REVIEW: The Collapsing Empire (Interdependency #1) by 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.
Dear John Scalzi,
I discovered your Twitter feed and your blog a couple of years ago, but I am not familiar with all of your books. I have read one and a half of them and listened to the audio of your 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 a bang; right in the prologue we get to observe a mutiny on board a spaceship. Apparently the second officer was offered a lot of money for the shipment they were transporting, so hey, why not turn on the captain and those crew who remained loyal, kill a bunch of people and get rich in the process?
But before the mutineers can win, the ship faces a little problem – they cannot get into the Flow. I thought the Flow was masterfully introduced while so much action was taking place. I am still not entirely sure what Flow actually is, but this description worked well enough for me for the purposes of reading this book: spaceships in this world cannot travel faster than light between 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 provides the setting for the story. In the first book of the series we are introduced to Cardenia, heir to the dying Ruler a/k/a Emperox of the Interdependency. She really does not want to be Emperox after her father dies but has no choice but to step up to the plate, even though her plate already appears to be full.
When she becomes Emperox her plate will become even fuller. The blurb introduces us to one of the main problems she will have to deal with, so I will talk about it a little bit. Without the Flow connecting different parts of the Interdependency together, Cardenia may not have an Empire to rule eventually, and it has been discovered that access to the Flow has been disappearing. It has happened a couple of times and a small group of scientists calculate that soon it will happen more and more often, and after some years the whole Empire could collapse.
Will Cardenia learn about this possible Flow collapse and work 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 not the only character being introduced to us, there are quite a few other players. As an aside, I really appreciate that there are so many interesting female characters and most of them play very important roles in the story.
I also appreciated the way the villains in the story were depicted – they shall remain nameless to avoid spoilers, but I thought it was very well done. While I did not find any redeeming qualities in them in this installment, I did not think they were caricatures. They wanted power more than anything else and power tends to corrupt, so I bought their motivations.
I liked how the world was introduced as well – in the dialogue instead of through long descriptions. There were *some* descriptions, of course, but I did not feel the book dropped a lot of infodumps on me.
There was one female character I really hated even though I don’t think she was supposed to be a villain. Lady Kiva was something else. Understand this, please, readers – I tend to despise male characters like her a great deal and making the character a female, well, it annoyed me even more. I am going to quote some parts from the chapter where she was first introduced, so let me start with my first gripe about her. Kiva loves sex, or as she would say, she loves fucking. Excellent! I would normally say, because I want to read about a female character who loves sex, especially when she is not being shamed for it by the narrative.
*Except*, and this is a pretty big exception for me, I did not believe her sexual partners were *very willing* to get into her bed. We do not see her dragging them there, but in the part I am about to quote I thought it was hinted pretty clearly that the guy was not happy being where he was, and the way she convinced 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 Kiva 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 will differ, but I could not stand her after this and my distaste only kept growing. Don’t get me wrong, I think she was well drawn – there are plenty of people in this world who will do anything to increase their profits and bury their morals deep so the world will never see them. I understood her well, I just could not relate to her in the slightest.
The last comment I want to make about Kiva is to comment on her use of profanity. You know, I often roll my eyes at book reviews which say, “it’s a great book but the 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 Kiva was using it so often that I got to the point that one more “fucking” made me want to curse back at her.
So yes, I had an intense negative reaction to Kiva, but I would not lower my grade if I just did not like something, as opposed to something in the book did not work for me.
Here is my main reason for the grade. I understand that this is the first book in a series, and honestly, as much as I hate cliffhangers, I would never begrudge the author their right to use them. But when I finished the book, I felt that although the setup 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 to a chess match. I would say that by the end of the book the players had made two, maybe three moves, and that’s it.
For 12.99 I wanted more resolution.