Friday, January 26, 2018

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (2017)

About a fourth of the way through, I thought this book was kind of dumb but fun.  The plot was engaging; Scalzi had done a pretty good job of setting up this believable world of an empire in space connected by a “flow” that space ships can travel in and beat the long distances without any  Einsteinian problems.    I still don’t really understand how the “flow” works - but to be completely honest, I don’t really care.  In science fiction there is “science” and there is “fiction” and I’m always much more interested in the fiction part than the science part, as long as the science is plausible and (mostly) believable.  I am pretty sure this is what you would call a “space opera” which to me is always the type of book (or film) that sits neatly with Star Trek and Star Wars - adjacent galaxies in the same universe.  The last science fiction book I read and really enjoyed was Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson, and at no point in that book would Luke Skywalker or Jean Luc Picard fly up in a ship to say in hi or beam aboard.  But the Enterprise could easily dock at “End” or “The Hub” in The Collapsing Empire, and the reader would not even blink.


The big secret in the book is that “The flow” is collapsing - which will eventually lead to the collapse of the empire (hence the title); I realized (and you will too) that this collapse was a sort of metaphor for our own collapsing climate.  In this first book in the series, we don’t yet know the consequences of the collapse (it’s just beginning).  The same as we are living through right now - once we pour through the climate change funnel, what WILL the world look like?

The book feels a bit like Dallas or Dynasty in space, which could be a bad thing isn’t the wrong hands.  But Scalzi is a fun writer; his world building is pretty sound, his characters are soapy and wonderful, his plot engaging.  I think I’ll read book 2, out in Fall 2018.

The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1)The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In 2018, can I still compare a piece of literature or art to Dynasty or Dallas? I expected the very last page to have a door open to reveal J.R. Ewing as the mastermind behind all the drama in the book. This is a night time space opera, with lots of drama and sex and a cast of characters that would feel equally welcome at the helm of a spaceship or shopping at Neiman Marcus with Sue Ellen Ewing (after which they get into a fight and throw one another into a duck pond). I find Scalzi to be enjoyably soapy and pulpy - but there is a needle in the midst of this that pokes the reader and reminds us, soberly, of or our own current “collapsing empire.” Even with (or perhaps especially because of) that bit of a bite, this is still great fun.

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