The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Series: The Interdependency #1
Published by Audible Studios on March 21, 2017
Source: Purchased
Genres: Science Fiction
Length: 9 hrs 23 mins
Format: Audiobook
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Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible -- until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.

Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war -- and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.

The Flow is eternal -- but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals -- a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency -- are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

The Collapsing Empire is my first Scalzi book, but since it’s the first in a new series in a new world that wasn’t a problem.  I have to say I really enjoyed it. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was getting good review and I needed an audio for the Sci-Fi Readathon. Now, I’m a little upset that I have to wait for the next in the series, which, at least according to Goodreads, isn’t expected until 2019. 🙁

The Flow has allowed humans to build a far-flung empire, the Interdependency. The Interdependency is set up so that all the colonies must depend on each other, hence the name. The problem is the flow is changing, moving, becoming inaccessible – outposts will be cut-off, unable to send or receive supplies or people. Eventually, it’s going to be a matter of survival, but now it’s a political issue, one that the brand-new Emperox has to handle.

It’s clearly the first in the series. We get to know the world and some of the major characters. I did like the strong, well-developed female characters, including Cardenia Wu-Patrick, the emperox, the cunning and maybe brilliant Lady Nadashe of a merchant family. I will admit that Lady Kiva Lagos annoyed me a little for her constant use of a choice expletive – I found it a lazy way to tell us she’s tough and unafraid of going against convention.

It’s was funny too, which surprised me a bit. I listened to the audio. Wil Wheaton is the narrator, which is honestly part of the reason I picked it up, but I’m not sure I loved him as the narrator. I can’t put my finger on why, and he was fine, I just never really bought into it. He never disappeared into the story for me, if that makes sense. It wasn’t enough to stop me from listening to other things he narrates, but I certainly won’t seek them out.

Mostly The Collapsing Empire was a lead up to the story. It’s just the start of the chaos to come.

About John Scalzi

John Michael Scalzi II (born May 10, 1969) is an American science fiction author and former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He is best known for his Old Man’s War series, three novels of which have been nominated for the Hugo Award, and for his blog Whatever, where he has written on a number of topics since 1998. He won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 2008 based predominantly on that blog, which he has also used for several charity drives. His novel Redshirts won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel. He has written non-fiction books and columns on diverse topics such as finance, video games, films, astronomy, writing and politics, and served as a creative consultant for the TV series Stargate Universe.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
Published by Crown on July 26, 2016
Source: NetGalley
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 342
Format: eARC
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“Are you happy with your life?” Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable--something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

Ever feel like you are just missing the piece that makes everyone love a book? That’s how I feel about Dark Matter. People love it. I thought it was okay, but not outstanding and the ending annoyed me a bit. And, since I had high expectations, just “okay” was really a let down.

At heart, Dark Matter is a love story with a bit of philosophy thrown in. It does make you think about how choices affect who you are, the life you lead, how far you would go to hold onto the life you have, how big the universe(s) can be.

It’s also a thriller, complete with guns and violence and blood. It was fast-paced and a quick read, but I’ve read a lot of thrillers. I’ll grant the twist was interesting, but couldn’t carry the book for me. It was the only part that felt really unique, though.

But I was expecting sci-fi. I don’t read a lot of sci-fi, only four in the last year, according to my Goodreads list. The Fold had alternate universes with different versions of the same people, so even that felt recycled. Interestingly enough, it also had a genius who instead of doing BIG THINGS, teaches, like our Jason. Is that a common sci-fi thing? I’m going to assume the science was at least somewhat believable, even if it seemed wonky to me. And there was at least one plot point that seemed impossible, even if we buy into the rest of it.

Then there’s the end. Except I was convinced if I kept tapping my Kindle it would eventually turn to the next page. It didn’t. That was the end. I’m not a fan of that type of ending, the kind where I don’t realize it’s the end. It worked for the story, just not for me. At least it was a happy ending. (Hope that wasn’t a spoiler.)

Several times while I was reading it, I told Amber bits and pieces. When I finished (and complained out loud when I realized no, there was no next page), Amber said something to the effect of “Wow, you didn’t like it at all, did you?” I’m clearly in the minority though.

