Review | The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1) by John Scalzi


A big fat ‘meh’ is all I can muster for Scalzi’s latest, The Collapsing Empire. There’s potential here, interesting concepts and creative ideas, and even some clever plot twists. And yet, it feels like Scalzi is mailing it in.

Due to a discovery of the Flow, humanity has managed to overcome the light speed limit and has colonized the stars, or at least some of them. Still, the planets that can support life without a habitat are few and far between. Most still live in habitats, on planetoids, on asteroids, in orbit around gas giants…but rarely in the open air of an Earth-like planet. In fact, Earth has been lost to the changes in the Flow, disappeared a millennium ago. In the centuries since, the Interdependency has risen. An empire comprised of corporate, religious, and royal families controls the whole of known space, dividing it into monopolies and regions of control.

Then, unexpectedly, The Flow begins to change, and with it the balance of power.

Scalzi’s strength is his ability to imagine a universe of competing interests and alliances and to develop a politics between those players. His weakness, in contrast, is a story that shows as much as it tells. The Collapsing Empire felt weighed down with info dump after info dump, and even if some of the dumps came during the natural flow of conversation between characters, Scalzi doesn’t have any problem with breaking the fourth wall and directly informing the reader about a detail or piece of information. On the rare occasion that he does this, it feels like the third person omniscient is about to slide into first-person narration.

That said, the book might as well have been told in the first person. So much of it takes place in dialogue that I was hard pressed to find anything happen at all that doesn’t occur outside of the course of a conversation or is recounted between two characters. This might not even be so bad, but all of the characters sound like clones of each other–essentially, just like Scalzi himself. The few exceptions are when he adds a few more f-bombs to a character’s dialogue and has another character comment how the first character’s dialogue is distinguished by how much she swears.

Super annoying. It’s like reading a whole novel in one voice. And that voice is Scalzi’s, for better or for worse.

Oh, and sex. Like so many of his books, Scalzi seems to have a fixation with free love and easy sex and no concept of romance or the ramifications of easy sex. It’s nauseating.

So, to sum up: there’s potential here, but the book is severely overrated. I’d rate it a 2 and a half stars, barely three.

The Collapsing Empire Book Cover The Collapsing Empire
The Interdependency #1
John Scalzi
Science Fiction
Tor Science Fiction
March 21, 2017

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.

About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.