Sunday, May 21, 2017

Book Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi is his latest space opera in a brand new universe. Scalzi is probably best known for Old Man's War, and the accompanying books. I've read some of his work before and keep coming back whenever I want some light-hearted, funny books in a science fiction setting. I was very excited by the premise of this new book and gave it a shot.

You can find my spoiler-free review after the jump.

Overall Impression
A simple, light read with a straightforward premise that nevertheless manages to engage you. Coming straight after reading Mieville's Iron Council, the contrast couldn't be more apparent. The Collapsing Empire is far easier and faster to read with decent setting and characters. While it may not be particular deep or heavy in its themes, it's still an enjoyable story.

The plot is fast-paced and right to the point, similar to other Scalzi works. There's little to no meandering or departures from the main plot; everything is strictly relevant and serves to advance the story. As such, the book feels light and reads very fast. That's not to say there isn't any world building or character development, it's just clever incorporated to the story to keep things brisk. Thanks to that, it's very hard to put down and more than once caused me to almost miss my bus stop.

This is probably one of the weaker points of the book as while the characters are interesting in their own right, they are fairly straightforward. With the exception of perhaps Kiva Lagos, there's no real shades here, just good and evil. You have characters like Cardenia, the new emperox, and the scientist Marce, who seem cookie-cutter good guys. On the other hand, you have some standard villains among the Nohamapetans. However, one thing that Scalzi has done very well is give believable motives for all the characters. The villains aren't evil because they are evil, they legitimately have a reason for acting that way.

Setting / World Building
The setting was one of the reasons I picked this book in the first place. Humans have expanded to the stars and live in planets and habitats across space all connected by the mysterious Flow. The Flow is this phenomenon in space that allows ships to travel faster than light, making civilization and empires possible among the stars. The premise for the story is fascinating: these ill-understood phenomenon is collapsing, which has the potential to completely isolate star systems and doom the humans living there.

However, despite the somber premise, Scalzi manages to inject some of his trademark humor into the book. There are lots of clever remarks by characters and several funny scenes. My favorite is at the very start, where a mutiny on a starship is going on. Got some good vibes from Star Trek and Scalzi's prior work Redshirts.

Final Thoughts
This was an enjoyable, light read. The premise is very interesting and the humor and story telling are great. The characters are a bit bland, but engaging in their own right- you'll certainly be cheering for the good guys. Overall, this was pretty good book and I would recommend it for people looking for a quick read and lighthearted sci-fi fun. Bear in mind, that this appears to be the first of a series: the stage is set for subsequent books, which I hope Scalzi writes to fully explore the universe he has created!

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