About Blake Crouch

Blake Crouch has sold over a million books and his work has been translated into more than twenty languages. Known for high-concept fiction with breakneck pacing and groundbreaking genre cross-breeding, six of his books have hit the Kindle Top 10, and two have reached the #1 spot. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Alfred Hitchcock, Ellery Queen, Cemetery Dance, and Thriller 2, edited by Clive Cussler.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Published by Vintage on June 30, 1992 (first published 1962)
Source: Other
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 259
Format: Paperback
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It's America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some 20 years earlier the United States lost a war, and is now occupied jointly by Nazi Germany and Japan.

This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to awake.

First off, the obvious question – why did I read The Man in the High Castle. I don’t WW2 books or, in general, sci-fi. A friend made me borrow it and he never suggests books, so I felt like I ought to read it. And then Michelle came up with her Sci-Fi Summer read-a-thon, so it was the prefect excuse. After all, according to the blurb, this is the book that established “Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction.”

On a side note, I never realized alternative history is a sub-genre of sci-fi. I tend to think of it more as fantasy. Wikipedia says, “since the 1950s, this type of fiction has, to a large extent, merged with science fiction tropes involving time travel between alternate histories, psychic awareness of the existence of one universe by the people in another, or time travel that results in history splitting into two or more timelines. Cross-time, time-splitting, and alternate history themes have become so closely interwoven that it is impossible to discuss them fully apart from one another.” I always find genres a bit confusing.

In the novel, President Franklin Roosevelt was assassinated in 1933, leading to the continuation of the Great Depression and U.S. isolationism. The U.S. was unable to stop the Nazis the Japanese. By 1947, the U.S. and the remaining Allies surrendered. By the 1960s, Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany were the world’s competing superpowers, with Japan establishing the “Pacific States of America” from the former Western United States, with the remaining Rocky Mountain States now a neutral buffer zone between the P.S.A. and the Nazi-occupied former Eastern United States. Martin Bormann has become Chancellor of Germany, with Goebbels, Heydrich, Göring, Seyss-Inquart (who oversees the extermination of the peoples of Africa), and other Nazi leaders soon vying to take his place. The Nazis have drained the Mediterranean to make room for farmland, developed and used the hydrogen bomb, and designed rockets for extremely fast travel across the world as well as space, having colonized the Moon, Venus, and Mars.

By RedFoxJinx - Own work, CC0,

By RedFoxJinx – Own work, CC0,

Most of the novel takes place in San Francisco, where we meet Americans living under Japanese rule, some Japanese middle management. The story focusses on individuals rather than political maneuvering. It’s about how individuals deal with life, make decisions. Americans aren’t heroes here, there’s little resistance to the Japanese – they are after all, clearly a better alternative then the Nazis. The Japanese are calm and polite – the Nazis are still gassing people.

The concept is excellent. The world is so believable, each little detail just fits.

There’s a novel within the novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, that shows an alternate alternate history where the Allies do win, although not in the way that actually happened. I got to a certain point and said out loud – ah, metafiction, which led me to try to explain to Amber what I meant. Apparently saying a book is aware that it’s fiction is not necessarily the easiest concept, especially when she wasn’t actually reading the book, just hearing my description of it.

It’s definitely a book worth reading. It touches on prejudice and power. Art and culture is also important, how can a conquered people retain their culture, not sell their history as trinkets, how literature and art can affect or reinforce our views of the world.

My problem with The Man in the High Castle was that it had a lot of characters and each had an interesting, a unique outlook on life, but I didn’t get to really know any of them. I almost wish it had been longer, that I could have gotten to know them better, care about their stories. As it was, I never felt connected to the book. It’s one I know is good, one I’ll remember, but not one I loved. It could have been though.

About Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick (December 16, 1928 – March 2, 1982) was an American writer, whose published works mainly belong to the genre of science fiction. Dick explored philosophical, sociological and political themes in novels with plots dominated by monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments, and altered states of consciousness. In his later works, Dick’s thematic focus tended to reflect his personal interest in metaphysics and theology.

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