Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Book Review: The Collapsing Empire

The Collapsing Empire
John Scalzi
Science fiction

This reads exactly like a political space opera written by John Scalzi. Which it is.

What, you wanted more in the way of a review? Fine. The Collapsing Empire combines John Scalzi's strengths and weaknesses as a writer with the strengths and weaknesses of the political-intrigue space opera as a genre. If you like these two things, you'll like the combination.

That's still not enough for you? Okay, here's the checklist. The Collapsing Empire has:
  • Funny, snarky dialogue.
  • A great opening scene, which is unfortunately a little bit disconnected from what follows.
  • Intrigue, politics, a scheming villain, several reasonably-appealing protagonists.
  • Adequate but shallow characterization.
  • Less idea content than in a typical Scalzi book. The best idea--build an interstellar empire that stays peaceful because no planet in it has the resources to survive without the others, due to legal monopolies--isn't really built out.
  • A bit of action.
  • A strong whiff of Dune--not in the setting or in the writing, but in the machinations. (Look what I found after having drafted that sentence.)
  • A 34th-century setting in which the characters are nonetheless recognizably people like us.
  • A lot of profanity.
  • Some non-explicit sex.
  • Infodumps.
  • Not much in the way of description. I have no clear idea of what the characters look like, for example.
  • Quick pacing.
  • A story with a beginning, middle, and end, but one which is nonetheless unmistakably setup for the main story.
I read half the book riding a train to work, and the other half riding a train home. I'll read the next one. The Collapsing Empire isn't the strongest of Scalzi's novels. On the other hand, it scratches the itch for Classic Style Science Fiction, and that's good enough for me.

For a somewhat different reaction, look here.


  1. Did the infrastructure part (I mentioned in my review) not bother you?

    1. Not really.

      (Trivial spoilers ahead.)

      It seemed evident to me that the Interdependency was at the mercy of the Flow. They found 47 systems they could get to, and colonized them. The fact that those systems weren't terribly human-friendly wasn't a worry because their tech was high enough to cope. It's not that they didn't want Earthlike worlds; it's that they couldn't find them.

      This leaves aside the question of why go into space in the first place, I admit. I thought about that fora few seconds and then decided to just go with it.

    2. Yeah, I just couldn't get over it. Sure, having a wormhole network out in the galaxy is great, but unless there is a really good reason to go there, nobody would. You can just as easily (actually much more easily) just stay in your home system and build habitats.

      I guess I'm too unforgiving, needing the politics and economy of a political and economic epic to make more sense. It's the premise of the book after all.

    3. Well, I could justify it. They discover the Flow. They send out explorers, maybe found a few outposts. Then the Flow moves away from Earth. What do you do? Explore or die.

      My questions were more along the lines of: why stop at 47 worlds? Does the Flow end there, or is nine months of travel as far as anyone can stand, or was there a political decision that that's enough?

    4. One last point then I will leave it alone. You said, "their tech was high enough to cope." I agree. So there isn't any fear that the systems wouldn't survive the end of the Flow. Sure, they'll be separated, but they could survive on their own. So it is sad, yes, but not the end of the world (or 47 worlds).

      I got the impression that they only had access to the 47 worlds.

    5. This is what I mean about the idea of the Interdependency being cool, but underdeveloped. The whole political system is designed from the ground up to ensure that the individual worlds can't survive on their own. The monopolies are a way of enforcing that. It's not just haverfruit. If you want repairs to your oxygen plant, you have to deal with some monopoly on some other planet. And if they want your computers, they have to deal with you.

      Hence, the empire's stability: no internal wars and no challenges to the ruling family. It's hard to go to war when by doing so you cut yourself off from whatever vital resource your enemy happens to monopolize.

      Agree that they only have access to the 47 worlds, but why? Does the Flow just end there? Is everything else too far away? Are there sharks? Inquiring minds want to know.