Scalzi is accessible science fiction, and this is Scalzi (the storyteller) at his best. He’s improved at structuring a story over the years, and this is more evidence to support that claim. You can tell how much fun he’s having writing a space opera in a universe very separate from the Old Man’s War series. My one complaint would be with Scalzi’s prose, and only because I know he can do better than this. See the codas at the end of Redshirts, or the novella The Sagan Diary for perfect examples of just how good his prose can be when he really goes for it).
Very much the first book in a series, The Collapsing Empire resolves the main plot expertly while simultaneously paving the way for a lot more stories that will undoubtedly come. This series really feels like it has legs. There is a lot of stuff going on here, and I need at least 3-4 more books in this universe.
This is basically Scalzi’s Dune. Several powerful houses competing for power and resources, an Emperox (Emperor) that control a planet called Hub, which resides at the epicenter of The Flow, a trade network of one-directional interstellar wormholes that humanity found a thousand years ago, religion and politics intertwined, etc. Using The Flow we branched out into the galaxy and started living in some areas that were not so hospitable. Each colony is dependent on the others for resources they do not have available locally. So what happens if this network doesn’t always function the way it has in the past? What happens if Hub isn’t always where all paths in The Flow lead?
With the exception of a fantastic interlude, the story is told through the point of view of three main characters (and mostly through dialogue): a representative of a powerful family aboard a trade ship, a Flow physicist living in the ass end of the empire, and the new Emperox who didn’t ask for, and doesn’t want the job or the responsibilities it entails.
The allusions to the impending issue of Climate Change are apparent, but not so heavy handed that it becomes preachy. I enjoyed it a lot, and I’ll definitely be checking out the next ones in the series. Still, I know that Scalzi can write more elegant prose, and it would drastically improve his novels if he did.
Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible — until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.
Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war — and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.
The Flow is eternal — but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals — a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency — are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.