Review: The Collapsing Empire

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can’t believe I waited so long to read this book, it’s so great. The quick summary: Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series meets the family competition dynamics of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Interesting to read at the same time as The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Both books use the idea of segregated resource management as a form of control. In Hunger Games’ Panem it’s each district being in charge of a particular resource. In The Interdependency it’s each family guild controlling a resource.

The book’s got a great cast of characters, especially Kiva Lagos who’s foul-mouthed and as cunning as any Lannister in A Song of Ice and Fire. Then there are the Nohamepetans who’ve got Grini (sorry about the spelling, I mostly listened to the audiobook on a long trip with my father) who reminds me a lot of Littlefinger (again from ASOIAF) (in many ways).

The book is segmented into three parts, each ending with a major reveal. Part 1 is about The Interdependency. Part 2 is about the plot that the book revolves around. Part 3 is about the consequences of that plot and a great setup for the next book.

Scalzi is being Scalzi and creating a good outer space SF universe. This time around he’s obeying the laws of physics for the universe – there is no FTL travel. Unlike Star Wars or Ender’s Game there’s also no FTL communications. This provides some great plot points that we’ve mostly lost on Earth since the communications age made it possible to spread information around the globe instantaneously. Instead, even with The Flow – basically worm holes – there’s travel time required on the order of months. People on any given planet can be operating on old information, allowing for lots of tension and Scalzi uses it well. The novel has plenty of racial representation – ie it’s not just caucasians in space – although it’s mostly limited to Asian and Indian surnames as culture has changed so much from present day as to not really matter in the way the characters behave. That said, Scalzi has a device in the Wu chapters that makes the Asian idea of talking to and getting advice from your dead ancestors real in a science fiction way. I’ve seen the idea explored in some short stories and I think he does a good idea here. There are also numerous important female main characters. Not being female myself, I’ll leave it to others to say whether Scalzi did a good job there. That said, this is one of the few times I’ve read a story that acknowledges the fact that women have menstrual cycles. It’s half the population and something they have to do monthly for a good chunk of their lives. I shared the section with my wife and she was impressed with the passage and thought a woman had written it.

If you like Scalzi, you’ll likely love this (although you have to be OK with profanity as the Kiva chapters are LOADED with them. If you don’t like Scalzi, you probably won’t like it since it’s Scalzi doing what Scalzi does best. If you’re not sure, give it a shot. I think it works very well as an updated Foundation plot. (Although with Apple TV coming out with a Foundation TV show, I wonder if that hurts the chances of an Interdependency Show)

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