Author: John Scalzi
Genre: science fiction
Series: Untitled #1
Published: expected March 21 2017
Source: ARC via publisher
The first novel of a new space-opera sequence set in an all-new universe.
Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible -- until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.
Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war -- and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.
The Flow is eternal -- but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals -- a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency -- are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.
Expansive in scope and stellar in its execution, John Scalzi's newest novel, the upcoming The Collapsing Empire, illustrates a version of humanity's diaspora future; one set in space, on various hostile planets, and in precarious far-flung systems, all ruled by a distant Emperox. Featuring an all new universe with its own detailed ruling systems, the concept of the time/space riverlike system called "The Flow", a cast of fresh and dynamic characters/antiheroes, brewing revolution, and oh yeah, also the dawn of the collapse of human civilization, there are a lot of moving parts in this shorter scifi novel. Scalzi is a veteran author and proved more than equal to the task of executing all the various elements into the solid world-building, taut plotting, and unique tech that make up his story.
From the mutinous start, The Collapsing Empire runs wild with its clever, apocalyptic premise. It and its central characters are broadly appealing though far-reaching; following a storyline more than creative and original enough to stand out in memory, it's hard not to be engaged and entertained even in the novel's quieter moments. The concept and use of The Flow to anchor the Interdependency is one of the strongest aspects of the novel. Utilizing and explaining it as a way to (believably) feature faster-than-light travel is a unique but understandable approach and also allows the author to showcase a universe of humans from disparate backgrounds and from various terrains. The author also uses this river-esque concept in important ways to affect the story and all the characters. It's the pivot on which the plot turns and Scalzi's astronomical invention is interesting, cool, and necessary all at the same time.
If there was an area that didn't totally impress across the board, it was that the surrounding characters at times could feel hollow, or underdeveloped. There was an obvious and notable exception in the rarely-seen Vrenna, but by and large, the secondary cast is forgettable or interchangeable. The main characters of the novel (a scientist, an emperox and a starship captain) thankfully fared better and had more depth and personality. Kiva, especially, came to life and excelled at being anything she wanted. The Collapsing Empire featured two other people alongside Kiva as the other main characters: a scientist/Lord Marce and the newly-crowned Cardenia/Grayland II. Those two characters had plots that were more intertwined and political in nature, but though likeable and capable, they just didn't quite capture the charisma of their more... violently-inclined counterpart.
All in all, this first new series offering more than makes for a good beginning. All the traditional hallmark Scalzi qualities are there: smart, inventive, actiontastic, peppered with wry/sardonic humor. The Collapsing Empire establishes the universe and the players; the board is set and ready for round two. The ending here is rather frustratingly open-ended, though it also leaves plenty of room for exploration and continuance of various plot lines in the forthcoming next book.