IT’S HUGO TIME!
Which means it’s time for me to tackle the best novel nominees!
The Collapsing Empire is the first instalment in ‘The Interdependency’ series, which is John Scalzi’s take on a space opera. If you’re already a fan of Scalzi’s work, rest assured you’ll probably enjoy this one. All the tonal hallmarks of his previous writing – breezy, minimalist and snarky – are intact. So is his inclination to weave politics into otherwise lighthearted writing.
What’s interesting about this series is that it appears to be a good indicator of the kind of books that likely influenced Scalzi when he was younger. The setting gives off some serious Dune vibes, with a society organised around an Empire with ruling houses (or oligarchs) monopolising various industries. There’s also a touch of Bank’s Culture series as well, especially with the snark and things like ship names.
The other possible influence – and I don’t know if I am stretching here – is Asimov’s Foundation. And I’m put to mind of this because they both deal with involved societies on the brink of decline, with barely anyone knowing about it.
The problem with the society presented in the ‘The Interdependency’ is not one of mathematical sociology but of physics. Points of human habitation within the empire are connected to each other by ‘The Flow’, which allows ships to exceed lightspeed travel. To take advantage of this, humanity has decided to inhabit regions that make the most of favourable flow points, prioritising this over other considerations such as whether the region is capable of independently supporting human life. There is only one part of the empire that is truly habitable by humans – the planet End. The rest have to depend on trade with each other through the flow to remain viable.
Hence ‘The Interdependency’
Now isn’t it a bit of a bugger then to find that the physics of ’The Flow’ is not stable?
The book tips it’s hand very early with all this – it’s in the title, after all. The story instead follows how three different characters learn of what is happening with the Flow, and then sets them up to respond. Marce Claremont is the son of a physicist on End who, on behalf of his father, has been tasked with bringing the bad news of the shifting Flow physics to Emperox Attavio.
It’s a pity the Emperox is recently deceased.
Cardinia Wu-Patrick is Attavio’s recently crowned successor. Who, being his bastard daughter, never expected to take the crown in the first place. So to find that she might have to deal with the very foundation of the interdependency coming apart, inexperienced as she is, a bit of a shit.
The third character, Ship Captain and daughter of one of the oligarchs, Kiva Lagos, is possibly the most Scalzi-ish character Scalzi has ever written. This makes her an absolute riot to read about. She’s foul-mouthed, full of snark and more than willing to use sex to her advantage. And not in a subtle Bene Gesserit sort of way – she will literally fuck-interrogate someone. Kiva seems to have only two broad concerns – how is this change in politics going to affect trade for her house? And how is this going to affect that absolute pack of bastards, her rivals in House Nohamapetan? Otherwise, Kiva has no shits to give.
The Collapsing Empire is a fun read, but it’s really clear by the time you reach the end of the book that it’s mostly set up for a longer story. It’s less contained than Scalzi’s ‘Old Man’s War’ books and more like a pilot episode of a TV series. So don’t go in expecting all the plot points to be resolved.
On the other hand, this means we’re due to get more Scalzi-style rollicking Sci-Fi in the future. And that’s not a bad thing!