Review & Giveaway: “The Collapsing Empire” by John Scalzi

Note: For instructions on how to enter the giveaway, see the bottom of this post.

The Inderdependency is an interstellar empire that has flourished for over a thousand years, ruled by the emperoxes of Hub and built upon the backbone of the Flow – an extradimensional field that makes faster than light travel possible. Imperial bastard Cardenia Wu-Patrick has just ascended to the throne, and she is woefully underprepared, having spent most of her life out of the spotlight assuming her brother would be emperox. Just as she comes to terms with her new responsibility, she learns that the Flow is collapsing, and that means the empire will soon be gone and humanity might go with it. It’s up to her to figure out how to save the empire. with help from noble merchant Kiva Lagos and Flow physicist Marce Claremont. I’m always excited for a new Scalzi book – I think of his work as popcorn science fiction. It’s light reading and it’s usually got a pretty good sense of humour, but it’s also science fiction so it has some cool ideas. I was especially looking forward to The Collapsing Empire because I like space opera, and Scalzi’s other space opera universe (Old Man’s War) hasn’t been doing much new worldbuilding in recent installments.

The Collapsing Empire met all of my expectations, but still managed to be somewhat different from Scalzi’s other work. It’s grander in scale (more operatic in space opera terms) than the Old Man’s War books, it focuses more on the empire and the larger story of humanity than it does on individual people’s character arcs. The characters don’t really grow or change, they are just the viewpoint from which we see the next great change in human history unfold. I mean, you still empathize with the characters, there are some emotional moments, particularly for Cardenia, but the focus is definitely not on those elements. This book is also a little more adult-themed than Scalzi’s usual work – there’s politics (intrigue, betrayal, plots, etc.), more explicit sex scenes (which I don’t remember Scalzi doing before), and a lot of swearing (mostly courtesy of the Lagos family.)

I had a couple of problems with the book. One of them is that I think I was supposed to like Kiva Lagos (Scalzi has called her one of his favorite characters ever), but I thought she seemed like a terrible person. I can appreciate a good greedy merchant (Quark is one of my favorite characters in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) but Kiva didn’t seem to have any heart, even though she mostly ends up being on the side of the good guys. Another problem is that I felt like the book didn’t tell a complete story, it seemed like it was just moving things into place for the rest of the series Most of the book revolved around getting people to acknowledge that the Flow was collapsing, and it was a serious problem and the antagonists’ plans didn’t seem to make a huge difference to the grand scheme of things. Also, sometimes the characters’ propensity for quips in serious situations can get annoying, but that’s something Scalzi does in all his books and I know to expect, so it wasn’t a real problem.

There are plenty of good things about this book, though. Most of the characters are easy to root for, and the antagonists aren’t just cardboard villains. There’s some good tension in the book when you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen next. And the idea of humanity settling mostly on artificial environments like space stations and becoming reliant on interstellar commerce, then suddenly losing the ability for faster-than-light travel is fascinating. I can’t wait to find out what happens next, especially with the situation at the end of The Collapsing Empire.

Tor Books is letting me give away one copy of The Collapsing Empire! To enter, please email me at with subject “The Collapsing Empire” and your name and mailing address (US/Canada only). This giveaway is open until Mar 25, 2017.

Note on privacy: I will not be using your email address or mailing address for any purpose other than this specific giveaway. If you win, your mailing address will be forwarded to the book’s publisher (Tor Books, in this case) so that they can mail you the book, but they won’t ever see your email address.

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