The Collapsing Empire (4 stars)
I read (and reviewed) this back in 2017, but had forgotten it when I tried reading its follow-up back at the end of last year. So, I put off reading book 2 until I could go back and re-read this. And here we are.
These books take place far in humanity’s future. We’ve left earth and colonized parts of the galaxy using something called “the flow”, which is a system of highways or rivers that allow us to cross the stars in a reasonably short period of time. They’re kind of like wormholes, I guess, but are never called that. However, the disparate collection of settlements have lost contact with earth, as the flow streams apparently shift every once in awhile – stranding any community that is cut off from everyone else. What is left is known as the Interdependency: a vast empire of communities so intertwined with one another that they can’t exist on their own. At its core is Hub, home to the emperox.
He, by the way, is about to die. And when his presumed heir predeceases him, the throne passes to his daughter – who had heretofore not expected to have anything to do with running the galaxy.
Throw into this mix an exiled scientist with secret knowledge of the flow stream collapse, and we’re left with a soup of high stakes world building. John Scalzi is the shit, yo.
As I read this book, my memory of its plot came back pretty easily. The characters are as delightful as Scalzi’s characters typically are, and the plot bounced along without too much lag. I especially liked the foul-mouthed Kiva, who I want to be friends with, but would probably be intimidated by. But I couldn’t help feeling that this book was really just an introduction to the themes and world that Scalzi has created. The real meat of this story probably lies in its sequels.
I’m okay with that – but it made me want to jump ahead. Not so badly that I actually did jump ahead – because this book was fun – but still. The feeling was there.
Like I said, I’ve reviewed this already. And I wrote the above without refreshing my memory of that review, so as to hold on to some theoretically pristine version of my opinion. [Proceeds to read my first review.] Well, it looks like I pretty much wrote the same damn thing the last time. Good going, me.
The Consuming Fire
Read as part of CBR Bingo: Reading the TBR
Also, it’s unmistakably about how humanity deals with the consequences of its progress. Namely: climate change.
A common thread throughout the history in these books is that people haven’t come to terms with the basic fact that the Flow – upon which everyone is dependent – is not a static transportation system. It is susceptible to sudden and irreversible changes which can leave entire star systems cut off from the rest of humanity. It has happened at least once in the memory of the Interdependency. But the possibility of it happening again is beyond imagination.
The link between this conflict and the very real climate change issue we are all facing (or ignoring) is unmistakable. I’ve seen other reviewers take Scalzi to task over his soap boxing….but, I mean, come on. Wanting to remove the worldview of an author is like looking for lack of bias in reporting. When people are writing about something, they can’t help but do so from the perspective in which they view the world. How can anyone expect an author to divorce themselves from the context in which their thoughts exist, and why would anyone want to read such an impersonal creation?
Whether you agree with his politics or not, I don’t see how Scalzi can be criticized for presenting the conflict, here. I mean, people will look at a fact and that is unmistakable and find a reason to ignore it. People don’t vaccinate their kids. People call themselves pro-life while supporting war. People deny evolution and climate change because those truths are inconvenient for their already held beliefs. We are not objective and perfectly rational beings.
That’s the theme that Scalzi is tackling. Yes, he also probably wants to shake large swathes of humanity and scream that our planet is dying – but I think what he’s writing about is the need to do that, not the actual perspective he wants to scream into the void.
And, in any case, this series doesn’t seem overly proselytizing to me. Willful ignorance is a problem, and it is presented as such, but I don’t think its given center stage. John Scalzi is simply too good of a writer to make such an elementary error.
Anyway. Read these books. You probably will if you’ve read Scalzi before. If you haven’t, then you absolutely should at some point. (But maybe start with Redshirts)