Review: The Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi


John Scalzi’s latest, The Collapsing Empire, is a fast-paced and clever take on the garden variety space empire, and we look forward to more.

On first impression, John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire doesn’t look like much. I’m not talking about the first pages, but I’m about to judge a book by its cover. No matter what the saying says, we all do it. Anyway, Empire isn’t really that big, and it really isn’t that thick, either. The acknowledgements end on page 333. No, not the epilogue, the acknowledgements.

However, this relatively small page count actually works to the benefit of The Collapsing Empire on the whole. I’ll get to that more later, but I give the book a very solid 4/5 stars. Let’s go ahead and break that down.

The Good

This book is tight. I don’t mean tight in the sense of “cool,” if anyone actually uses tight that way anymore anyway, but I do mean it in the sense of “there’s not a lot of room here.” Scalzi, however, seems to know this, and he doesn’t waste pages trying to explain the complexity of the Flow, a series of paths that connect the far-flung pieces of the Interdependency, the aforementioned space empire. In fact, the narrator acknowledges this in the text. The narrator actually acknowledges lots of things in-text, and it helps keep things snappy and moving right along.

There are more complex systems beyond the nature of the Flow at work in Collapsing Empire, but those get slightly more explanation. I’m not saying that you’ll fully understand each and every family in the Interdependency, but you honestly don’t need to. As for the ones that do need an explanation, a reader will get that explanation. Scalzi doesn’t waste time laying out what each and every important House does; he tells us about the ones we need to care about for the events of this novel. It leaves room for more worldbuilding in future novels, and I’m here for it.

Besides that, though, the book is just plain cool to read, too. All of the characters who spend time in the spotlight are intriguing, even the ones who sit on the side of the antagonists. Cardenia, the young emperox, could easily turn into a cliched version of the sudden successor to empire, but she has a personality, wit, and verve. Additionally, I enjoyed the fact that her potential political marriage to a certain family could have been to either the eldest son or the eldest daughter — and how casually that was all treated as well.

The Not-So-Good

This book impressed me with the sheer amount of f-words it manages to drop, and not in the good way. Yours truly tends to be an advocate of using things sparingly in general in writing. However, at times, this felt like The Wolf of Wall Street, just in print form. It could distract other readers as well. For me, it was no less than jarring at certain points. (Even characters themselves comment on Kiva Lagos’, ahem, creativity in her use. It’s funny, but it doesn’t solve the actual problem.)

The Recommendation

This book is very clearly the first in a new series from Scalzi, and since it came out this past week, the wait for the next book could be a long one. However, if you’re a sci-fi fan looking for a fun read that also asks some questions about the nature of human society and what a class system might actually look like in space, The Collapsing Empire is a very nice, recent choice.

Next: Ted Cruz's Attempt to Quote Hitchhiker's Guide

I’ll be keeping my eye on this series.

Have you read The Collapsing Empire? Sound off with your opinions in the comments below.