46% Collapsing

Chapter 6 of John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire ends like so:

“Tell the emperox what we know. If we’re lucky, he may still have time to prepare.”

“Prepare for what?”

“The collapsing empire,” Jamies said. “And the darkness that follows.”

I’m into Part Two and Chapter 8 and it feels like we’ve been doing a lot of preparing for the actual plot of he Collapsing Empire. The story so far has been primarily character introductions and laying out the dynamics of the two major locations in the book. I could complain that it feels like a lot of dithering about for nearly half a book but I’ve zipped through those pages in next to no time.

So we have a classic space empire but one that’s written for an audience that’s read Iain M Banks and other varieties of new space opera. I’m not entirely convinced about the setting yet but some thought has been put into the nature of this mercantile empire. The ‘flow’ as a mechanism for interstellar travel has been neatly tailored to provide a way of joining multiple locations but with limitations on what people know and the time, it takes to get from one place to another.

As indicated, I’m finding it very readable. A lot of the work here has been setting out the nature of the setting and that could have been quite dry. Obviously, it is something that needs to be done to establish the world for a space-opera epic but I didn’t feel like I had to push through it until the plot pace picked up.

No need deep thoughts on the book yet. I’d say ‘entertaining’ but that can sound dismissive – likewise ‘readable’. I think Mr Scalzi is earning his money here 🙂

14 thoughts on “46% Collapsing

  1. “The ‘flow’ as a mechanism for interstellar travel has been neatly tailored to provide a way of joining multiple locations…”

    In a way it’s a reskinned version of jumpgates/wormholes/hyperspace etc etc, but the details *are* actually plot-relevant, rather than just being plot dressing. I’m quite fond of fixed-point interstellar travel in my space opera, it tends to create interesting constraints and clever tactics, e.g. wormhole invasion tactics and the politics thereof in the Vorkosigan books.

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  2. I found The Collapsing Empire a really enjoyable read. As you say, he does a great job of making a story out of the worldbuilding setup, rather than just infodumping. Out of the ~60 novels from 2017 which I’ve read, it isn’t one of the 7 which made my “Outstanding” list (one of which was Retrograde, which is not Hugo-eligible due to previous self-publication), but it’s one of the 18 which made my “Great” list.

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  3. Michael Flynn uses a similar notion of “flow” in his “January Dancer” series of novels. His network isn’t collapsing, but the topology of it has a big effect on his stories. E.g. a star with access to eight different “tubes” ends up with a big human presence despite not having any really great planets. (If I’m remembering correctly.)

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  4. This “flow” reminds me also of Al Reynolds Merlin short stories, where there is an interstellar network that swallowships can enter with a device called a syrinx. Merlin is one of the few humans who still has access to this due to the relentless assault of the Huskers.

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  5. I liked the book, but a year after I read it, the element that sticks in my head is this from my goodreads review:

    “I like Scalzi, and I love his world-building. I’m not as big a fan of his dialogue writing. Kiva comes across as foul-mouthed and snarky. Marce comes across as smart and snarky. Cardenia is quiet and reserved with a snarky inner voice. It feels a bit like space opera by way of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. To be fair, it’s mostly very funny, but it never lets up.”

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  6. Can’t chat right now, am in middle of reading Valente’s “Space Opera” and can’t do anything else till I’m done.

    I did like “Collapsing Empire” a lot! Almost made my ballot but I needed the room for Wombat.

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    1. Okay I’ve finished “Space Opera” and it’s wacky and sad and funny and profound all in the same sentences and all in the same book. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be blown away.

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  7. I listened to Collapsing Empire on audiobook. I think it’s a good match to that format: breezy and entertaining but not terribly deep.


  8. I rolled dice for my final selection of Hugo noms and Scalzi didn’t make it (Robin Hobb was robbed btw). I quite liked Empire, but what mostly didn’t work were the Banks-like ship names.

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  9. I liked it but my socks stayed firmly attached. Which is fine because if every book knocked my socks off I’d have to wear sandals and then my feet would get cold.

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  10. I need to re-read this (or at least skim it) before voting. I remember liking it and speed reading through it and wanting MOAR.

    I really liked that info could only go as fast as a ship traversing the Flow — none of this phoning ahead through subspace radio or whatever. Not only is it more realistic in terms of the physics of this universe, it makes for more plotty goodness. The Emprox is in for some gnarly times ahead.


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