Truth be told, I loved Old Man’s War … not necessarily the whole series mind you, but definitely Book 1. It’s long been a staple and one that I’ve gone back to every now and then. Unfortunately for me, however (and probably somewhat in the minority) I didn’t love Red Shirts which I thought had a brilliant concept/idea but wasn’t really executed well. I know that I’m in the minority on this one, but I’m willing to live with that! So going into this book, I was somewhat concerned … the Old Man’s War series overall was good, Red Shirts for me … not so much. So, how would this new series about the “Interdependency” stack up?
Overall really positively is the answer! This is basically Scalzi’s Dune. Several powerful houses competing for power and resources, an Emperox (Emperor) that controls a planet called Hub, which resides at the epicenter of The Flow, a trade network of one-directional interstellar wormholes that humanity found a thousand years ago, religion and politics intertwined, etc. The idea is extremely interesting and the workaround for getting past the speed of light itself via the “Flow” is one that kind of makes sense? It seems like wormholes I think but I like the concept and idea that all routes lead to Hub and they end at End. I loved the fact that the final planet – End – is called that … it makes sense and is a very human thing to do isn’t it? Using The Flow we branched out into the galaxy and started living in some areas that were not so hospitable. Each colony is dependent on the others for resources they do not have available locally. So what happens if this network doesn’t always function the way it has in the past? What happens if Hub isn’t always where all paths in The Flow lead?
Some negatives for me
The fact that the other “stops” available via the flow terminate at planets that cannot support life – well that works and doesn’t work for me. I see why John did it in the context of the rest of the series, but it seems a bit off that out of all of the different terminations none except End have a planet that can support human life? Again for the sake of the story and the whole Interdependency, I’m willing to give it a pass but if we’re being totally honest, the Interdependency itself wouldn’t work … I mean if humanity can be so pragmatic to name the final stop of a network connecting multiple planets together “End”, they wouldn’t allow themselves to become dependent on only certain groups to support them. I get the whole monopolistic thing, but let’s be honest shall we, the first thing we’d do when we got to a new planet is figure out a way to be self-sufficient as quickly as possible! I think if there is one thing we can all agree on is that humans innovate and cause problems a lot more than they toe the company line!
What set this story apart, however, is the characters. Cardenia, Kiva and Ghreni are all extremely well realized and detailed. They each have their own quirks and the simply stick in your head. I loved Kiva’s language and her acerbic wit. Ghreni and his Machiavellian tricks are oh so obvious but at the same time so well done and Cardenia – well lets just say that she completely charmed me!
Scalzi has done it again. The Collapsing Empire marks his strong return to space opera with a fresh start in this series opener, introducing readers to a new universe, new characters, and a whole new set of rules. At first, I was a little apprehensive about whether I would take to it as fondly as the books in the Old Man’s War sequence, but all my skepticism went out the window as soon as I finished the book and found myself once more filled with that familiar sense of marvel and excitement.