I’m glad The Collapsing Empire was not the first Scalzi book I read, as I may have written him off entirely. The Old Man’s War series was full of fun sci-fi ideas, with the backdrop of an exciting intergalactic war. Conversely, The Collapsing Empire is mostly just boring.
The Interdependency is a human-only empire that long since left our fledgling galaxy via the Flow, a series of connected space-highways that allow for relatively short travel over vast distances of space. The empire exists in a medieval caste system, with powerful noble families ruling over everyone, and the admittedly cool-named Emperox at the top.
The problem is the Flow is starting to shift, cutting off entire stations and worlds from one another, bringing an end to the empire.
The first half of the novel is mostly concerned with the one habitable world at the ass-end of the empire, End. It’s economics, politics, and endless dialogue had me waiting for something interesting to happen.
The few seemingly interesting bits, a kidnapping of a noble, a saboteur aboard a spaceship, an assassination attempt, are resolved so quickly they lose all sense of drama. The second half improves somewhat as our main characters reach each other, but as book one of a duology, we’re not given a satisfying ending yet.
I also failed to see who the protagonist actually was, and which characters were driving the story forward. The new Emperox is a good character, but she doesn’t get to do much of anything, and the same can be said of Lady Kiva and Lord Claremont. A brief investigation toward the end gave me a glimmer of hope, only for it to be solved almost instantly, like most plot points throughout the story.
I still enjoy Scalzi’s writing, however. Dialogue is quippy yet realistic, and chapters are short and easy to read. Lady Kiva is a delightfully horny, vulgar, bisexual disaster, and I wish she had a much bigger role in the story. But it’s not enough to make me want to read the second novel.
I’ll give Scalzi another shake in the future, but as someone who enjoyed the Old Man’s War series, The Collapsing Empire was crushingly disappointing.
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