If you have previously enjoyed books written by John Scalzi, I am certain you will quite like The Collapsing Empire. It is Scalzi writing at his best. The members of the World Science Fiction Society agree with me and it is nominated for Best Novel (Scalzi has previously won for Red Shirts).
If you have never read anything by him, here are the reasons I look forward to his books. Scalzi has a great sense of humor and this shines in his writing. I tend to laugh out loud when reading his books, more so than any other author. His settings have women occupying every role within society and a fairly balanced ratio of female to male characters. He doesn’t write “strong” women, the females in his novels are fully developed. Characters’ genders are not immediately presented when they are introduced, it comes as secondary information through dialog. If you are looking for vivid visual depictions of characters, lush descriptions of settings, or minutiae about meals you are looking for a different author. However if you appreciate a streamlined narrative that rides on dialog and action you are in the right book. The Collapsing Empire is all these things.
This is a new setting for Scalzi. Faster than light travel has been made possible, not through the ingenuity of man but by a natural space phenomena called the Flow. In simplest terms the Flow is a river of alternate space time. You can hop into the Flow from a shoal, ride a current and, weeks to months later, pop out in another section of the galaxy, traveling distances that would be impossible otherwise. Humanity has spread extensively from ancient Earth, which through a quirk of the Flow was left behind in ages past. To ensure the survival of humans the Holy Empire of the Interdependent States and Mercantile Guilds (Interdependency for short) was created. This assured that all human outposts would have the resources necessary for survival but also created guild houses that control entire industries.
The interdependency has hummed along for a thousand plus years with the Emperox overseeing all. The Wu dynasty has held the title of Emperox since the founding of the Interdependency. The mantle of Emperox is about to pass to the unprepared, recently declared heir, Cardenia Wu-Patrick. Her job is about to become a lot harder than just ruling the galaxy when she is made aware of fluctuations in the Flow. Physicists, Lord Claremont and his son Marce, have confirmed that the Flow is shifting. Planets will become cut off, forever, and the Interpendency will be ripped apart.
Others secretly know this information and are acting for their own best interest. Houses jockey for position, leveraging power through their guilds and angling to connect with the Emperox through marriage. All the while, unbeknownst to the billions of humans in the 48 systems of the Interdependency, collapse of their empire is already beginning.
The Collapsing Empire was written during the 2016 election cycle. When knowledge of the change of the Flow starts to get out, there is immediate denial of facts, which feels eerily similar to what has been and is happening in our current society.
I’m continually confronted with the human tendency to ignore or deny facts until the last possible instant. And then for several days after that, too”.
This is the first book in what is going to be at least a two part series. The sequel, The Consuming Fire, is coming out this October, 2018 and I am eager to find out what happens next!