Humans have migrated into space and lost contact with Earth. They live now in an Empire they call The Interdependancy. There is no faster than light travel, the laws of physics forbid it. There is the Flow. The Flow isn’t well understood, but it has pathways, and those paths allow ships to travel between planets in months rather than years or centuries. The Empire is called The Interdependency because it is deliberately designed so that each colony depends on the others to survive. Each colony relies on the Flow to connect them and the Flow is about to shift. The Interdependency is about to collapse.
After the Prologue, which is highly entertaining, we meet the main characters over a few chapters. Our main p.o.v. characters are Cardenia Wu-Parker, who is unexpectedly about to become the emperox of The Interdependency; Kiva Lagos, the profane daughter/representative of a powerfulish trade guild; Marse Claremore, a physicist; and Ghreni Nohamapetan, a member of the book’s antagonist family. It’s a very small universe.
In the words of another space opera that worked through the political issues we face on Earth, “all of this has happened before and all of it will happen again.” When Cardenia gains access to the emperox’s memory room (an information dump device that works wonderfully well), she learns that the Flow is collapsing, and that streams of the Flow have collapsed before. She also learns that the politicians and guild families that run the empire refused to act in ways and for reasons that will sound very familiar to us. At the other end of The Interdependency, Ghreni Nohamapetan is making problems for everyone else, complicating lives already complicated by a civil war. Ghreni’s machinations, and Kiva and Manse’s attempts to thwart him, drive a lot of the plot for a good chunk of the book.
So yeah, Scalzi is working through the politics of addressing Climate Change through a space opera. There isn’t a lot of science in the book, but there is an obvious love of the scientific method. The primary plot driver is political machinations. Different groups are jockeying for power and influence, leaving the systems that keep humanity alive vulnerable. Under all the plotting, Scalzi’s rage at people who put power and money over concern for the fate of humanity comes shining through. That anger adds bite and substance to a fun read.
At the end of the epilogue, I was shaking my fist at John Scalzi because the next book isn’t scheduled for publication until 2019.
Spoiler: I’ve noted before that Scalzi’s primary male protagonists tend towards Mary Sue-ness, or at the very least, all the women want to fuck him. With the story so spread out over so many p.o.v. characters, that trait was hidden until almost the end. When the second primary female protagonist began thinking about fucking Marse, I had to stop the audiobook and laugh. I like the book, but these things have to be acknowledged.