The Collapsing Empire
by John Scalzi
Cover Artist: Sparth
Review by Bill Lawhorn
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765388889
Date: 21 March 2017 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Humanity has reached the stars and found a way to travel quickly between them. By riding the Flow, the great distance is covered in a fraction of the time. The network of paths has made winners and losers. Over time some of the paths have disappeared cutting off settled worlds. From the start, there are fluctuations which hint at bigger problems coming.
Cardenia Wu-Patrick is the heir to the Holy Empire of Interdependent States and Mercantile Guilds. It is not a job she was prepared from birth to hold. It came to her when her half-brother died in an accident. Now she will sit the throne through numerous changes and challenges. One of the worst may be marrying.
The Nohamapetan and Lagos are two of the larger trading houses. At End, Lady Kiva of Lagos is trying to complete a profitable trade run. But the civil war on the planet and corrupt bureaucrats put up major roadblocks. She has to find a way to make up what is lost and stolen.
Marce Claremont, son of one of the Counts of End, is a one of the few people who studies and understands the Flow and its stability. His journey will take him away from End to the center of the Interdependency on Hub, where he must convince the leaders of the inevitable collapse of the system that makes the Interdependency work.
The greatest roadblock to action is the inertia of people and institutions. Too many people do not want to take action until something terrible happens. If it isn't profitable, some will never admit there is a problem.
This is a new universe and series for Scalzi. The technology is also different from the tech used in his prior series. The Flow and the degradation of the transit points is a bit reminiscent of that at the core of the Uplift series by David Brin. In both cases there is a need to migrate away from the places which will be cut off. The return to Scalzi's SF roots leads to another classic piece of SF.
Fans of Scalzi's Old Man's War series will find a lot to enjoy here. The multi-POV story progresses at a fast pace. The mercantile system takes a little while to understand. The main thing to remember is that there is only one planet in the Interdependency which can support humans without special technology and the technology and goods which keep people alive are spread out. No one location can thrive if cut off. Scarcity and the short life of technology will lead to great problems.
As there is still plenty of story to tell, I look forward to the continuing action in the Interdependency.