This week seems to be a week filled of empire (wait until Friday), where the books I read and loved in March get highlighted at the end of April. I am so behind with my reviews it isn’t even funny, but I’m giving myself space to breathe and create without censure or reproach.
I purchased The Collapsing Empire back in October during a library conference, and it’s been sitting on my TBR pile for quite some time (it’s been on my Goodreads TBR since 2017). It would probably sit for another couple years because I’m a serious procrastinator, except I impulse requested both The Consuming Fire and The Last Emperox from NetGalley when they came available at the end of March.
Generally I don’t pound through trilogies quickly (as noted by the amount of sequels and final books I have yet to read), but I went through this trilogy within a week.
It’s the best kind of popcorn series. Funny, irreverent, nuanced, fast paced, and that fucking ending.
Tony Stark’s death has nothing on The Last Emperox.
Plus there’s a well-done f/f romance in there.
The Collapsing Empire
It starts when a ship somehow is pushed from the Flow, but finds a shoal and gets to End safely. It’ll end with the collapse of the Interdependency and the slow, starving death of humanity left to die in the vast darkness of space.
Unless action is taken right now.
There are so many parallels to today, where I write this review in the middle of a pandemic that is quickly revealing the many flaws and failures in the American healthcare system, government and infrastructure. A pandemic that is also exposing America’s systemic racism, where marginalized peoples of color, disability and low income are being left to die due to triage and priority of care. And this was a problem that was not a surprise—it literally walked right up to the front door and we welcomed it in without cleaning the house first (this is a shit metaphor but I’m keeping it).
So how does this book of science fiction cover a pandemic that occurred several years after the book was written?
Because it captures two truths about humanity.
1. We will do everything we can to avoid or ignore disaster, even a disaster that we see coming twenty million miles away, because there is no way that it’s going to happen to us.
2. Humans, particularly those in power, are greedy bastards who will do everything they can to stay in power. Altruism is rare and greed is prevalent.
So despite this rather grim indictment of this book, why the five stars?
For one, Scalzi is a funny asshole, and he writes funny assholes who do their best to help people despite their inherent assholery.
Let’s rewind a little.
In this future, Earth is a long distant memory. Humanity lives mainly in underground habitats or aboard space stations, all of which lack the necessary resources to support themselves. They are connected through the Flow, an inter-dimensional highway that kinda-but-not-really bypasses the speed of light and allows supplies, services and people to get from one place to another relatively quickly.
And they are held together by the Interdependency, a government ruled by one emperox and a system of religion, military power and economy that literally makes everyone dependent upon…well, you name it, there is a monopoly on it in this world.
Capitalism and monopoly have mixed with socialism to create a system where humanity wants for little and creates when they need it, but where the higher strata is relatively stagnant and upward mobility is limited. You’ll have a good life at the bottom, but you’ll be dependent upon the whims of those in charge, who are the guilds who control the various monopolies.
But after one thousand years of inter-dimensional stability, the Flow is slowly collapsing. In the coming weeks, months and years, it will isolate communities and condemn billions to die. There is only one place that will support humanity without habitats or life-support systems, and that is End, a planet with literally one way in and one way out.
It’s up to three people to figure out how to get out.
The new emperox, a bastard daughter who never expected to be part of the royal family, much less rule over the Interdependency.
A foul-mouthed guild daughter, determined to get her cut and make a profit.
And the son of the scientist who discovered the collapse, sent by his father to warn the emperox.
Okay, so I spent a lot of time talking about general terms of the world but not much of the plot. The vast majority of this book deals with the relationships of people and coincidences and little details that Matter Very Much, and how there are assholes and assholes and these main characters are the latter. Except Marce, who is really too good for this world.
It’s a bubble gum science fiction world with a lot more nuance and oompf than anticipated. And it’s a great start to a trilogy.
The Consuming Fire
Marce, Kiva and Cardenia/Graylord attempt to figure out how to save humanity from the collapse of the flow in spite of collapse deniers, hoarders and profiteers.
Remember the plan is not the goal.
This definitely didn’t suffer from middle-book syndrome. While it wasn’t as fucking-incredible as The Collapsing Empire, nor as heart-wrenchingly emotional as The Last Emperox, it still had a fast-pace, lots of action, much politics and a surprising f/f relationship.
