The Collapsing Empire

August 11, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

rmpitrThe Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

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In the future, we’ve conquered space travel not by exceeding the speed of light or by using suspended animation, or using wormholes or anything like that. No, instead we discovered The Flow, an odd, barely-understood quirk of physics that allows ships to travel from one solar system to another in a span of months. It’s been there for a thousand years, and save for a couple of minor quirks along the way, it’s held up well, and people expect it to hold up until the end of time.

The problem is that The Flow is failing. Few people have spent time studying it, but those who have predict The Flow will begin collapsing, one route at a time, until all the systems connected by it will be left to their own devices. Considering that none of these systems are self-sufficient and that,, for a thousand years, these systems have built up an interdependency with one another, it means that these systems will all begin dying once they’re stranded. And the people who have studied the Flow believe that the collapse will begin in a matter of months.

Thus begins The Collapsing Empire, the first book in The Interdependency, John Scalzi’s latest science fiction series. Unlike Old Man’s War, though, this is a book written with the intent of being a series, so the first book is an introduction to The Flow, the complex dependencies that exist among the systems, and the wide range of characters that create the drama to carry the story. That’s not to say the book is just exposition; there’s a central conflict, a mystery to be solved, and Scalzi, in true form, creates a good one. It’s important to note, though, that you’re not going to get all of your questions answered in this one book, because aside from building a world where the major conflict is just getting started, Scalzi also ends the book on a cliffhanger.

I’ve seen this book described as a “space opera”, which is … interesting. I’m not entirely sure if I could define space opera, but The Collapsing Empire isn’t it. Alastair Reynolds? James S.A. Corey? Sure (with the caveat being that I haven’t read anything by these authors; they’re just who come to mind when I hear “space opera”). But The Collapsing Empire? Well, it’s engaging and compelling, full of realistic characters, and has a complex, realized plot, but it’s just not a space opera.

Already-fans of Scalzi’s should love this book, as would any new reader with a fancy for a strong, well-told science fiction story. It’s not at the level of, say, The Broken Earth or Children of Time, but Scalzi doesn’t write stories like that, anyway, and I don’t think he’s ever pretended to. The Collapsing Empire is a solid piece of work, well worth the time for anyone to read it.

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