The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi. Tor Books. 372 pages.
John Scalzi is a very good writer. I thoroughly enjoyed his award-winning and bestselling book Old Man’s War, which really put his name on the map as far as science fiction writers. This book, The Collapsing Empire, is an example of a book that was picked up based on an author’s reputation—well, that and the fact that it got some pretty good reviews.
Here’s the back cover copy:
Riding the Flow, an extradimensional field available at certain points in space-time, humanity spreads to innumerable planets through the universe. A new empire arises, the Interdependency, maintaining its control based on the doctrine that no one human outpost can survive without the others.
But just as a river changes course, the Flow changes as well. In rare cases, entire worlds have been cut off from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that the entire Flow is moving, possibly separating all human worlds from one another forever, three individuals—a scientist, a starship captain, and the emperox of the Interdependency—must race against time to discover what can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.
In equal parts irreverent and perceptive, The Collapsing Empire is a robust adventure brimming with unforgettable characters, imperial politics, and an impending interstellar crisis.
So that’s the gist of the story. First, the good:
Scalzi is really good at two things: he’s inherently funny in his stories. He doesn’t have to try hard to include levity in what otherwise might be a very heavy story. And that’s good. It makes for enjoyable reading.
Second, this includes some very good characterization. You really start identifying with the starship captain (who is a hoot, by the way), the scientist and the emperox. Like I said, he’s a good writer.
Now, the challenge: I found that this book included a lot more palace intrigue than I usually find interesting. Lots of behind-the-scenes politics. It slowed it down for me a bit, but if you like that kind of thing, it should be really enjoyable.
It’s a fascinating premise, well written, and I probably at one time or another will buy part two of the story. But I was caught off guard about how much politics were in the story.
I give it four stars out of five.