I really loved the main characters, although I wanted to learn a little more about them.
“Any assassination attempt against you yet?”
“Aw, you’re just a baby at this.”
Cardenia/Grayland is the character whose head we got into most deeply, and I really liked how this underestimated bastard child of an emperox and an academic managed to make waves and come into her role as leader of a nation—even though she was outgunned, outmatched and without many allies.
And I loved how the Memory Room played into much of the plot, particularly with how Cardenia’s outsider status gave her more access precisely because she didn’t know what she didn’t know and therefore had to ask everything.
I wanted more of Marce, who was pretty much a pawn and kinda went with everything that happened to him. He was brilliant and sweet as anything, but was just kinda…there? Despite being the scientist who could figure out how to save everyone and the lynchpin to everyone’s plans he…existed.
Kiva considered that she might be developing a thing for Fundapellonan, which on one hand would be a very not-Kiva thing to do, but on the other hand who gave a fuck if it was “not-Kiva,” because she wasn’t some fucking fictional character destined to do whatever some goddamn hack wanted her to do.
Kiva, however, was fucking hilarious because I never knew if I could take her seriously or not, and she definitely used her power as an unreliable narrator as a strength. Basically, Kiva was going to be Kiva, no matter what.
Back to that first quote, though. Holy shit. Reading the plan is not the goal was a huge reminder that you need a vision in order to accomplish just about anything, and a plan is merely a vehicle to the goal but not the goal itself. So in essence, don’t get discouraged if you experience setbacks or your plan doesn’t work. Lift yourself up, assess what went wrong, and attack in another direction.
Anywho, Scalzi once again manages to take an incredible grim subject (the imminent collapse of a long-standing way of living and eventual slow, agonizing death of humanity) and turns it into a fast-paced plot with villainous villains with their own motives (fuck you x1000 Nadashe), unsurmountable politics, and last-minute twists that kinda but not really save the day.
I learned that survival is possible for longer than anyone would ever expect, when you have no other choice but to survive.
The Last Emperox
To the women who are done with other people’s shit.
The collapse is coming, and with Flow streams disappearing left and right, no one can deny it. And yet, while Grayland II does her best to mitigate disaster and shepherd what she can of humanity towards salvation, her enemies have plans to overthrow her—to ensure that their interests are served.
It’s the end of civilization as we know it. And it’s going to be great for business.
Really this gif is pretty much all I want to post as a review for this book, but I suppose that you might get annoyed by that.
But really, that heavily breathing cat was me throughout 98% of the book.
Then the end happened, and this was me:
That first 1%:
As far as Kiva could tell, whenever selfish humans encountered a gut-wrenching, life-altering crisis, they embarked on a journey of five distinct stages: Denial. Denial. Denial. Fucking Denial. Oh shit everything is terrible grab what you can and run.
Then that last 1%
And I can’t even put the quote in there that had me fucking bawling then and in literal tears right now, a week after finishing this book because IT’S A MASSIVE DAMN SPOILER.
Lemme just say, it rivals when I read “Albus Severus Dumbledore” for emotional punch (fuck Always).
Anywho, moving on from that trauma.
This book is fucking amazing, because it speaks to truths about humanity and because the main characters are funny as fuck, and because fucking jailbreak music (my kink is definitely smartass, supremely peppy motivational tablets), conspiracy theories and politics about how to save as many people as possible in the event of a slow-moving disaster.
The one thing that would have made it more amazing would have been if Vrenna Claremont had her own POV, because I want more of her (and I hope that she gets her own book one day) and she got criminally no page time whatsoever except in passing, and instead I got Ghenri the fucking false duke of End. Although at least Jameis gave him the most condescending and sarcastic put down in the history of the world, all while reading A Count of Monte Christo in front of his captor while literally being imprisoned after being accused of a murder he didn’t commit.
Anywho, this is a book of rage, of vengeance, of justice, and of moving on and moving forward. Because the fate of civilization depends on everyone.
Oh, I’m sorry—I talked about literally specific? You learned very little about what this book is about?
Guess you’ll just have to read it yourself.
Enjoy the tears 😈