Nat Reviews: The Collapsing Empire
I debated writing about my thoughts on the “The Collapsing Empire.” John Scalzi doesn’t need my help selling book, but I really liked the book. Since Can’t Talk lets me write (sometimes to excess) about the things I like, I may as well take advantage and share.
“The Collapsing Empire” is a story about what happens when the empire known as the Interdependency begins to fall. While the end of a galaxy as its occupants know it is good drama, it isn’t the most interesting part of the book for me.
This book is one of those gems in science fiction where—gasp—there are women. Ambitious women, queer women, crass women, scheming women. There are a few dudes, too, but I was honestly floored by how many female characters featured prominently in the book. From the first pages, where a starship captain deals with a mutiny on her ship, to the last pages, where the Emperox (the gender neutral title of the leader of the Interdependency) makes critical decisions on the fate of the empire she now rules, women are everywhere, doing things.
My favorite example of this isn’t the Emperox Grayland the Second (Cardenia, as she’s known in private) or even her political rival Nadashe Nohamapetan, although they are both great characters. It’s Kiva Lagos, a member of one of the powerful political families that make up the Interdependency, who steals the show.
Kiva is foul-mouthed, impatient, and a little full of herself. She’s also brilliant, cunning, and unabashedly bisexual; in other words, she’s fabulous. I don’t know if I’d want to be friends with her, but I’d definitely want to go for drinks. She gets the juicy role of unrepentant rogue that would normally go to a male character in this type of fiction. She gets to order people around, have lots of casual sex, and not get judged for any of it. And it’s great!
In fact, one of the things I like about the book is how her sexuality, and sexuality in general in the story, isn’t danced around–it’s embraced. In fact, it’s noted that Cardenia could marry Nadashe and still satisfy her advisors in terms of a line of succession for the throne. It was a pleasant change from the more heteronormative perspectives that come with issues of succession in dynasties.
However, no novel is perfect. While I think it’s strongly implied by the surnames that there are people of color in this setting, I felt it could have been a bit more explicit in terms of description. Also, if you’re not a fan of lots of dialogue and/or profanity, this may not be the book for you.
If you do enjoy starships with fun names, politics, and a galaxy undergoing drastic changes (all the things that hit my science fiction sweet spot honed by many years of loving Star Trek), I think you’ll like “The Collapsing Empire.” It’s one of those rare science fiction novels written by a straight, white, cis, dude that made me feel welcome in the world he created, and, most importantly, it’s a lot of fun to read.