The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi

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.

John ScalziThis 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.

The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks

Synopsis: “The Culture–a humanoid/machine symbiotic society–has thrown up many great Game Players. One of the best is Jernau Morat Gurgeh, Player of Games, master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel & incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game, a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game and with it the challenge of his life, and very possibly his death.” 

The Player of Games

The Player of Games

The first Culture novel, Consider Phlebas, did a lot of world-building heavy lifting from a Culture antagonistic POV. Having read that previously, this one is allowed to come in and really flesh out the world from a pro-Culture POV, which was really fun. Reading them in order gave a sort of a pros-and-cons approach to their philosophy. We get all of the negative things about the Culture first, and then we start to see the positives in this book.

Big shocker, I really loved it. The complexities of the main character and his occasional slips into apathy and/or something much darker during his experiences playing the game and interacting with the foreign philosophy an actions of the Empire, were handled expertly and really made him feel flesh and blood.

Iain M. BanksUltimately, this story serves as an allegory for — and examination of — the ultimate cause of the baser desires of humanity. The Culture’s philosophy stands in for one possible method that these social terrors might be not only curtailed, but pretty much completely circumvented. Of course, this is a work of fiction, and this philosophy may not work so perfectly in practice. I do think there is at least a little truth to it though, but for it to function in practice we may need access to those pesky ‘unlimited resources’ that the Culture has.

Bottom line, you should read this book. But you should also read Consider Phlebas first. Don’t be an idiot, read the books in publication order. There has never been a series that has ever benefited from being read/watched/listened to in any other order than the order it was published in.

Since I read this back to back with Consider Phlebas, think I’ll read a quick palette cleanser before moving on to Use of Weapons. This is heavy stuff, and I’m exhausted.

The Stars are Legion, by Kameron Hurley

The Stars Are Legion, by Kameron Hurley

The Stars Are Legion, by Kameron Hurley

“We all create the stories we need to survive.”

Synopsis:

Set within a system of decaying world-ships travelling through deep space, this breakout novel of epic science fiction follows a pair of sisters who must wrest control of their war-torn legion of worlds—and may have to destroy everything they know in order to survive.

On the outer rim of the universe, a galactic war has been waged for centuries upon hundreds of world-ships. But these worlds will continue to die through decay and constant war unless a desperate plan succeeds.

Anat, leader of the Katazyrna world-ship and the most fearsome raiding force on the Outer Rim, wants peace. To do so she offers the hand of her daughter, Jayd, to her rival. Jayd has dreamed about leading her mother’s armies to victory her whole life—but she has a unique ability, and that makes her leverage, not a leader. As Anat convinces her to spend the rest of her life wed to her family’s greatest enemy, it is up to Jayd’s sister Zan—with no stomach for war—to lead the cast off warriors she has banded together to victory and rescue Jayd. But the war does not go at all as planned…

In the tradition of The Fall of Hyperion and Dune, The Stars are Legion is an epic and thrilling tale about familial love, revenge, and war as imagined by one of the genre’s most imaginative new writers.

 

This one was, wow, very interesting. I won’t be forgetting this one any time soon. It’s going to be very divisive. It had some interesting pacing, and a couple plot holes, but nothing I can’t overlook. The ideas and resolution were wild as hell, and that is where the novel really shined. It really did feel like it was written during the New Wave era of the late 60s/early 70s; some weird combination between Joanna Russ and Iain M. Banks. I’m thinking of some elements of Matter by Iain M. Banks specifically, but structured more like Consider Phlebas.

None of the characters are likable in any way, but that’s a good thing. They’re not meant to be your friends, they’re meant to be brutal. There’s a goal that a few factions are trying to reach, and I found myself not particularly caring who achieved it in the end, because everyone seemed to me to be equally shitty. Honestly, it’s more realistic that way. I really liked that.

Kameron Hurley

Kameron Hurley

There is just a metric fuck-ton of gore and blood and nasty, disturbing, bizarre shit in this thing. People eating their deformed babies, guns that fire squid-like creatures for ammo, organic ships with asexually reproducing characters who birth whatever the ship needs at that moment. It’s wild stuff, really interesting.

I really enjoyed the decision to not elaborate too much on the world building for the readers sake, it’s just presented to you, and a lot of it is weird as hell, but you sort of feel it out and figure it out as you go along. A few of the characters took way too long to discover basic things that I thought were glaringly obvious to the reader, and the prose was just okay, but the story is just wild and huge and definitely worth checking out.