Most people know John Scalzi from his Old Man’s War-series, which focuses on the human race living from war to war in a universe filled with thousands of other species. In March, the first book of his new series was released: The Collapsing Empire. I’ve been really looking forward to this one and got it right on release-day. Sadly, due to some health issues, I couldn’t finish it until a couple of days ago. So, here’s my (rather late) review with lots of spoilers 😉
A quick, spoiler-free tl;dr first, though: The style is pretty similar to Old Man’s War. If you enjoyed these books, you will also like this one. Just be aware that The Collapsing Empire is not as satisfying on its own as Scalzi’s other books were. Rather, you will probably have to read the second book (once it comes out) for most of the story-threads to be finished.
OK, let’s get started! The story of this new The Interdependency series takes place in a universe where humanity has been using a natural phenomenon called “Flow” for the last millennium to achieve faster-the-light travel. The flow is basically a set of space-time tunnels between star systems with each tunnel being one-directional but, usually, if you have a tunnel between systems A and B, you also have one between B and A. There is one system, though, where all human-colonised systems have a connection to: Fittingly called “The Hub”.
All of known-humanity is organised in a society called “The Interdependency” which relies on all systems not being self-supporting and therefore requiring technology and/or material from all the others. This is enforced by certain family-clans that have monopolies on things like certain fruits, ship construction, weapons, and so on. Everything is governed by guilds, a parliament, and an “emperox” (basically an emperor).
The story in this first book is told focusing on three characters:
- The newly appointed emperox, Cardenia Wu-Patrick
- Riva Lagos, heir of the house of Lagos, which has a monopoly on a certain kind of fruit
- Marce Claremont, a flow-physicist
Out of these three, I find Cardenia the most interesting. She never wanted to become emperox but once her step-brother died, she had no choice. She now has to find her way in a strict system filled with intrigues, scheming, and ploys where nothing is as it seems. Supporting her is a “memory room” where the memories of each emperox before her are stored and become accessible through a holographic interface. Outside of that she has little help as her long-time friend and adviser is killed right during her coronation.
On the other end of the spectrum is Marce. He grew up on a backwater-planet called “End”. His father was a friend of the previous emperox and was tasked with scanning the Flow for signs of instability. Now Marce has to inform the new ruler of his and his fathers findings that might have dire consequences for all of humanity. While being technically noble, he is even farther away from the imperial palace and all its pomp than Cardenia, not to mentioned that he has never left his home-planet before.
Somewhere in between these two is perhaps the most entertaining but also the most stereotypical Scalzi-character: Riva Lagos. The heir of the house of Lagos is someone who tries to break cursing-records with every single sentence. Unlike Cardenia she also doesn’t have any reservations about using whatever means necessary to get what she wants. That’s probably the most apparent in your sexual activities throughout the book.
All of these main characters are extremely interesting but also pretty much all side-characters are well-crafted and don’t feel out-of-place or act weirdly. Personally, I’d have loved to see more of Naffa Dolg, Cardenia’s primary adviser and long-time friend, though. Sadly, she was killed quite early in the book; something that was completely unexpected.
The story in which these characters are embedded focuses on a change of the Flow that Marce and his father were predicting. Something like that has happened before (like there is no longer any contact to Earth) but it is not yet completely clear to what extend those predictions are actually correct. At the same time there is a revolution going on on End with Riva’s arch-nemesis-family, the Nohamapetan, being involved in and she just coming onto the scene at the worst possible time. Also this part of the story doesn’t come to a completely satisfactory point with the end of this book. While, at the end, everyone knows that the revolution is organised by the Nohamapetan, if it will have any consequences for all the other systems is unclear.
Technology-wise you learn very little about the universe outside of the existence of the Flow. What kind of weapons are used, how everyone lives, etc. is all only hinted at. I hope, the next book will offer some more details here.
It kind of feels like that The Collapsing Empire might have benefited from another 50 pages or so to perhaps bring all the story threads a tiny bit farther but at the same time also start a few new ones at the end. Right now, there are two:
- What will happen on End with the revolution and all these Marines?
- How will the Interdependency deal with the coming Flow-change?
The back-stories of the main characters seem kind of done, so perhaps we will some new primary ones in the next instalment. This might also be the chance to open up other plots 😊
In general, though, I really enjoyed this first instalment of the The Interdependency series. The universe is exciting and the characters interesting. Combined with John Scalzi’s rather unique style of story-telling and character-design I have really high hopes for the series 😊