It’s been almost two years since The End of All Things was published, and I’ve been jonesing for some new Scalzi. Unfortunately, all The Collapsing Empire has really done is make me want more. It’s like how when you bake a fresh batch of cookies and you eat one hot from the oven, how that one cookie does nothing to curb your craving for cookies. All it makes you want to do is shove five more cookies down your gullet. (Your potentially upset tummy is irrelevant for the purposes of this metaphor.)
All that is to say, yes, Mr. Scalzi, I finished your book, now where are my five sequels? Which, frustrating waiting time aside (inevitable these days if you like genre fiction; sequels, and at least a year in between them, are inescapable in the current publishing climate, where standalone novels are an increasing rarity), I quite enjoyed The Collapsing Empire, though it’s not my favorite Scalzi. That honor remains with Fuzzy Nation, followed closely by Redshirts and Old Man’s War.
As for the book itself, it’s a space opera, and it’s very Scalzi in tone (read: smart-arse, and dialogue heavy). It’s also fun, fast-paced, and just a tad bit thinky. I had a slightly hard time connecting to it emotionally at first because it jumps between more narrators than I’m used to with Scalzi, and I wasn’t sure of the larger shape of the story, but he’s trying to set a galactic stage here, so that larger scale is in the service of worldbuilding, and it soon comes together. By the middle of the book, I was fully into it, and finished the audiobook in several long gulps. (I do enjoy food-based reading metaphors.)
I also ended up really liking the characters: Cardenia Woo, the reluctant new Emperox (gender neutral for emperor) who was never meant to be Emperox; Kiva Lagos, the spoiled, profane and unapologetically sexually enthused daughter of a noble house who becomes embroiled in plots and such; Mars Clermont, the scientist son of another scientist on a mission to bring bad news to the galaxy, and bad guys were a good mix of villainous but not so villainous that it’s ridiculous. No idea on the spelling of any of those names, by the by.
If you have liked Scalzi before, you will like this book. If you have never tried a Scalzi book, this might be a good starting place. It’s sci-fi and it’s space opera, but it’s lighter and humorous in tone, and there isn’t much of a focus on hard science. It’s more of a political sci-fi thriller, if anything, with a nice satirical edge.
I’m really intrigued to see where he takes this collapsing empire conceit. This book was in large part table-setting, introducing us to the world just as it’s about to change forever, and ramping up to what will probably be some pretty big conflicts as the various factions and characters react to the collapse of the mysterious galactic force that makes their lives possible.
As always when Wil Wheaton and Scalzi combine their powers, I highly recommend the audiobook.