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John Scalzi’s a name I saw long before picking up his latest book, The Collapsing Empire. I know he runs a WordPress blog and is active on Twitter. He’s won a Hugo award for best novel, and The Collapsing Empire is in the running this year for the same award. When I happened upon his book at the nonprofit library I work for, I knew I had to read it.
To quickly summarize the novel, the galaxy depends on an interstellar highway known as the Flow, which allowed humanity to expand to new systems centuries ago. While the empire is quickly transitioning to a new ruler, and one planet deals with an insurrection, it comes to light that the Flow, which few people understand in the first place, is experiencing an anomaly that could change the course of human history once again.
When compared to books I’ve read in recent months, which includes The Three Body Problem, the Imperial Radch trilogy, and Provenance, The Collapsing Empire is incredibly refreshing. Scalzi provides levity to his characters to a degree I don’t often see in the genre. His characters grow frustrated and sarcastic. They have sex on one page and avert disasters a few pages later. Scalzi is very good at reminding readers of the fact that despite all the earth-shattering events unfolding the in the book, its characters are ultimately small people dealing with circumstances as best they can.
The Collapsing Empire is science fiction, but I’d wager that part of its success lies in the genre conventions taking a back seat. Scalzi is telling a good story, plain and simple, closer to a soap opera than a space opera. I like it; if anything, I’m jealous of Scalzi. I aspire to write stories as approachable and human as this one.