Length: 336 pages
Release date: 23 March 2017
Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible — until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.
Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war — and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.
The Flow is eternal — but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals — a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency — are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.
“None of us knew what we were doing,” Batrin said. “The difference is that you know it.”
The Collapsing Empire is what I read John Scalzi for. Stylish, sexy and entirely self-aware, you know from the opening lines that you’re in for an adrenaline-fuelled romp through genre-defying space presented in accessible, witty writing. Read this book’s sizzling prologue, and you’ll be all but certain whether Scalzi’s distinctive style is for you. No one else cuts the pretentious shit as well: What you see is exactly what you’ll get.
There’s a certain way everyone behaves and talks in a Scalzi novel; basically, most of them are cynical, amoral homo economicuses who don’t hesitate to knock the establishment even when they’re centrepieces of it. While the seeming lack of even a single true believer in the system, barring a couple novices quickly disabused of their naivety, gets excessive every now and then depending on your expectations, it’s mostly good fun.
Don’t be fooled–just because everyone’s a wisecracking nonconformist doesn’t mean they won’t still hesitate to murder, backstab and lie through their teeth in their scramble to the top. Or that your heart won’t still be broken along the way. The Collapsing Empire may wear the trappings of a Marvel film, but its heart is Game of Thrones all the way.
An empire spanning billions of citizens and forty-seven systems, Scalzi’s ambitiously imagined distant future Interdependency may not be doing great when it comes to class equality, but it’s on point with gender equality at least. Not only are two of the protagonists three-dimensional, kickass women, I don’t think I’ve ever read a sci-fi novel where women are represented in equal numbers at every level of society. Even the clergy, who in classic Scalzi fashion contain primarily atheists at the upper echelons, are led by a female archbishop.
Kiva Lagos in particular is a fucking delight, and she’d probably demand herself that the expletive be left in. Marce and Cardenia are interesting, rather more conventional heroic types, but Kiva is power moves every time she rocks onto the page. If she doesn’t make it through the series, I will rage.
Scalzi delivers the schemes, the plots, the secrets and the twists in spades, all of it with a serious dose of attitude. If you thought a space opera serving as a cautionary metaphor for climate change had to be all doom and gloom, The Collapsing Empire proves otherwise. Who knew doomsday could be so much fun?