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The Collapsing Empire, Interdependency #1
by John Scalzi

Reviewed by Galen Strickland

I debated whether to title this page the same as the novel or use the one for the series, The Interdependency. I went with the latter, even though I might not read the second one, which has already been announced for October. There were several points at which I almost stopped reading. This recently won a Locus award for Best Science Fiction novel, and it is also a finalist for a Hugo. I'm not voting this year, but I did want to sample all the nominees. I have one more novel to go, but at this time, if I was voting, this would be at the bottom of my ballot, maybe even below No Award. YMMV.

I've enjoyed a couple of Scalzi books and stories, but was very disappointed with his 2013 Hugo winner Redshirts, which I compared to bad fan-fiction. The Collapsing Empire reads like a satire on many previous space operas. It's a relatively short book by today's standards, and while it might not have improved things for it to have been longer, at least he could have given more background exposition. There are only a couple of characters I cared anything about, the rest were mere caricatures. The pace and tone varies a lot between chapters, due to how he altered the third-person exposition as it focused on different characters, almost as if the main character in each scene was writing the descriptions as well as the dialog. That's not a negative when Cardenia Wu-Patrick is featured, but irritating when it is Kiva Lagos.

Cardenia is the daughter of Batrin, who in his official capacity as Emperox of the Holy Empire of the Interdependent States and Mercantile Guilds is known as Attavio VI. When we first meet them he is on his death-bed, and shortly after that she ascends to the throne as Grayland II, taking the name of a former emperox at her father's suggestion. She is the eighty-eighth emperox of the House of Wu, which has ruled over the Interdependency for at least a millennium. The empire is spread over a wide area, with most habitats being manufactured, there are only a few places where humans dwell on a planet. All are connected and accessible to each other through the Flow, a concept similar to wormholes, but inadequately described. The House of Wu is on Hub, which boasts the most Flow connections to the other worlds. Hub is gravity-locked to its sun with no rotation, so all living quarters are on the side away from the sun and underground. One of the very few, if not the only, planet capable of sustaining life on its surface is End, named because it was the furthest from Hub. Nothing beyond it has been explored. The crisis which may spell the end of the empire, the collapse, is approaching.

Studies by a Flow physicist indicates the Flow itself will collapse and be unusable, isolating each settlement from the others. No FTL drives, no feasible way to travel between them without the Flow. The empire was named as it was because each enclave was responsible for various manufacturing processes and/or agricultural products, making all dependent on the others for a fully functioning biosphere. Another scientist in the employ of one of the guild houses thinks the Flow patterns will merely shift, closing off some routes and creating new ones. That had happened in the past at least twice, the first occasion being when contact with Earth was lost. Which scientist is correct? To believe one would be to believe it will be every system on its own, which could spell doom for the entire species. The other scenario means power could shift from Hub to End, and some have been manipulating the political situation on End to benefit themselves.

As I previously said, it's a short book, without a resolution for either scenario. The characters that seem the most reliable believe in the Flow collapse theory, which would mean there won't be an empire anymore, so it's anybody's guess how a sequel would play out. The ones who believe in the Flow shift theory are the villains who want to be on top in the new regime. I'd just as soon all of them had been killed off in the first book, but only one (the least culpable) was. The true master-mind behind the plan reminded me of TV show villains whom you think are defeated but they keep coming back somehow. If that is how the series develops, count me out. The Consuming Fire will be released October 16. I'll wait on other reviews before deciding if I'll bother with it, or since I disagree with a lot of other reviews, maybe only if it is also an award finalist.


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