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SPOILER ALERT!

In the middle

The Collapsing Empire - John Scalzi

Our universe is ruled by physics. Faster than light travel is impossible—until the discovery of The Flow, an extradimensional field available at certain points in space-time, which can take us to other planets around other stars.

Riding The Flow, humanity spreads to innumerable other worlds. Earth is forgotten. A new empire arises, the Interdependency, based on the doctrine that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war—and, for the empire’s rulers, a system of control.

The Flow is eternal—but it’s not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well. In rare cases, entire worlds have been cut off from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that the entire Flow is moving, possibly separating all human worlds from one another forever, three individuals—a scientist, a starship captain, and the emperox of the Interdependency—must race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

 

Review:

Dear John Scalzi,

I had discovered your Tweeter feed and you blog maybe couple years ago, but am not very familiar with your books. I have read one and a half of them and listened to your audio novella “Dispatcher” which was probably my favorite.

This book sounded so much like my cup of tea that I dropped $12.99 on it without hesitation. Do I regret doing so? Yes and no, but let’s start from the beginning.

The story starts with the bang; right in the prologue we get to observe the mutiny on the board of the spaceship. Apparently second officer got offered a lot of money for the shipment they were transporting so hey, why not turn on the captain and those in the crew which refused to switch their loyalty, kill bunch of people and get rich in the process?

Right before the mutineers almost win, the ship faces little problem – apparently they cannot get into Flow.   I thought Flow was masterfully introduced while so much action was taken place. I am still no entirely sure what Flow actually is, but this description worked well  enough for me for the purposes of reading this book – space ships in this world cannot apparently travel faster than light between the planets and planetary systems unless they travel in the Flow.

"There is no faster-than-light travel. But there is the Flow. The Flow, generally described to laypeople as the river of alternate space-time that makes faster-than-light travel possible across the Holy Empire of the Interdependent States and Mercantile Guilds, called “the Interdependency” for short. The Flow, accessible by “shoals” created when the gravity of stars and planets interacts just right with the Flow, to allow ships to slip in and ride the current to another star. The Flow, which ensured the survival of humanity after it had lost the Earth, by allowing trade to thrive between the Interdependency, assuring that every human outpost would have the resources they’d need to survive—resources that almost none of them would have had on their own."

So, this Holy Empire or Interdependency for short as the previous passage tells us was the setting of the story. In the first book we are introduced to Cardenia, heir to the dying Ruler a/k/a Emperox of the Interdependency who really does not want to be an Emperox after her father dies, but who does not seem to have any other choice but step up to the plate and her plate already appears to be full and she is not even an Emperox yet.

When she will become an Emperox her hands will become fullER. The blurb introduces us to one of the main if not the main problems she will have to deal with, so I will talk about it a little bit. See, without Flow connecting different parts of Interdependency together, Cardenia may not have an Empire to rule eventually and it had been discovered that access to Flow from one planet to another had been disappearing.  It already happened couple of times before and certain scientists ( very few of them as the book begins ) calculated that soon it will happen more and more often and after limited amount of years the whole Empire may collapse.

Will Cardenia learn about possible Flow collapse in order to save as many of her people as possible or will she remain blissfully ignorant? I will leave it up to you to find out.

Cardenia is of course not the only character being introduced to us, there were quite a few of them. As an aside I really appreciate so many interesting female characters and most of them playing very important roles in the story.

I really appreciated villains in the story – they shall remain nameless for the fear of spoilers, but I thought it was very well done how while I did not find any redeeming qualities in them (I do not know what is coming of course but not in this book for sure), I still did not think they were caricatures. They wanted power more than anything else and power tends to corrupt, so I bought their motivations.

I did like how the world was introduced as well – in the dialogue instead of long descriptions. There were *some* descriptions of course but I did not feel like book dropped a lot of info dump on me.

There was one female character I really hated and I get a feeling she was not supposed to be a villain. Lady Kila was , eh something else. Understand this please - I tend to despise male characters like her a great deal and making the character a female, well annoyed me even more. So since I am going to quote some parts from the chapter she was first introduced, let me start from my first gripe with her. Kila loves sex, or as she would say she loves fucking. Excellent I would normally say, female character who loves sex and not being shamed for it by the narrative, quite the contrary.

Except and that’s a pretty big except for me I did not find that her sexual partners which we witness her being with were *very willing* to get into her bed. No, we do not see her dragging them in the bed, but in the part I am going to quote momentarily I thought it was hinted pretty clearly that the guy was not happy being where he was and her convincing the next guy, was also weird to me.

Amusingly the only guy who was shown to be completely ready and willing went into her bed for his own purposes. But in any event, here is Lady Kila when we first meet her.

"Kiva Lagos was busily fucking the brains out of the assistant purser she’d been after for the last six weeks of the Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby’s trip from Lankaran to End when Second Officer Waylov Brennir entered her stateroom, unannounced. “You’re needed,” he said. “I’m a little busy at the moment,” Kiva said. She’d just finally gotten herself into a groove, so fuck Waylov (not literally, he was awful) if she was going to get out of the groove just because he walked into it. Grooves were hard to come by. People have sex, and he was unannounced. If this was what he walked into, it was his fault, not hers. The assistant purser seemed a little concerned, but Kiva applied a little pressure to make it clear festivities were to continue."

"You’re the owner’s representative. You’re going to have to explain to your mother why this trip was the cause of the financial ruin of your family. So perhaps you might like to join Captain Blinnikka in talking with this customs official right now to see if you can resolve this problem. Or you can just go on fucking that junior crew member, ma’am. I’m sure those are equivalent activities as regards your future, and the future of this ship, and your family.” “Well, shit,” Kiva said. Her groove was definitely gone, and the assistant purser, her little project, looked pretty miserable at the moment. “That was a pretty impressive jab you just gave to someone who can fire your ass, Brennir.”

Obviously opinions differ, I could not stand her after this and my distaste only kept growing. I think she was well drawn do not  get me wrong – there are plenty of people in this world who would do anything to increase their profits  and would bury their morals deep so the world would never see them, so  I understood her well, I just could not relate to her in the slightest.

Of course last comment I want to make about Kila is to comment on her use of profanity. You know, I often tend to roll my eyes at the reviews of the books, which would say oh great book but use of profanity ruined it for me. I always want to ask them, really?!  If the character curses because it makes sense for the story I am all for it, but Kila was using it so often, that if I were to hear one more “fucking” I wanted to curse back at her.

So yes, I had an intense negative reaction to Kila, but I do not lower my grade if I just did not like something as opposed to something did not work for me.

Here is my main reason for the grade. I understand that this is a first book in the series and honestly as much as I hate cliffhangers, I would never begrudge the author their right to use it. But when I finished the book, I felt that as much as set up was done very well amongst the action and we got to know the players, that’s all there was to the story. Nothing was resolved, absolutely nothing. The book has a lot of political scheming so let’s compare it with the chess party. I feel like by the end of the book the parties made two, maybe three moves and that’s it.

For 12.99 I wanted more resolution.

Grade B-