. Without the Flow, humanity would still be on Earth, but they’d also still be able to find it.

Despite these risks, humanity has made an empire using the flow and its natural entry points. A string of cities connected together, none of which would survive without trade through the Flow. Except for End, which would survive. End is the one planet in the empire and, strangely, is therefore considered a hick backwater. It is, after all, the ‘end’ of the Flow’s path and furthest from the capital. Each station could survive on its own for maybe one or two decades at best. If humanity wants to survive, End is the place they’ll be doing it.

John Scalzi has built a complicated world in ‘The Collapsing Empire’ with multiple threads and character arcs tangling across it. This is not a book for someone who doesn’t have the mental space to keep track of many names. Several characters get screen time. The new Emperox Cardenia and the doomsaying physicist, Marce, are both interesting characters with stories I enjoyed reading but it was Lady Kiva who stuck in my head.

Youngest daughter of one of the trading families, Kiva travels around as a family representative between stations. She is not polite or restrained in her language or her sex life. She is not a cliched dilettante. Kiva is a businesswoman who is playing business and politics for her family on a galactic scale. She will get s$&@ done. Sure, she’s kind of a bitch but in a pragmatic sort of way that just wants to get things moving without the niceties of politics or ‘good manners’ slowing things down. Kiva is not an example of reversing gender roles or there simply to highlight the heroine’s softness. Kiva is not a heroine, but a bitchy woman who isn’t an antagonist. She just is what she is and she comes alive because of that.

This is actually my first Scalzi novel and I understand why so many people have recommended I read any of his work. ‘The Collapsing Empire’ is a wonderfully immersive book that presents a future for humanity that feels real. I’d definitely recommend it for fans of Ian McDonald’s ‘Luna’ series and as a less weighty option for fans of James S. A. Corey’s ‘The Expanse’ series.

LR Richardson

November 2020

The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency Series book 1) by John Scalzi

(pub: TOR, 2020. 336 page paperback. Price: $ 9.99 (US), £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-76538-890-2)

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Category: Books, Scifi

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