The novel “The Collapsing Empire” by John Scalzi was published for the first time in 2017. It’s the first book in the Interdependency series. It won the Locus Award as the best novel of the year.
The Interdependency exists thanks to the Flow, outside the normal space-time, which allows relatively quickly interstellar trips by accessing “shoals” that exist only in some places. On End, a scientist has been working for decades on the study of the Flow and according to his predictions the connections between the various planets and habitats will start collapsing in the near future. He decides to send his son Marce Claremont to the capital to show the situation to the Emperor (Emperox).
When Emperox Attavius VI dies, his daughter Cardenia is his heir because in the meantime her brother died in an accident. The succession is far from peaceful due to some terrorist attacks against Cardenia, who ascended to the throne as Grayland II. The intrigues of the Nohamapetan family, interested in expanding their economic power, make the situation even more complex.
The collapse of an interestellar empire is a theme made classic especially by Isaac Asimov’s Foundation saga. The Interdependency is not an empire extended throughout the galaxy and is formed mainly by space stations and artificial habitats because the Flow allows interstellar travel but only on certain routes where there are shoals so it’s possible to reach in an acceptable time just a few planets, which are rarely habitable.
In that future, the capital of Interdependency is on a convergence node of various connections with the Flow, a crucial place to control interstellar trade. The political power is based on that control and Cardenia’s ascension to the throne allows John Scalzi to develop themes related to the various powers that govern that empire, not only the political one but also the religious and economic ones in a balance that is about to be shaken up.
From this point of view, “The Collapsing Empire” has points in common with another great science fiction classic, the Dune series. In the Interdependency, however, clashes between factions are fought resorting whenever possible to legal means rather than murder, but if they consider it necessary they also use force. Someone even decided to resort to direct attacks on the new Emperox.
The novel is structured on some subplots with the main ones that follow Cardenia, Marce Claremont and Kiva Lagos, who is a member of one of the most important families of the Interdependency and opponent of the Nohamapetan family. The themes are very important and are developed around a dramatic premise in a plot that gives the protagonists moments of strong tension. Despite that, it’s full of humor and has a protagonist such as Kiva Lagos who is really bad-mouthed.
“The Collapsing Empire” left me only partially satisfied. The comparison with great science fiction classics is inevitable because of the themes covered but it’s quite a burden because it increases expectations. In my opinion the development of the themes is still the novel’s strong point and in particular I liked the progressive discovery by Cardenia of what’s behind the Interdependency’s facade.
I found the characters less convincing. The important ones have their own characterization with precise personality traits and behaviors consistent with them, but some have left me with some perplexities. From this point of view the subjective factor is crucial so other readers may have had completely different impressions. Kiva Lagos seems to me constantly over the top not only with her cursing but also with her actions. One of the villains really looks incompetent, so much so that he ends up receiving death threats as a result of his messes.
However, every judgment is very partial because “The Collapsing Empire” is only the first part of a larger story. It ends with some important events connected in various ways to the prediction of the collapse of the connections with the Flow but this only serves to lay the foundations for subsequent developments. There are the first references to the political reactions to those predictions, presumably an important theme in the following books. If that’s not a problem for you and you find the story interesting, this novel could do for you.