The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Collapsing Empire is my most recent read and I will say it was a thoroughly entertaining one. This book is a perfect demonstration of how tastes change, for me at least. If somebody had told me five years ago that I’d be reading a sci fi book, with some sort of space craft on the front cover and a wide ranging political space opera to boot I would have snorted, literally snorted, with amusement! And yet here I sit proven wrong and not ashamed to admit it.
Basically, at heart I’m the sort of person who expects to be overwhelmed by the sci fi elements of the book. I just think they’ll go rushing over my head at the speed of light leaving a vacuum, a black hole, where comprehension should sit. Not so with Collapsing Empire. This book is not only understandable and accessible in terms of the sci fi elements but it’s also clever and complex enough in the plot to actually make me come away feeling pretty damn pleased with myself. So, not only a good read, good characters, intriguing plot and understandable sci fi but general good feelings of smartypantedness which in my opinion = win:win. Okay, I’ll write a review then!
Basically – the clue to this book is in the title. Humans have travelled and broadened their horizons in a massive way, thereby creating an empire. In this book people live on planets that are not only dangerous to their lives but are so uninhabitable that they require all sorts of support in order to sustain them. And yet, here they are living upon planets that are so far flung that it can take months or longer to get from one to the other. Why, choose these planets? Because they’re easily accessible by The Flow. Described as a river I like to think of The Flow as being a series of conveyor belts, like in an airport for example, you stand on them (or in this case surround yourself in a protective bubble and travel in them) and you’re transported along in a kind of one way system. All these conveyor belts converge around a planet known as The Hub, the spaghetti junction of conveyor belts where The Flows meet, pass through and continue round in a circuitous, one way route. One huge merry go round of accessible planets. Well, until anything happens to The Flow that is and history has already shown that The Flow can sometimes change direction – leaving a planet and it’s millions of inhabitants stranded in space.
The empire has created a way of living known as the interdependency where each planet provides necessary provisions to the other planets to help them all survive. A system that by it’s very interdependent nature helps to prevent war, although it doesn’t stop political manoeuvring and civil wars. At the centre of the hub is the Emperox, descendant of the original family that created the system that now governs all the planets. As the story begins, many changes are afoot. A new Emperox is about to take up office, a scientist on the furthest planet, known as End, is about to uncover data that could spell disaster for the empire, and a high ranking family are taking steps to position themselves to take power.
That’s all I’m going to say about the plot. The rest you need to read about and uncover for yourselves. It certainly is an intriguing story and it had me gripped so I don’t want to spoil the fun.
So, what else did I enjoy about this book. The characters. I really liked the characters. We have Kiva – a daughter from one of the more important families, currently captaining a ship carrying cargo to End – Kiva, well I just found her a bit of a riot. She curses up a storm, she’s refreshingly no nonsense, she made me laugh, she has no shame and I loved that about her. We all enjoy the lovable rogues – well, here we have Kiva, the Hanna Solo of this particular space opera. She’d no doubt sell her granny to the highest bidder but she’d also, no doubt, have a plan to steal her back when nobody was looking. Put bluntly she’s one of the goodies of the plot. We have Cardenia. The new Emperox. Cardenia, being the younger sibling finds herself in a position she never wanted or expected when her brother dies in an accident. Cardenia hasn’t been brought up with this role in mind and yet now finds herself at the centre of everything, used as a political bargaining tool. I liked her, she’s not been raised to this but having been thrown into the hot bed she’s making the best of it. Marse is the young scientist, a bookish type of character. His task is to convince everyone about the possible changes in the flow. And then we have the baddies – the family of Nohamapetan. They’re basically a bunch of scheming manipulators who will resort to just about anything in their pursuit of power. Don’t you just love a totally machiavellian type baddie.
I enjoyed the writing. It’s very easy to get along with. The opening is really excellent and the author also uses a couple of interludes to bring the reader uptodate with certain elements – I really enjoyed this way of providing information to be honest.
I think in terms of criticisms, the only thing that really stood out for me was a slight feeling of maybe things being a little bit rushed when moving from End to Hub – although I can appreciate that the author didn’t want to go into a long narrative about the ships exploits in space – this could have been a very unweildy book in that event. It just felt a bit surprising when Marse reached his final destination so quickly.
This is undoubtedly the set up for a series but for me it didn’t have that set up feel – well, okay, it sort of did feel like a set up for future books but not in a bad way as the story stacks up well and ends on a very promising note.
I can’t wait for the next instalment – I suppose patience is a virtue although it’s not my most winning attribute.
I received a copy courtesy of the publisher for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.